Commanders lauded for cost-effective Austin Ekeler addition

This looks like an outstanding deal for all involved...
Austin Ekeler
Austin Ekeler / Kevin R. Wexler / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Washington Commaders were lauded for their cost-effective decision to sign running back Austin Ekeler in free agency.

Paying veteran running backs isn't the current trend around the NFL, although that changed slightly given the wealth of options available during the recent free-agent frenzy. The Washington Commanders also got into the mix, picking up dual-threat Austin Ekeler after his relationship with the Los Angeles Chargers soured.

Despite the presence of Brian Robinson Jr. and Chris Rodriguez Jr., the Commanders felt another option was needed after Antonio Gibson departed for the New England Patriots. Another running back arriving via the 2024 NFL Draft cannot be dismissed, but this looks like a productive three-headed monster capable of making things easier for Washington's new rookie quarterback.

Commanders signing Austin Ekeler named among NFL's smartest deals

Ekeler's arrival on a two-year, $8.43 million deal with a $3 million signing bonus and $4.21 million guaranteed comes with significant intrigue attached. Something that was examined further by Jeff Kerr from CBS Sports, who placed the signing among his five smartest around the league during free agency so far.

"There are smart deals for free agent running backs, and paying [Austin] Ekeler $4.17 million a year is one of them. Ekeler never received the contract he wanted with the Los Angeles Chargers, and those days of getting major money for his position appear to be past him at 29 years old. The highest cap number for Ekeler is $5.11 million in year two of the deal, and this is just one year removed from leading the NFL in touchdowns in 2021 and 2022. An ankle injury in Week 1 limited Ekeler to 3.1 yards per carry after the opening week (third worst in the NFL), so the Commanders were able to get him at a reasonable price. If Ekeler is fully recovered from the ankle injury, the Commanders are getting a player that had 3,195 scrimmage yards and 38 scrimmage touchdowns combined in 2021 and 2022. If Ekeler performs near that level in 2024, his contract will be one of the biggest steals in the NFL."

Jeff Kerr, CBS Sports

This project is something that Ekeler actively sought during free agency. He wanted to link up with a dynamic young running back such as Robinson. Having his former head coach Anthony Lynn part of the staff as Washington's running backs coach only sweetened the pot.

Nobody is expecting Ekeler to accumulate 30-plus carries at this stage of his career. If he can stay healthy, emerge as a dependable pass-catching presence out of the backfield, and continue his exceptional red-zone efficiency, that's all offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury is probably looking for. It'll also be money well spent from the Commanders' perspective.

Ekeler's credentials are right up there with any productive running back over the last decade. He's got a lot of mileage on the clock, which is why implementing his skill set as part of a committee approach is the best route forward. And make no mistake, Kingsbury already has a plan in place.

Finding the right quarterback at No. 2 overall in the 2024 NFL Draft will be crucial. But this is a tremendous landing spot for any young signal-caller thanks to improved coaching and experienced figures on offense capable of helping them along the way.

There's also the small matter of extra motivation from Ekeler's perspective. He feels aggrieved about the Chargers' reluctance to pay him the going rate. He'll be striving to prove them and everyone else wrong, which is great news for the Commanders in their quest for better fortunes in 2024 and beyond.