Chargers' Austin Ekeler: RBs need to control the narrative

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Running back Austin Ekeler didn't get what he wanted this offseason in terms of a long-term extension and pay raise from the Los Angeles Chargers, but he did get something when the organization added $1.75 million in incentives to his expiring four-year, $24.5 million deal.

Ekeler vowed Thursday after the second practice of training camp that his contract situation would not be a distraction to his play on the field.

However, that doesn't mean Ekeler will give up fighting for his and future paydays of other running backs across the NFL.

That time came just ahead of training camp, when Ekeler organized a Zoom meeting attended by several of the league's top backs, including Nick Chubb, Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey.

"Really wanted to get our top guys together just to discuss the situations, how we're feeling, get our [NFLPA] president, our new [NFLPA] executive director involved too," Ekeler said Thursday. "Just to start creating some of that unity and making sure that if there are steps that we can take that we are putting those on the table and at least discussing those."

Among steps possible, Ekeler said, was fighting existing narratives about running backs. "There's a ton of that we can do," Ekeler said. "One is controlling the narrative. We're starting to put out this narrative that's kind of combatant against what's been out there so far. A lot of it seems like there's a lot of media trying to justify why the running backs aren't getting paid."

Ekeler said media members are using "general numbers" but emphasized that each running back means more to their team than statistics on a page.

"It goes deeper than that," Ekeler said. "We're actual players and we all have different impacts on each team, so it's very situational."

On Wednesday, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay entered the public forum with a tweet about the running back situation and referred to the collective bargaining agreement that last was agreed to and signed in 2020.

When asked about Irsay's take, Ekeler said, "He's not wrong."

"The franchise tag is in the CBA, but the reason the CBA is what it is, is because we have fought and clawed and tried to pull rights for ourselves as players," Ekeler said. "Us as players have to come together and say, 'Hey, we have to stand up for ourselves because we don't, we're going to get drug through the dirt and we're going to get controlled.' So, we have to protect ourselves and how do we do that? Well, we have to come together and when we have things that come up, this is when we have to make sure we come together so we can protect ourselves."

An undrafted free agent in 2017 who last season led the NFL with 18 touchdowns, Ekeler, 28, this offseason was looking for an extension and raise from the Chargers, but the team did not express interest in negotiating.

Ekeler subsequently requested and was granted permission to seek a trade.

However, more than a month later, general manager Tom Telesco said he had fielded no calls from teams with interest in the seventh-year pro.

Before organized team activities in June, Ekeler returned to the Chargers, who added $1.5 million in incentives to his four-year, $24.5 million deal that expires after the season.