Austin Ekeler has performed like one of the best running backs in the NFL during his career.
But the Los Angeles Chargers standout finds himself in a contract bind this offseason.
Ekeler, who turns 28 in May, is under contract for the 2023 season for $6.25 million and wants a long-term deal that reflects his production. He has received permission from the Chargers to seek a trade, but he has not yet been moved this offseason.
“I'm so underpaid right now as far as my contract and what I contribute to the team, it's like, I am relentlessly pursuing this,” Ekeler said on the Green Light with Chris Long podcast Monday.
“I want to get something long-term done. I want a team that wants me long term. I'm at the peak of my game, right? As long as I'm healthy, I'm gonna score you another 20 touchdowns. I'm gonna have, you know, another 1,600 all-purpose yards. I'm getting half my value of what I could be getting. I am relentlessly pursuing someone who wants me for the long term.”
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Ekeler led all NFL players with 18 total touchdowns last season, and was tied with Colts running back Jonathan Taylor with 20 total touchdowns in 2021. He also played in 33 of 34 games over the past two seasons.
Ekeler signed a four-year, $24.5 million contract in 2020.
According to Over the Cap, Ekeler’s average annual salary ranks 14th among all NFL running backs with San Francisco 49ers star Christian McCaffrey topping the list at $16 million, while New Orleans Saints star Alvin Kamara makes $15 million per year.
Ekeler also made it clear his contract status has not caused a rift between him and the Chargers, who signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2017.
“I think it's really important to put it out there that it's not like, ‘Oh, I hate the Chargers and I need to get out of this organization, and I need to leave,’” he said. “That couldn't be further from the truth. I would like to stay if it was under the right circumstances.
“Obviously, I have one more year on my contract there, so I'm contractually obligated to play for them for this upcoming year. So, we're in a situation where it's like, look, we have no guarantees or anything like that this year, so kind of in a spot where I've been outplaying my contract, and we might have an opportunity to go seek out other options that can bring me up.”
Ekeler was eighth among all NFL players with 1,637 yards from scrimmage last season. He was tied with Titans star Derrick Henry for second in the NFL with 13 rushing touchdowns, while placing 18th with 915 yards rushing.
He was also second behind McCaffrey with 722 yards receiving, and tied with McCaffrey with five receiving touchdowns, trailing only Chiefs backup Jerick McKinnon, who had seven.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Austin Ekeler: 'I'm so underpaid' but has no ill will toward Chargers