When Doug Pederson was in Kansas City, the Chiefs offense essentially ran through Jamaal Charles, who in many ways is the prototypical back for the current version of the Andy Reid derivative of the West Coast offense. Now that Charles has been released by the Chiefs after nine seasons with the team, it will be interesting to see how strongly Pederson considers reuniting with his old back, particularly given the Eagles' questionable depth at the position.
Asked about Charles at the NFL combine on Wednesday, Pederson did not squash the idea of bringing the 30-year-old into the fold, though he hardly could have been expected to.
"I've got history with him in Kansas City for three years, and I think he's a tremendous running back," Pederson said. "You know, it's something that we'll evaluate now. We'll grade him just like we do every free agent and every person that's released and see where he can fit into our offense."
Any decision will be more about the Eagles' evaluation of Charles' capabilities than it will be about their current need, because they clearly could use a veteran back to stabilize a unit that by the end of last season featured a depth chart fronted by a couple of guys who hadn't been on an NFL roster for the first three-plus months of the season.
As recently as 2014, Charles was one of the handful of NFL running backs who you could legitimately say created his own running room, employing a keen patience similar to that of Steelers running back (and recently franchise-tagged) Le'Veon Bell, except with a shifty acceleration that enabled him to identify and squirt through creases that for most other running backs would have ended with them falling straight forward for a couple of yards.
Between 2009 and 2014, Charles averaged 82.3 yards per game on just 15 carries while also proving to be a capable receiver out of the backfield. In Pederson's first year as offensive coordinator under Reid, Charles caught 70 passes for 693 yards and rushed for 1,287 yards on 259 carries.
But the 5-foot-11, 199-pound Charles has missed most of the last two seasons after suffering a knee injury five games into the 2015 season. He also missed 14 games in 2011, and he is heading into his 31-year-old season.
Charles certainly represents a high-upside lottery ticket for a team with the ability to take a chance. The question is whether it makes sense for the Eagles to outbid other teams for a player who might have only a year or two left in his career. If the Eagles thought that, by the end of the offseason, they could have a roster that was a Charles bounceback season away from legitimate contention, that would clearly increase the incentive for them to win the bidding for his services.
But in their situation, the Eagles might be better off looking for a veteran who makes up for his lack of upside with a dependability that they don't have in third-down back Darren Sproles and second-year player Wendell Smallwood, who didn't look great when healthy, and wasn't healthy all that often. The team paid veteran Ryan Mathews $4 million last season, but he went down with a season-ending injury and could be released once he recovers from surgery.
That said, if Charles can be had for close to the veteran minimum, such a move becomes plausible. It all depends on the market. Last offseason, 31-year-old Matt Forte signed for $9 million guaranteed and an average annual value of $4 million.
But here are three backs who could offer more palatable comps:
Reggie Bush: $1.5 million
Arian Foster: $1.5 million
Alfred Morris: $1.75 million
Chris Johnson: $1.5 million