Austin Ekeler wants to 'attack' franchise tag: 'It's detrimental to us as players'

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler set up last week's RB Zoom call with other top rushers to organize in the face of a diminishing market for their position.

Ekeler told Tyler Dragon of USA Today that it wasn't just a one-time meeting.

"We wanted to get on that call because we wanted to hear everyone's story," Ekeler told Dragon. "It's not just a one-time call. We are gonna have more of those and continue to get more people on. We just had that to kind of break the ice and bring awareness. There are gonna be more calls and more education on what's going on, and how we can combat it and decide if it's worth combatting in the future. ... It's educating right now. That is the next step in my eyes."

The running back market has been a hot-button issue for a while, but it boiled over after Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs didn't generate long-term deals before the July 17 franchise tag deadline.

Colts owner Jim Irsay even tossed in his two cents on Wednesday night.

The supply and demand issue of the position has led teams not to pay running backs top dollar, instead spending that dough elsewhere.

Ekeler himself is an example of both sides of the coin. Undrafted out of Western State, the 5-foot-10 dual threat has worked his way into one of the most dynamic backs in the NFL. He is dynamite with the ball in space, one of the best pass catchers in the league and can find pay dirt in the red zone. But as an undrafted player, his pay has always lagged behind his worth.

Teams are looking for the next Ekeler: a low-cost option who can grow into a critical weapon. That doesn't help the position get paid.

"It's frustrating for us as running backs. Just because we know the value that we bring to the team. I'm not saying that every running back is a top-value guy that should be getting paid, but especially the guys who just got franchise-tagged -- Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard. The impact that those guys have on their team is immense," Ekeler told Dragon. "That's why we are frustrated. You want us to be this pivotal point in your organization; however, you're not gonna compensate us for that. You're gonna come out and franchise tag us."

The key for Ekeler is targeting the franchise tag, which he views as keeping a ceiling on players, particularly running backs.

"I want to attack it. I think it's detrimental to us as players. You can look at any of the statistics. Our average career is three years. If you are fortunate enough to be in a position to have success, and now you're able to be locked in for more on one year, one year, one year and not have to share any of that risk with the organization, then it's just not a great situation," Ekeler said. "It's very one-sided."

When CBA negotiations arise, talk of the franchise tag generally comes up. Still, it hasn't been a focal point for the union, mainly because such a low percentage of their membership is affected by it that it's not worth spending the capital it would cost to convince NFL owners to give it up. Perhaps Ekeler and his fellow RBs can change that, but with the current agreement going through 2030, it'll be a long road ahead.

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