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Austin Ekeler: Workhorse Entrepreneur Always in Command

The new Washington Commanders running back discusses with Boardroom his free agency process, his business, his NFLPA role, managing his ventures, and more.

The day before he met his Washington Commanders teammates for the first time during offseason workout programs, star running back Austin Ekeler sat at a restaurant table across from New York City’s Bryant Park, taking meetings for his business off the field before starting to handle his business on it.

The 28-year-old said he has 15 employees working at Eksperience, Ekeler’s platform helping student-athletes optimize NIL monetization and promoting their personal brands by letting in-house staffers do the heavy lifting for them. Eksperience will work directly with university athletic programs and NIL collectives to facilitate year-round campaigns and take tedious responsibilities off athletes’ plates while allowing them to control their engagements with communities, fans, alumni, and brands. And for the vast majority of student athletes who won’t go pro, Eksperience aims to provide tools to schools and collectives facilitating deeper connections between athletes, fans, and alumni. The goal is to get 5-10 universities of varying levels on board with Eksperience by the end of 2024 as the business grows and scales.

Over his playing career, Ekeler has designed the modern NFL blueprint for building a successful long-term business as an active pro football player.

“I’m in a unique position because I was really going into business and the NFL wasn’t necessarily my main priority going into college. It was something I thought about but never really was the main thing,” Ekeler told Boardroom. “And then when the opportunity for the NFL came to me, my entrepreneurial spirit still stayed with me.”

The Nebraska native described his first-ever professional free agency as fun, quick, and a little stressful. With perhaps the best crop of free agent running backs ever, including Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley, and Tony Pollard, all on the market at the same time, it was a high-stakes game of musical chairs for players and teams alike.

While the Los Angeles Chargers wanted to keep the door open to Ekeler returning to the team he spent the first seven years of his career on, there wasn’t a lot of meaningful conversation, he said.

“It seemed like they wanted to go in a different direction with maybe a bigger back,” Ekeler continued, adding that Los Angeles ended up signing bruising ‘backer Gus Edwards from Baltimore.

With running backs signing left and right, Green Bay and Houston expressed interest in addition to Washington, offering various roles and financial packages. Many of the responses were variations of “We’re interested, but we want this guy. So if you take a deal, take it. Don’t wait on us” or “We’re looking at getting this guy, but if we don’t get him, we’d love to come talk to you if you’re still available.”

Ekeler prioritized the best football scenario, where he’d fit best and have the most success. Where he’d live and everything else came second. Washington came with a two-year, $8.43 million offer, the chance to work with Anthony Lynn, the Commanders’ run game coordinator and running backs coach, who was his head coach during his most productive Chargers season, and his ideal workload in a tandem situation with incumbent Brian Robinson. He’d have to move to the East Coast for the first time in his life.


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“Being in the situation that I’m in now will help me extend my career,” Ekeler said. “I remember after games when I was splitting [reps] with Melvin Gordon, my body would feel amazing after games. I might get 10 carries and have 60, 70 yards and a touchdown. Made a great impact. And my body’s like, ‘alright, I can go play again right now.’ I’m not sure how the running back situation will end up. Things can happen, but I’m here to be a tandem. I’m here to take all the reps if that’s what is asked upon. I really see it as a win-win.”

Overall, Ekeler was happy with the money running backs got this year in free agency, unlike last year when nobody could negotiate more per year than the franchise tag, a trend that’s happened to tight ends, safeties, and long snappers at times, he pointed out. That’s when Ekeler organized a Zoom meeting with eight of the top players at the position, NFLPA Executive Director Lloyd Howell, Jr., and then-NFLPA President JC Tretter. The meeting’s goals were to voice their frustration in a unified manner and keep making an impact on the field.

Ekeler was recently re-elected to a second term on the NFLPA’s executive committee, one of 10 Vice Presidents under new Player President Jalen Reeves-Maybin. The committee helps delve deeper into various issues and proposals, presenting and making recommendations on issues that will impact more than 1,500 players around the league.

One proposal the committee released a statement in vehement opposition on, but the 32 teams unanimously approved, was a rule banning hip-drop tackles, a controversial change we’ll see implemented in games next season.

“We just need to have a better process of how we come up with these new rules,” Ekeler said. “We’d like to get a little bit more involved in the future. We felt this rule in particular is going to be detrimental to the game.”

The hip-drop tackle, Ekeler explained, adds a lot more gray area to the game for not just defenders trying to bring ball carriers down who may be in different positions but also officials making enormous, game-changing judgment calls and coaches and coordinators at all levels who may now need to teach the game differently.

While he may split carries on the field in 2024 for the Commanders, Ekeler’s been a workhorse off of it with Eksperience, work with the NFLPA, his foundation, endorsement deals including Adidas, American Airlines, and an award-winning short-form video series on Yahoo Fantasy called Ekeler’s Edge. He said he already feels like an entrepreneur, ready to make an impact in whatever he chooses to focus on next.

As Ekeler got up from lunch and exited the restaurant on a chilly Monday afternoon, his focus was on the day’s final meetings before jetting off to Washington DC for a new adventure that will surely be far from his last.

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Shlomo Sprung

Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.