While much of the focus leading up to the official start of the NFL’s free agency period in regards to the Eagles have been on the defensive side of the ball, one has to imagine that the offensively-geared Chip Kelly is keeping his eyes and ears peeled for any possible way to improve an already potent offense. Recently, a stalwart from one of the league’s most prolific offensive units over the past few seasons hit the free agency market and almost immediately the queries as to whether former Saint Darren Sproles would be a fit with the Eagles came pouring in.
— Robert Murray (@IgglesCoverage) March 7, 2014
Sproles, who turns 31 in June, is often mentioned in the same breath as the most dynamic multi-dimensional backs in the league. His ability to impact the game from multiple different standpoints has allowed the slightish Sproles (5’6″) to carve out an impressive niche for himself over eight NFL seasons. He has led the league in all-purpose yards before (2,696 in 2011) and is third on the active list in that category. Despite never being a ‘featured’ back for either the Saints or the Chargers, for whom Sproles played his first five seasons for, the Kansas State product has been able to produce at an admirable level every season in his career.
When the news came down that Sproles was going to be let go by the Saints, the Eagles jumped to the top of the list as far as free agent suitors. Given Chip Kelly’s track record at the college level utilizing the so-called ‘TAZR” formation and the versatile athletes necessary for the option-based attack, it seemed only logical to link the versatile Sproles to Philadelphia. Add in the fact that the Eagles are still looking for a player to satisfy their desperate need at the kick/punt returner position, and Sproles appears to be a perfect fit. For all of those fans out there hoping to see Sproles, one of the most entertaining offensive weapons of the better part of the last decade, land in Philadelphia prepare for disappointment, as he will not be suiting up for the Eagles for anything less than a veteran-minimum contract.
If the year was 2008 and Sproles was in the prime of his career, one would think Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman would at least kick the tires on a potential weapon on an already prolific offense. That said, time is the enemy for all NFL players. In the case of Sproles, who plays a position with a short shelf life and already isn’t the ideal frame, the proverbial ‘Doomsday Clock’ is accelerated that much more. Playing for a New Orleans offense that has moved the ball and scored as effectively as any in the NFL during Sproles’ time there, a dip in production is not a good sign for a player if he is looking to hold down a significant role on his third NFL team.
Sproles saw his production tail off in every category one could imagine. Kickoff and punt return yardage totals were down and he failed to reach the endzone in that facet. His rushing and receiving totals were down from the season before and significantly down from his career year in 2011. After averaging 8.5 trips to the endzone in 2011 & 2012, Sproles only reached paydirt four times in 2013. Lump in the fact that Sproles is about as far from the ‘Big People beat up little people’ mantra that Chip Kelly has hitched his wagon to, and one has to think the two sides are not a match.
The Eagles have been among the better organizations at making sure their running backs can impact the game in both the run and pass game. It allows elite talents like LeSean McCoy and Brian Westbrook, when he was active, to remain in the game for all offensive downs. This Eagles team has also brought along a pair of more-than-capable back up running backs in Chris Polk and Bryce Brown. Although it is possible that a player like Brown might try to urge management to move him for the chance to be a featured back, something tells me the Eagles would prefer not to devote a significant, even remotely, chunk of their cap space to a declining player at a position of strength.
Something tells me that Sproles will land on his feet somewhere with a chance to contend for a title. The Eagles are not quite in the echelon of some other NFL teams that see their window for winning a Super Bowl closing ever so slightly. It would come as no surprise for Sproles to end up in Denver or New England, both locations with established veteran quarterbacks trying for one last championship. The Broncos recently cut ties with kick returner Trindon Holliday and could probably convince Sproles to take a pay cut for a chance at a title. No matter how much Eagles fans try to convince themselves otherwise, the team is not a ‘Darren Sproles’ away from a championship. If anything, they would probably hurt their long-term chances at contending for a title by having Sproles take up any sort of cap space.
For now, take solace in the fact that the Eagles already might have the best running back in the league who is a much more dynamic pass-catching option than Sproles is at this point in their careers. The pint-sized back has dealt with shortcomings his entire career and one would have to expect for him to be able to convince some team to sign him up to improve their offense. For now, the Eagles just don’t seem to fit that bill and, while Sproles would probably have some exciting moments were the team to sign him, the aging back goes against almost everything that management has preached as far as how the Eagles will approach free agency.