McMullen: Roseman Takes Risk on Jay Ajayi
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — Before you peel back the onion, the Eagles acquisition of third-year running back Jay Ajayi is another home run for Howie Roseman.
A 24-year-old Pro Bowl-level back who is on a cost-effective rookie deal for a fourth-round pick is the kind of upside worth taking, especially for a franchise that believes the championship window is open and needs some help in the backfield after a season-ending injury to Darren Sproles.
There are two sides to every story, however, and Doug Pederson unknowingly foreshadowed the potential issues with bringing in Ajayi midseason to a team that is 7-1 and already believes it can beat anyone in front of them.
"It's got to be the right fit," Pederson said Monday when asked about the trade deadline. "It can't just be anybody. From my standpoint, you don't want to disrupt the chemistry that is going on in the dressing room right now. And those guys are playing with a lot of confidence, and they're rallying around each other. So it would have to be a pretty special fit to make it work."
So is Ajayi that special fit?
From a talent standpoint, you can answer that question affirmatively in a pretty comfortable fashion. Ajayi is a big, bruising runner who can give a defense nightmares when he's squaring his shoulders and moving north-south. He's also a guy who embraces volume and in an era where 30 touches is an anomaly for running backs and by all accounts worked exceedingly hard to turn himself into a legitimate three-down back in the offseason.
There are issues, however, especially when you look at this from a South Florida perspective. Why trade a young back on a cost-effective deal who has already rushed for 200 yards in a game three times?
The answer lies in what one source close to the Dolphins told 973espn.com was immaturity.
Ajayi wanted the football and wanted in a lot in Miami and when he didn't get he stewed, even after wins.
"He wants it 25 times a game and if he doesn't get it there is going to be a problem," this source claimed.
In Philadelphia that could be an issue obviously although what has been a running back by committee to this point will likely be pared down to LeGarrette Blount and Ajayi, once the latter gets acclimated to the Eagles' offensive system.
Then there were the issues with Adam Gase as well, the Dolphins' second-year head coach who was painted as an offensive wunderkind coming into Miami but now stewards the 32nd-ranked defense in football.
"Gase is embarrassed that he has the worst offense in the NFL and he was intent on sending a message," the source asserted.
Ajayi was one of the players Gase was alluding to when the coach claimed that certain players weren't going the extra mile and didn't take work home with them.
“At the end of the day, guys have got to actually take this stuff home and study it,” Gase said recently. “They’re not going to just learn it all in meetings. We’ve got to find guys that will actually put forth effort to actually remember this stuff and really, it starts with our best players.”
The narrative coming from Miami (and make no mistake, the epicenter is Gase) revolves around that immaturity, a tag that was first stuck on Ajayi when he was in college at Boise State. Add in questions about a potential degenerative knee condition and you understand how a second- or third-round talent drops to the fifth round in the draft.
Once Ajayi started having success in 2016 his stock soared especially in London, the city where he was born.
"He's a good player who thinks he's a star," the source claimed.
There are conflicts in the way Gase and the Dolphins are now portraying Ajayi, however. Most notably, an immature and selfish kid probably wouldn't spend his offseason working so hard to improve his pass-catching ability as well as his prowess in pass protection.
When it comes to the Eagles in many ways this will come down to who really is the immature one here, the 24-year-old proven producer or Gase, the 39-year-old coach who seems so willing to blame everyone but himself when it comes to rationalizing the worst offense in the NFL.
From Roseman's perspective it was a worthwhile gamble and now it's Pederson's job to make sure Ajayi is that "special fit."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen