Philadelphia Eagles: What Todd Gurley’s extension means for Jay Ajayi

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Could Todd Gurley’s record-breaking deal with the Los Angeles Rams create unfair expectations for Jay Ajayi’s second contract with the Philadelphia Eagles?

Todd Gurley just got PAID to the tune of record-breaking new four-year, $60 million ($45 million guaranteed) deal, and you’d best believe that the rest of the running backs in the league have taken notice.

One of those players has to be current Philadelphia Eagles lead running back Jay Ajayi.

And at least on the surface, he looks like a prime candidate to secure a lucrative second contract to remain the Eagles lead back for the foreseeable future. Possessing the prototypical size for an NFL running back, 6-foot, 223 pounds, Ajayi played an essential role in Philly’s success down the stretch and ultimately bypassed incumbent starter LeGarrette Blount as the team’s leading rusher in their Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots.

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But unlike Gurley, extenuating circumstances could call Ajayi’s future into question in the City of Brotherly Love.

For one thing, Ajayi has a degenerative knee condition that had some talent evaluators wondering about his long-term future as far back as the NFL draft. After rushing the ball 678 times for a pretty incredible 3796 yards and 50 touchdowns, good for a great 5.6 yards per carry average as a member of the Boise State Broncos, some wondered if the English-born back wouldn’t even be able to make it to his second contract as a pro, or if his body would break down under an NFL lead back’s workload.

While those concerns have for the most part been laid to rest, as Ajayi has appeared in 38 of 48 possible regular season games thus far as a pro, he hasn’t exactly been used cautiously.

Far from it, in fact.

After a fairly pedestrian freshman rushing campaign of only nine games, Ajayi burst into the national spotlight as a sophomore with the Miami Dolphins, rushing for 1272 yards on 260 carries, the third highest Mark of any player in the league, in route to his first Pro Bowl.

This kind of a season would normally have signaled the start of the Ajayi-era in Miami, but his frequent clashes with Miami’s coaching staff, when coupled with his nonchalant attitude placed Ajayi firmly in Adam Gase‘s doghouse in 2017, and is a big reason why Jay became available at the trade deadline for a fourth-round pick.

Though Ajayi did do a lot to rehab his image as a member of the Eagles after having his character called into question in his exit from Miami, he did still have some early clashes with Doug Pederson‘s coach staff, like his public disapproval after only receiving five carries against the Chicago Bears in Week 13. Still, one can’t argue just how great a job Ajayi did do when rushing the ball, which is a big reason why he’s slated to be newly promoted assistant head coach Duce Staley‘s lead back in 2018.

Unfortunately, running the ball’s about all Ajayi is able to do.

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Over the last six seasons, three in college and three as a pro, Ajayi has only caught 131 passes for 1170 yards and six touchdowns. Just for comparison’s sake, Gurley has caught 128 passes for 1303 yards and six touchdowns in his 44 games as a member of the Los Angeles Rams. For a team like the Eagles who subscribe to the Andy Reid-style West Coast offense philosophy, having a three tool runner capable of carrying the ball, catching the ball, and dropping his shoulder in pass protection is an essential cog in keeping the offense running smoothly, especially on a big money deal.

For better or for worse, Ajayi is no Brian Westbrook. However, his backfield mate, Corey Clement, just might be.

Though Clement is far from a finished product at the tender age of 23, he proved in limited action that he’s able to catch the ball as well as run the ball, and even pull off a pretty convincing fake in a trick play, which may convince Howie Roseman that he could be a dynamic swiss army knife in the backfield, as opposed to Ajayi, who’s a much more conventional downhill, one-cut runner.

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Simply put, between his injury history, and lack of versatility, a contract even in the ballpark of Gurley’s four-year, $60 million appears to be a pipe dream at best, which likely won’t go over well to a very prideful player like Ajayi after being heralded as the next best thing only two seasons prior. While the eventual market for Ajayi’s services is still pretty up in the air a year out from his eventual free agency, it’s worth wondering if the Eagles will be looking for a new lead back again next summer.