The Eagles signed Jay Ajayi to a contract on Friday, adding depth to a running-back room suddenly in flux.
The team’s leading running back, Jordan Howard, is questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots with a shoulder injury. Coach Doug Pederson announced that news Friday, moments after the team released a statement that Darren Sproles is out for the season with a torn hip flexor. Sproles was put on injured reserve to clear a roster spot for Ajayi.
Pederson said Howard is dealing with a shoulder injury that he suffered late in the game against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 3.
Howard had emerged as the team’s top running back, having logged 42 carries for 178 yards in the last two games.
“Jordan did sustain, late in the game, against the Bears, what would be defined a stinger,” Pederson said. “He’s been cleared to do some sort of individual work in practice, but he hasn’t been cleared for contact yet.”
With Sproles’ roster spot opening up and Howard’s uncertain status, the Eagles brought in Ajayi for a workout on Friday.
Ajayi, a 26-year-old free agent who last played for the Eagles on Oct. 7, 2018, could be called upon to fill the potential void if Howard can’t go.
Ajayi’s new deal was finalized after his afternoon workout. It’s unclear whether he will be available by Sunday, but Pederson said he had confidence in Ajayi to play if needed despite being a year removed from playing at game speed.
The Eagles added Ajayi in 2017 in a trade-deadline deal with the Miami Dolphins. He had 408 yards on 70 carries in seven games with the Birds. In Super Bowl LII, Ajayi ran for 57 yards on nine carries. Last season, he tore an ACL in Week 5, hurting the knee that had played a part in his sliding to the fifth round in the 2015 draft.
Still recovering from the injury, Ajayi didn’t get picked up as a free agent in the offseason, but his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said about a month ago that the running back was healthy. Still, he hasn’t put on pads in a team setting in more than a year.
Pederson also entertained the possibility of calling up practice-squad running back De’Angelo Henderson. The 5-foot-7, 208-pound back was added to the practice squad last month. He spent last season with the New York Jets before bouncing around the league this year.
“He’s another candidate that’s been working really hard in our offense and knows our system and been here, too,” Pederson said. “We have a couple options. If it’s Jay, really if it’s either one, I think we can give them a little bit [of playing time].”
After Friday’s practice, Henderson said he hadn’t heard anything definitive about a potential move-up, but that Pederson and position coach Duce Staley had talked to him about staying ready in case they do need him.
“If the opportunity to get called up happens, I’ll be ready to play my role,” said Henderson, who turns 27 on Nov. 24. “If not, I’ll continue to do what I do on the practice squad, giving guys a good look, being a dominant scout-team player for those guys.”
The former Coastal Carolina standout could step in as a backup running back this Sunday if Ajayi isn’t ready to take the field so soon after signing. If so, Pederson said his physical running style could be a resource.
“He’s a stout kind of sawed-off running back,” Pederson said. “He’s powerful. He’s low to the ground, center of gravity. Kind of built like [Eagles running back] Boston Scott just a little bit. A thumper-type back. He’s done a really nice job servicing our defense.”
Pederson said Henderson hasn’t been asked to do much as a receiving back so far. But the 26-year-old, not exactly lacking in confidence, believes he’s capable of doing it at a high level.
“I’m pretty diverse, I can do whatever is needed to be done, block, catch, run,” Henderson said. “Just Google me, you’ll find out. They can’t cover me in a phone booth."