PHOENIX -- Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley expressed respect and patience for running back Austin Ekeler, despite Ekeler's request to explore trade options as he enters the final season of his contract.
"The respect for Austin I think from our side of things is at the highest they could be for a player," Staley said Monday at the NFL's annual owners meetings. "The position that he's in we're certainly respectful of and I think there's been communication with his team and so we're understanding of that position."
Staley also said contract discussions have begun with quarterback Justin Herbert, who became eligible to sign an extension after last season.
"Those talks are ongoing," Staley said. "We're at the beginning of all that, but we all know how we feel about him and I think navigating this process, we have a very good relationship with his team."
Ekeler, who had an NFL-best 18 touchdowns running and receiving in 2022, is scheduled to earn $6.25 million in the fourth and final season of a $24.5 million extension.
Earlier this month, Ekeler told Chris Long on the "Greenlight" podcast that he is " so underpaid right now" and expressed a desire to sign a long-term extension, whether with the Chargers or another team.
"I'm getting half of my value of what I could be getting," Ekeler said. "So it's like, I'm relentlessly pursuing someone who wants me for the long term."
Ekeler, who turns 28 in May, emphasized that he has no ill will toward the Chargers and would like to remain with the organization, which signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Western Colorado in 2017. But he said he hopes it will be under the correct circumstances.
Staley said Monday that the organization would like Ekeler to stay with the team.
"We see him as someone that is going to help us win a world championship," Staley said. "But we're also respectful of the position he's in within his career and what he's looking for, too, so we're going to be patient but we love Austin Ekeler."
When asked if Ekeler's situation could still be "ironed out" so that he remains on the team in 2023, Staley responded: "That's fair to say."
Over the past two seasons, Ekeler has scored 38 touchdowns -- 12 more than the next-closest player.
Since the Chargers signed Ekeler, he has amassed 63 touchdowns, joining Hall of Famer Lenny Moore as the only players in NFL history to record at least 25 rushing and 25 receiving touchdowns in their first six seasons.