Why less could be more for Commanders RB Austin Ekeler in 2024

The veteran running back's load will lighten next season.
Austin Ekeler
Austin Ekeler / Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Austin Ekeler is looking to silence some increasing doubters next season. The Los Angeles Chargers didn't want to pay the running back per his exceptional contribution. They felt like there was too much tread on the tires to warrant a long-term commitment. The veteran took this as a slight and sought alternative employment.

Ekeler penned a two-year deal with the Washington Commanders after being convicted that this was the right project to prolong his career. He's not just a ready-made replacement for Antonio Gibson following his departure to the New England Patriots, he's an upgrade. Working alongside Anthony Lynn - his former head coach with the Chargers and Washington's new running backs coach - only whets the appetite further.

Decreased workload can help Austin Ekeler shine with the Commanders

A career renaissance is well within the player's capabilities. This was a sentiment echoed by Adam Rank from NFL.com, who thought the presence of Brian Robinson Jr. could diminish Ekeler's carries to a level where he's more impactful within Kliff Kingsbury's creative offensive scheme.

"Oh, man -- I continue to believe this was a pretty good get for the Commanders. I always felt like they wanted Antonio Gibson to be an [Austin] Ekeler-type back for them, so with the Gibby era ending (he headed to New England), why not go and get the actual Ekeler? I'm aware Ekeler just had one of his worst seasons as a pro in his final year with the Chargers, putting up just 4.6 yards per touch in 14 games. I'm also excited to see him bounce back in Washington, where the presence of fellow back Brian Robinson Jr. (733 rushing yards and five touchdowns in 2023) could keep the 29-year-old's workload at a more manageable level than it was at in 2021 and '22, when he ranked sixth in the NFL in touches (587)."

Adam Rank, NFL.com

Ekeler wasn't going to sign just anywhere this offseason. He wanted to find a team with an established young running back already in place. The Commanders have that in Robinson, who caught the eye impressively last season despite Eric Bieniemy deploying a pass-heavy offensive attack.

That's not to say Ekeler won't play a huge role. He'll be utilized heavily in the red zone looking at his proven credentials in this area. His ability as a route-runner out of the backfield can become a solid security blanket for rookie quarterback Jayden Daniels during his pivotal transition from college to the pros.

If Ekeler can stay healthy and keep the same explosiveness that's become synonymous with his production, it'll be a tremendous piece of business by the Commanders. One that can assist Daniels and Robinson greatly along the way.

There's a chance Ekeler loses a step and doesn't produce. However, the former undrafted free agent won't want the Chargers to feel vindicated in their choice not to keep one of their most productive offensive playmakers around. That's motivation enough to make a real go of things in the nation's capital.

The Commanders structured Ekeler's contract to ensure it's easy to get off after one season. Hopefully, it doesn't come to that and the touchdown machine emerges as an integral piece of Washington's offensive puzzle throughout his deal.

Anything less might see his time in the league come to an abrupt halt.