Austin Ekeler Discusses Melvin Gordon, New Contract, Chargers' 2020 Outlook

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2020

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) carries the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Fresh off signing a four-year, $24.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Chargers, Austin Ekeler expects there to be a "new aura" in L.A. next season.

"It really is [going to be different]," Ekeler said Tuesday on NFL Network. "I was actually talking to our [general manager], Tom Telesco. And he's just like, 'There's gonna be a new aura around the Chargers next year.' [Antonio] Gates is gone—retired. Philip, who's been there forever—these guys that have been there forever are starting to move out. You know one of our leaders, Russell Okung, he's going over to the Panthers, so we've lost a lot of our leadership that we used to have. And that's new opportunities for guys to step up. And we're moving to a new stadium, as well."

The Chargers offense will have almost an entirely new look in 2020. Philip Rivers, the Chargers' starting quarterback since 2006, is parting ways with the organization after a frustrating 2019. Melvin Gordon is also heading toward free agency and appears unlikely to return. The team also traded tackle Russell Okung to the Carolina Panthers for guard Trai Turner.

Ekeler said he's rooting for Gordon and other running backs on the open market to get paid.

"For me as a player in the NFL, we need Melvin to get paid," Ekeler said. "Cause the market for running backs is a lot lower than any other market as far as pay and things like that. It's a double-edged sword. We want him here, but we always want him to get paid. Especially as a running back—and all the other running backs—we need some people to set the market, the Pro Bowl guys need to set the market.

"We need Derrick Henry, we need those guys to get paid."

Ekeler's new contract likely spells the end of his backfield-mate's time in Los Angeles. While he would have been a restricted free agent, Ekeler getting a long-term deal also spells out the Chargers' faith in the former undrafted free agent.

Ekeler said the Chargers rewarding him "meant a lot" because it signified the organization's faith in how he represents it, not just on the field but off it: "I think the complete package is what really brought them to actually coming to a deal."