Jay Ajayi couldn’t even watch football.
The 26-year-old running back, in the process of rehabbing a torn ACL, had to get away from his television every Sunday afternoon. He worked out instead.
“I knew my competitiveness would get me kind of upset that I wasn’t playing yet,” Ajayi said. “I tried to keep my mind on other things throughout the whole process and just staying on my training.”
But Ajayi’s 13-month hiatus is over. The London native reunited with the Eagles last Friday, adding depth to a running back room that is temporarily without lead back Jordan Howard and not-so-temporarily without Darren Sproles. Ajayi filled Sproles’ roster spot Friday after the veteran running back was placed on injured reserve with a torn hip flexor.
Ajayi last played for the Eagles in 2018 before sustaining the knee injury on Oct. 7 against the Minnesota Vikings. He had joined the team in 2017 in a trade-deadline deal with the Miami Dolphins. In Super Bowl LII, Ajayi had nine carries for 57 yards. The Eagles let him walk in free agency last March, but his knee injury kept him unemployed at the start of the season.
Ajayi, who made the Pro Bowl with the Dolphins in 2016, said he never doubted that he’d play again. His recovery led him back to the Eagles’ locker room.
“Once I was in the building, just to see all the people, my old teammates, and everyone was kind of excited to see me,” Ajayi said. “Even the people in the cafeteria, the staff members, it was like family being here. I was here when we did something special, so the memories and everything, those will last forever, and those relationships will as well. So it’s just a blessing to still have that positive reaction when I came back.”
The Eagles had Ajayi on the active roster for Sunday’s 17-10 loss to the Patriots, but he didn’t play.
He said he was ready to go if needed, and Eagles coach Doug Pederson had a similar sentiment on Monday. But the team decided to only use him in emergency situations, likely a wise decision with a player who hasn’t taken a hit in more than a year.
“I think it was just the coaches’ decision at the end of the day,” Ajayi said. “I just got in on Friday, maybe they wanted to see a week in practice. There was nothing wrong with me, so just staying ready.”
Against the Patriots, the Eagles were without Howard, who had been limited in practice with a shoulder stringer suffered on Nov. 3 against the Chicago Bears. Howard had emerged as the team’s top option in the backfield this season.
Pederson said they’ll spend the upcoming practices getting Ajayi ready to go in the event that Howard is limited again for Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.
While Ajayi’s contract is a one-year deal, the Eagles have a clause that allows them to match any offers Ajayi receives in free agency next offseason. Ajayi confirmed the NFL Network report that the clause was part of his contract, but he said he hasn’t given a long-term agreement too much thought at this time.
“I can’t really look too far into the future,” Ajayi said. “I think a big thing for me is using these games that I get, and hopefully playoff games and even further than that to showcase what I can do. Showcase my ability again to this team that I can be a great contributor to the offense.”