Releasing Darren Sproles Makes More Sense Than Releasing LeSean McCoy


Though the buzz around the Eagles potentially acquiring a pick that would allow them to select Oregon Quarterback Marcus Mariota has made the Eagles off-season worth talking about, the off-season story is still very much unwritten.

Landing Mariota is still far from a guarantee. Jeremy Maclin and Brandon Graham both returning after career years feels questionable at best.  Todd Herremans and James Casey have already become cap-casualties and the possibility of Trent Cole, Cary Williams and DeMeco Ryans joining those two still exists. And according to a report from’s Paul Domowitch, LeSean McCoy not only could join that group, but he may need to take a pay cut to avoid doing so.

"LeSean McCoy: McCoy’s 2015 cap number is $11.9 million, second highest among NFL running backs to Adrian Peterson ($15.4 million). Throw in Darren Sproles’ $4.1 million cap number and have $16 million of the Eagles’ 2015 salary cap (expected to be around $140 million) invested at running back. And that will increase even more once the Eagles tender restrict free agent Chris Polk. McCoy is only 26 and is one of the two or three best backs in the league. But he already has nearly 1,800 career touches. If his cap number were, say $5 million to $6 million, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. But it isn’t. Chip Kelly has said he wants McCoy back, but at $11.9 million? Not likely."

McCoy will be 27 before Training Camp gets underway late this July, and despite finishing third in the league in rushing in 2014, he saw his yards-per-carry average dip from 5.1 in 2013 to 4.2 in 2014. An optimist could say that after a breakout season in 2011, where McCoy averaged 4.8 yards-per-carry, that injuries to the offensive-line and poor Quarterback play led to McCoy averaging just 4.2 yards-per-carry in 2012. After a career-year in 2013, similar circumstances—albeit, not as drastic—led to a down-year, by McCoy’s standards, in 2014. Unfortunately for McCoy, front-office men aren’t always optimists.

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Regardless of what led to a down year for McCoy in 2014, he had one. There’s little doubt that he’s still one of the best running-backs in the game, but it’s fair to wonder whether the best year of his career is in his rearview. That thought-provoking, well, thought, is why the idea of releasing or moving on from McCoy doesn’t sound blasphemous to some if he is unwilling to restructure his deal to help facilitate an extension for Jeremy Maclin and defensive improvements.

McCoy’s cap hit is due to be $11.95 million. Given that Adrian Peterson is virtually a lock not to return to the Vikings at his current price-tag, possibly not at all, and Marshawn Lynch’s rumored extension is still on the table, McCoy’s cap-hit could end up being the highest in the league for a running-back in 2015. After 2015, however, McCoy’s cap-hits come down to a more manageable $8.85 million in 2016 and $7.85 million in 2017, which complicates the situation. McCoy may not be worth either of those price-tags as he reaches his late-20’s, but he may be, and moving on from him because he has an unfortunately high cap-hit for one season doesn’t feel like the right thing to do.

Of course, the perfect end to this scenario would be for McCoy to accept a pay-cut to help the Eagles out. At the very least, the team could attempt to restructure his deal, which is something McCoy appeared open to at the end of the year. But considering he’s already the best running-back in franchise history and may still very well be in the midst of his prime, he would be well within his rights to not budge on re-doing any parts of his deal.

If McCoy decides that he has no interest in re-doing his deal, or he balks at taking a pay-cut, it really leaves the Eagles with their hands tied behind their backs. Regardless of who plays Quarterback for the team next year, they will have more success with one of the league’s most dynamic weapons in the backfield.

With the surplus of talent at running-back, assuming the Eagles bring Chris Polk back, it’s fair to wonder if releasing Darren Sproles wouldn’t make more sense for the Eagles.

To call Sproles a luxury wouldn’t do justice to the season he had last year. For the first eight games of the year, a time in which the Eagles were 6-2, he was the team’s best offensive player. In addition to racking up 329 rushing yards and just under 400 receiving yards for the team in 2014, he was a Pro-Bowler on special teams, posting career-highs in both punt-return yards (506) and return touchdowns (two).

His great season and the fact that he became an instant fan-favorite, have probably gone a long way in keeping this discussion, at least to my knowledge, tabled thus far. But there really isn’t a world where bringing back 31 year-old Darren Sproles (32 before the season), with a $4.1 million cap-hit that could go towards keeping McCoy, makes sense.

The only flaw in this idea is that Sproles has $3.5 million in dead money, that the Eagles would be left paying him even if the cut him. McCoy has $4.4 million in dead money, which would obviously leave more open money to deal with, but it’s hard to imagine that money could be allocated in a better way than having McCoy on the team. Even the just over half a million Sproles would open up if released, would help to lessen the blow of McCoy’s cap number in 2015.

Dec 14, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back Darren Sproles (right) celebrates his touchdown run with running back LeSean McCoy (left) in the third quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Hypothetically, the team could also attempt to trade Sproles, but he will be 32 next year and is in line to have a cap-hit of $4.5 million in 2016. If the Eagles only had to give up a fifth-round pick for a 30 year-old Sproles, their trade return for him a year later would likely be very minimal. That isn’t to say they couldn’t consider that route, it would open up more money than releasing him, but it’s possible out of courtesy they would release Sproles and allow him to pick his next team, rather than forcing him to a third team in as many years for a late-round pick.

Certainly, upon a release, the Eagles wouldn’t be able to find an able replacement for Sproles. C.J. Spiller has health issues and would likely be too expensive. And certainly there are “Sproles-types” in the draft every year, but they would be unlikely to provide the same impact that Sproles did in 2014.

That considered, Chip Kelly leaned heavily on LeSean McCoy against the Packers, Seahawks and both Cowboys games. While the Eagles were just 1-3 in those games, poor Quarterback play and poor defense had much more to do with the outcomes of the games than McCoy. In perhaps their four biggest challenges of the year, Sproles saw just 10 rushing carries come his way. Perhaps more telling, Sproles had just 50 receiving yards in those four games, zero of which came against the eventual NFC champion Seahawks.

Sproles seemed to lose some of his explosiveness late in the year, and Chip Kelly seemed more interested in leaning heavily on McCoy down the stretch. My suggestion isn’t meant to say that Sproles isn’t an important piece to what the Eagles are trying to do, but he isn’t as important as McCoy. The guess here is that the Eagles find a way to keep both, perhaps at the expense of a Brandon Graham. But if it comes down to one not returning to the team, with both Chris Polk and Matthew Tucker still in the organization, it makes more sense for the Eagles to release Sproles and keep McCoy than the other way around.

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