During the offseason you get a lot of self important fans who like to set out their vision for the team and speak out if their preferred football team veers off course. Sometimes, this is perfectly reasonable. And I’m not chastising these fans either, you can look back on this blog and see that I’ve been there many times. People like to categorize things, they like to put things in neat little boxes and say that’s just the way it is. Does the real world work that way? I’d argue there’s a spectrum of things, not nice little cookie cutter boxes of things. Sometimes, when things don’t fit neatly within that “box” or “plan”, they don’t like it.
What am I talking about? I’m talking about Eagles fans who have been preaching on twitter the merits of not overpaying veteran players and building for the future the “right way”. Don’t sign Jairus Byrd? That’s fine, he was too expensive and who knows what he’d be in two years. Don’t sign Darrelle Revis? That’s fine for the same reasons. And they toss DeMarcus Ware, Julius Peppers, Jared Allen and Vince Wilfork in that group of “too old and expensive” too. It’s not hard to find these people, you can find most beat writers mocking common fans for bemoaning the Eagles lack of a “big name” signing. Is this group of fans right or wrong? Who knows, I’m inclined to agree with that group that says don’t over-pay for a number of reasons. Will we regret not signing all-pro talents? Time will tell, I guess.
But here’s where things get a little ridiculous: People who don’t like the Darren Sproles trade because he’s old. I understand that you want the Eagles to “stick with the plan” that you laid out in your mind but come on. What if the Eagles traded for Darren Sproles and it really doesn’t affect the team’s long-term future? Hint, it doesn’t. One news outlet wrote an article that asked “Darren Sproles: weapon or fading player”, what if he’s both? Why does everything have to be so black and white?
Here’s what I think: Darren Sproles is aging but he’s a viable and dynamic football weapon. He immediately becomes another weapon in Chip Kelly’s arsenal. And, he’s not a hinderance to the future of the team. He’s an upgrade. Darren Sproles is an immediate asset that brings value to this football team right now. And, he was cheap! A 5th round pick for such a dynamic and versatile weapon? I’ll take that. Had we overpaid and mortgaged a potentially valuable part of our future, I’d understand why people wouldn’t like the move but we didn’t.
Consider recent 5th round picks: Earl Wolff, Dennis Kelly, Dion Lewis, Julian Vandervelde, Ricky Sapp, Riley Cooper, Cornelius Ingram, Fenuki Tupou and Macho Harris. Reality is, Darren Sproles is a proven entity that is far more likely to bring value to your football team unless you get lucky (see: Riley Cooper). Sproles is better than what that 5th round pick would’ve been.
Consider what Sproles brings to this team. He’s a dynamic change of pace running back. He’s the most productive and likely best receiving running back in the NFL. He’s versatile and has proven he can win at both running back and slot receiver. And he’s proven himself to be one of the NFL’s most dynamic return threats. Darren Sproles is an all-purpose yards beast with 15,504 all purpose yards to his name this far into his NFL career.
In the past three seasons, Darren Sproles has 3,048 yards from scrimmage on 420 touches and 23 all-purpose touchdowns. That’s incredibly efficient, that’s 7.26 yards a touch. And just last season, Sproles had 8 plays of 20 or more yards and 1 of 40 or more. He also led NFL running backs in yards per route run. And his versatility speaks for itself, he spent 39.1% of snaps in the slot receiver position according to ProFootballFocus.
Why did we cut Jason Avant? It wasn’t because he was old. It was because his level of play didn’t match his level of pay. Chip Kelly wanted a more dynamic option on offense. Well, with the re-signing of Maclin and Cooper, the trading for Darren Sproles and the ascension of Zach Ertz, we’ve more than fulfilled the need for more dynamic options in Jason Avant’s place. Jason Avant’s biggest wart was his lack of dynamic abilities, he averaged 3.5 yards after the catch for his career and 2.4 last season. The committee that appears ready to replace him looks like this:
Darren Sproles: 9.1 yards after the catch for his career and 7.8 last season and forced 15 missed tackles (Avant forced 3)
Jeremy Maclin: 26 touchdowns in 4 seasons, 51 receptions of 20+ yards, 13 of 40+ and 4.2 yards after the catch
Riley Cooper: 8 touchdowns last season, 13 plays of 20+ yards, 6 of 40+ and 5.4 yards after the catch
DeSean Jackson: 9 touchdowns last season, 126 career plays of 20+ yards, 42 of 40+ and last season he was 8th in the league in total yards after the catch averaging 6.2 yards after the catch.
Zach Ertz: The only rookie TE in NFL history other than Rob Gronkowski to average 13+ YPC in their rookie years. He averaged 4.2 YAC for the season, averaged 11.8 YPC from the slot and had 2 TDs.
I like the Darren Sproles trade because it gives the Eagles an immediate weapon on offense, improving a strength of our football team and now, even more so than before I think you can consider Jason Avant upgraded.
And just as a quick aside, I think people grossly under-appreciate the player that Sproles is. Every year you hear about a player who’s going to be the “next Darren Sproles” and it never pans out that way. Sproles is truly a unique weapon that I’m glad to have on my team that is now filled to the brim with playmakers.