Sproles Still in Eagles’ Plans?
(973espn.com) - Darren Sproles thought 2017 could be the end of the line for him in the NFL.
The dynamic running back realized he would be out of contract at the age of 34 in a league where 30 is a dirty word at his particular position.
If you could have added the fact that the Eagles were actually going to win Super Bowl LII, Sproles would have actually confirmed his retirement, content to go out on the top of the mountain.
Context changes things, however, and even though Sproles got his Super Bowl ring in his 13th year as a professional, content with the knowledge he had secured his legacy as one of the great all-purpose players in NFL history, the San Diego resident wants back in one more time.
And even though the calendar will flip over on Sproles once again on June 20, fresh off the torn ACL and broken arm that short-circuited his 2017 in Week 3 against the New York Giants, Doug Pederson would like the veteran back to rejoin a RB-by-committee approach Sproles once headlined.
Speaking at the annual coaches breakfast at the league meetings in Orlando, the Eagles coach was succinct: "I want him to be an Eagle.”
Pederson also confirmed that Sproles wants to continue to play, something that was already buoyed by the extensive rehab Sproles, a fitness fanatic by nature, has been going through.
“We’ve reached out to [Darren] during the free agency period and talked to him,” Pederson explained. “... He’s expressed he wants to be back here. He knows we want him back here.”
The issue comes with fit.
Obviously, Sproles would certainly be the lead punt returner, a role in which he can credibly argue as being among the best of all-time with seven career PR touchdowns.
Before the injury Sproles was the lead man in the RB rotation, playing 49 percent of the offensive snaps in the season opener against Washington and 69 percent in Week 2 at Kansas City, a number somewhat skewed by Philadelphia playing from behind late.
Since then things have changed, most notably with the acquisition of Jay Ajayi at last year's trade deadline and the surprising development of Corey Clement.
If Sproles does return in 2018 he's certainly behind Ajayi in the mix and would have to outperform the now second-year Clement to carve out a significant role in the offense.
The latter is certainly possible and perhaps even likely but then you get into the murkiness of limiting snaps for a younger player with upside, shelf life, and cost-effectiveness, traits that also could be applied (at least in theory) to other younger options like Donnel Pumphrey and Wendell Smallwood.
Another overriding factor is the age of the team as a whole as Philadelphia has already taken on Michael Bennett (32), Haloti Ngata (34) and Mike Wallace (32 in August) this offseason and has agreed to bring back Chris Long, who turns 33 on Wednesday. In a young man's game, that kind of roster building could go in a negative direction rather quickly.
Pederson, though, seems to understand what he has in Sproles and wouldn't mind enjoying it for one more season.
“I’m not concerned about a Darren Sproles going forward,” Pederson said. “I just know the way he works, the way he trains, the way he gets himself prepared. If and when he decides to sign and come back, we’re ready for him.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen