Running back is low on the Eagles’ list of offseason priorities heading into the free-agency signing period.
They have a shiny, new Maserati in their backfield in 2019 second-round pick Miles Sanders, who rushed for 818 yards and notched 1,327 yards from scrimmage as a rookie, and a promising practice-squad find in 5-foot-6, 203-pound Boston Scott.
At some point in the next couple of months, though, they’ll need to add a third running back, most likely a veteran.
It definitely won’t be Jordan Howard. Howard, who was acquired in a trade with the Bears last March, was terrific until a neck/shoulder injury derailed his season in Week 9. Howard, who was a free agent, signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Miami Dolphins this week. The Eagles had some interest in re-signing Howard, but not at $5 million a year.
Two possible options are Devonta Freeman, who was released by the Falcons on Monday, or the 49ers’ Matt Breida, a restricted free agent who certainly would address the Eagles’ need for speed.
The Niners made a second-round tender offer to Breida on Tuesday. That means if another team signs the 25-year-old running back to an offer sheet and the Niners don’t match it, the team that signed Breida would have to give the Niners a second-round pick.
Howard, who was acquired by the Eagles in a trade with Chicago last March, rushed for 525 yards in the first nine games before suffering a stinger that sidelined him for two months.
He returned in Week 17 but played just one snap. He didn’t play at all in the Eagles’ 17-9 playoff loss to the Seahawks.
Howard was one of the league’s top first-down rushers before he got hurt, averaging 4.49 yards per carry. But the Eagles weren’t going to overpay for a running back, particularly after Sanders’ impressive rookie season. They also were wary of Howard’s injury. Stingers are much like concussions in that once you’ve had one, you are more prone to have additional ones than someone who’s never had one.
Freeman is an interesting option. He just turned 28 on Sunday. He’s a two-time Pro Bowler with a 4.69 career first-down rushing average.
But he’s also a guy who’s been hurt a lot the last couple of years. And Eagles general manager Howie Roseman insists his days of taking chances on players with shaky injury histories are over.
“What we’ve learned from the last couple of years is that hope isn’t a strategy,’’ Roseman said last month at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. “As we look to this offseason, the amount of resources we put to those types of guys [with injuries] will be very little.’’
Freeman had back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2015-16 and was a key member of the Falcons’ 2016 Super Bowl team. But he missed 14 games in 2018 and eventually underwent season-ending core muscle surgery, and played with a foot injury last season and averaged a career-low 3.6 yards per carry.
Given their other draft needs and the fact that Sanders likely is going to be their carry-the-load guy, it’s probably unlikely that the Eagles would be willing to give up a second-round pick for Breida. But he definitely would address their desire to improve their overall speed. The 5-10, 190-pounder out of Georgia Southern has sub-4.4 speed and reached 22.30 mph on an 83-yard touchdown run against the Browns last year, which was the fastest speed by an NFL ballcarrier in three years.
He played in 13 games in 2019 and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. But the late-season emergence of former Eagles practice-squad player Raheem Mostert cut into Breida’s playing opportunities.
He had just 14 carries in the Niners’ last four regular-season games and fell to third on the depth chart behind Mostert and Tevin Coleman. Breida didn’t play a single offensive snap in the Niners’ Super Bowl loss to the Chiefs.
The Eagles finished tied for 22nd in first-down rushing average last season (4.0). So they’re looking for someone who can improve that aspect of their offense. Sanders averaged just 3.77 yards per carry on first down last year, but his average improved once he got on the same page with his offensive line.