The Eagles need a running back. To me, it must be their biggest offseason priority.
If that wasn’t painfully obvious as the season wore on, and Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement went out with injuries, it was even clearer on Sunday, when the NFL’s version of the Final Four, commenced.
Three of the teams playing in their respective conference title games had top 10 rushing attacks this past regular season. The Rams were the third best running team in the league. The Patriots were fifth and the Saints sixth. The other Chiefs were 16th, but Andy Reid’s west coast offense is designed to throw the ball and spearheaded by this season’s breakout start, Patrick Mahomes.
Of the 12 teams who began the postseason, eight had to 10 rushing games. Seattle led the league in rushing. The other teams, in addition to those who played on Sunday, were the Ravens (second), Titans (7th), Texans (8th), and Cowboys (10th).
The Eagles ranked 28th.
It is time for the Birds to forget the notion that they can find a running back in the draft. They missed badly when they traded up to take Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round two years ago of what was a running back-deep draft.
The Eagles reportedly wanted to take Dalvin Cook in the second round, but the Vikings traded ahead of them and took Cook instead. The Eagles, though, didn’t adjust. Still on the board – before they took Pumphrey – were Alvin Kamara and James Connor (third round) and Marlon Mack and Tarik Cohen (fourth round) to name a few.
The Birds know they need a running back. They saw what having the league’s third-best rushing attack did for them in 2017.
Josh Adams isn’t the answer. He may be a decent complementary piece, but the Eagles didn’t think enough of him to play him more in the postseason. Adams had one snap against the Bears then didn’t get off the bench on offense in the loss to the Saints in the Divisional round.
Executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson played coy in their final meeting with reporters last week when it talk of the running back situation was broached.
“I think that when we look at all the positions and we go through it, Jay getting hurt early, Corey getting hurt, that was a position that was affected,” said Roseman. “Those were two of the three guys who were part of the rotation in the Super Bowl last year; really key guys. So we have to look at that among other positions and figure out where we are going forward. Again, we want to strengthen the roster, make sure we're improving the roster, we're not standing pat and wherever we end up coming up to the positions that we need to improve.”
Added Pederson: “I don't put everything on the running back position. The offensive line has a part in that, tight ends; obviously injury plays a part in that. So it's as Howie said, we'll take a look at that as we evaluate this spring. The injuries with Jay and Corey obviously lessened that position a little bit. That's two guys that took a bunch of reps last year in 2017. So moving forward, we'll evaluate it and, again, do what's right for the team.”
Ajayi is a free agent and, based on the past two years, Clement is better used in a situational role.
Maybe Ajayi comes back at a discount. Certainly he won’t receive the big-money deal he is hoping for as he rehabs from a torn ACL to go along with the knee injury he suffered at Boise State still being a concern.
Darren Sproles is mulling retirement, but even if he chooses to play again, the Eagles should move on from him.
“Everyone knows how we feel about Darren Sproles, again as a person and a player,” said Roseman. “There are not many guys who have walked through this building who have higher character, better leadership ability, and have the chance to go to the Hall of Fame. So I think that everyone just needs time to get away and you kind of reconvene those conversations at the appropriate time, and that’s what we’ll do.”
In the meantime, here’s my two cents:
Sign Mark Ingram as a free agent from the Saints.
The Hackensack, N.J., native just turned 29 in December and is still effective. He has the kind of ability required from NFL backs – to run and be able to catch out of the backfield. Check his numbers the past five seasons. He has averaged nearly five catcher per game in that span, with two 1,000-yard rushing seasons and another with 964 yards on the ground.
He won’t come cheaply, coming off a four-year, $16 million contract with New Orleans, but he will be cheaper than Le’Veon Bell.
After that, use one of your two picks in the second round of the draft to get one.
Not being a big college football junkie like I know some of reading this are (so I welcome any and all feedback here), but it looks like Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill could be a nice addition, especially with his ability to catch the ball. I also fell in love with Kentucky’s Bennie Snell when watching the Wildcats beat Penn State in their New Year’s Day bowl.
Add Ingram and Hill or Snell and you start spring’s OTAs with those two plus Wendell Smallwood, Clement, Adams, and Pumphrey as your six backs and go from there.