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Chargers GM Tom Telesco doesn't think Austin Ekeler situation will alter draft plans

More than a month removed from Austin Ekeler requesting permission to seek a trade, the standout running back is still on the Los Angeles Chargers' roster.

As Ekeler remains, the Chargers' 2023 NFL Draft plans remain unchanged by their back's hopes of a bigger payday and a new landing spot.

"I don't think so," Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said Monday, via team transcript, of Ekeler's situation changing the team's draft strategy. "We had Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree here, then we drafted Isaiah Spiller last year. Isaiah kind of fits in the category of players from previous drafts having to step up and fill needs. Typically, like in this year's draft, not a lot of these guys are going to come in and fill a need. When you look at the draft, when you draft players in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth round, people think that they are going to come in and immediately fill a need. You hope that they come in and earn a role.

"We think that it's a pretty good room right now, so I wouldn't necessarily look at it like that."

Ekeler wasn't taken in the third, fourth, fifth or sixth, he was an undrafted free agent in 2017 who's risen to the ranks of the NFL's running back elite. And he'd like to be paid at a top-tier level as his $6.12 million average per season is currently 13th among NFL RBs.

Owning little leverage, Ekeler's come to the conclusion that he might well have to play out his current contract and head to free agency for a larger deal. Thus, Telesco and Co. don't necessarily have to have an Ekeler contingency plan right now. Still, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Bolts bolster their backfield and select Ekeler's replacement (for 2023 or beyond) this week in the draft.

Then again, they could have Ekeler's heir apparent already in-house, though the players mentioned by Telesco have produced little so far, though they haven't had all that much run, either.

In three seasons, Kelley has 1,030 scrimmage yards. Rountree has just 119 scrimmage yards in a pair of seasons, and Spiller's rookie campaign last year saw him garner 41 rushing yards and 13 receiving. Nonetheless, Telesco seems particularly high on Spiller, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2022 draft.

"Like a lot of players from last year's draft, they have a full offseason in the program," the GM said. "We like Isaiah. We liked him a lot when we drafted him. He's a 225-pound running back who is 5-foot-11 and has great vision, can make people miss. He was stuck behind some players last year and he will get a chance to come in, compete and earn a job this year. We would have liked to have seen him get a little bit more run last year, but there were some other players in front of him. He's still the same talent that we saw last year. Like a lot of these players, they may earn roles more towards the middle or back end of their rookie contract, maybe not right at the beginning -- which is OK, which is normal. Then, take it from there."

As for where Ekeler's situation stands, Telesco was largely mum on the situation.

"Not since the [Annual League Meeting]," Telesco said when asked if there had been any developments. "No update."

When asked if L.A. had received any inquiries from other teams, Telesco mirrored his previous response.

"Same answer as before, no updates there," Telesco said.

A phenomenally versatile back with a nose for the end zone, Ekeler has produced north of 1,500 scrimmage yards in three of his last four seasons. He's also posted 20 and 18 total touchdowns in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

A feel-good story who signed with the Chargers out of Western State, Ekeler originally split time with Melvin Gordon. However, Gordon, similarly disgruntled with the franchise, held out looking for a trade or more cash before ultimately playing out his final season with the club in 2019 and moving on in free agency. Ekeler became the unquestioned lead back after that, but could be in store for a similar conclusion with the Chargers. For now, there is nothing new on his situation and no plans on changing any draft strategy.

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