Eagles couldn't wait to get Darren Sproles
How the Birds managed to get their top weapon so far in 2014 for the price of a fifth-round draft pick.
IF DARREN SPROLES continues to do what he's done the last 2 weeks, if the little guy helps take the Eagles deep into the playoffs next January, general manager Howie Roseman and head coach Chip Kelly need to send a nice, big Edible Arrangement to their counterparts in New Orleans, Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton.
Back in March, the Saints were trying to create some salary-cap space and decided to put a For Sale sign on Sproles, who had caught 71 passes last season but was about to turn 31 and had a $3.5 million 2014 cap number.
Several teams were interested in him, but most of them were reluctant to give up a pick, any pick, just 2 months before the draft. They figured the Saints eventually would release the 5-6, 195-pound running back/return man, and they could make a play for him then.
Maybe because they had seen firsthand 2 months earlier in the playoffs what Sproles still was capable of, the Eagles weren't inclined to wait for the Saints to release him. Why risk the possibility of him signing with someone else when you can get him for a late-round draft pick? As Kelly has pointed out, there wasn't anybody they were going to get in the fifth round who was as good as Sproles.
"It was kind of similar to what happened with [kicker] Cody Parkey," Roseman said. "We just felt like it was an opportunity to [avoid] the free-agent process if he was cut. We called them to talk about a trade."
Roseman ran it by Kelly, who didn't need to be convinced. He watched Sproles stick a season-ending dagger in his team's chest with a 39-yard kickoff return late in the Eagles' 26-24, wild-card loss to the Saints.
"One of the last plays of our season was his kickoff return," Roseman said. "We were in the market there for not only a returner, but another back. Coach and his staff obviously were very familiar with [Sproles]. So it was a very quick conversation, and then it was just a matter of figuring out the compensation."
A couple of days earlier, Sproles had asked the Saints to release him rather than trade him so that he could have some say in his next place of employment. But business is business, and a fifth-round pick is a fifth-round pick.
As it turned out, Kelly's Eagles probably would have been at or near the top of Sproles' preferred list of teams anyway because, well, because everybody wants to play for the Chipmeister.
He still had 1 year left on his contract, but the Eagles quickly signed him to a 3-year, $10.5 million extension that included $5.5 million in guaranteed money. He has a $2 million cap number this season that increases to $4 million next year and $4.5 million in 2016.
"We wanted to show our commitment to him," Roseman said. "We wanted him for more than 1 year. That was part of it for us - having an extension done with him so that it wasn't just a 1-year deal.
"I think it was important on both sides for him to see that we were committed to him, and also for us to know that we had him under contract for more than 1 year."
Sproles has been everything the Eagles had hoped he'd be, and more. He has 34 touches in the first two games - a team-high 11 receptions, 15 rushing attempts and eight punt returns.
He's averaging 15.1 yards per catch, 6.5 yards per carry and 10.9 yards per return. He had a momentum-swinging, 49-yard touchdown run in the Eagles' Week 1 win over Jacksonville, and a 51-yard catch-and-run with a screen pass late in the fourth quarter Monday night that set up the tying touchdown. Shortly after that, he took another screen pass 17 yards to put the Eagles in position for Parkey's winning field goal with no time left.
"When we first looked at him, his dynamic ability as a returner obviously jumps out at you," Kelly said. "His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
"Then, as I've said before, after a couple of days dealing with him, I was really impressed with him as a running back. That wasn't something that was a preconceived notion. But it was after watching him, [thinking] this kid has pretty good ability as a running back."
Exactly how the Eagles were going to use Sproles was a bit of a mystery right up until the start of the season. He had just nine carries and three receptions in the preseason.
The Saints had used Sproles primarily as a receiver and returner. Kelly and his coaches kept mentioning how good a fit he was for their zone run game. But they already had one of the two or three best running backs in the league in LeSean McCoy. Were they really going to be willing to take the ball out of his hands?
Sproles has played only 57 offensive snaps the first 2 weeks, but he has 26 carries and catches. When he's on the field, he's usually going to touch the ball. McCoy and Sproles have been on the field together just seven times so far.
Sproles is on pace for 272 touches this season, which easily would be the most of his career. He had just 165 touches last year with the Saints. He's had more than 200 touches in a season just twice in his career - 242 in 2011, which was his first season with the Saints, and 218 in 2009 with the Chargers.
Could a guy his size and age handle a 17-touch-a-game workload for an entire season?
"I think he can," Kelly said. "I think when you look at his fitness level [he can]."
Kelly pointed out that while Sproles is an itty-bitty 5-6, he's solidly built, much like ex-Eagle Brian Westbrook, although Wesbrook was 2 1/2 inches taller.
"Sometimes you worry with a smaller guy," Kelly said. "[Wide receiver] Damaris Johnson, you obviously couldn't put Damaris in there [for 34 touches in two games]. Damaris did a great job for us, spelling us at running back in the preseason. But we were very concerned how many times [we could give him the ball]. You're talking about a different kind of body [than Sproles'].
"When you look at Darren, he's really, really put together. He's probably the most fit guy on our team. There's a special quality to him from that standpoint. And I don't know that we knew that when we got him."
A look at how Sproles has been used during his career (*the 2014 numbers are projected 16-game totals if he were to stay on his current pace):
Att. Rec. KR PR Touch
2014 *120 *88 *0 *64 *272
2013 53 71 12 29 165
2012 48 75 18 23 164
2011 87 86 40 29 242
2010 50 59 51 24 184
2009 93 45 54 26 218
2008 61 29 53 22 165
2007 37 10 37 24 108
2006 0 0 0 0 0
2005 8 3 63 18 92
Figuring the Eagles
* In the Eagles' first two games, Nick Foles has a 59.5 passer rating in the first half and a 117.7 rating in the second half. He has completed just 55.5 percent of his passes and has averaged 7.1 yards per attempt in the first half, and 62.2 and 8.8 in the second half.
* The Eagles have had 27 offensive possessions in the first two games. Just one lasted more than 4 minutes. That was a 12-play drive against Jacksonville that lasted 4:10.
* Two games in, the Eagles have the second-most double-digit-yard runs in the league (10) and the third-most runs of zero or negative yards (27). A look at the league leaders in both categories:
Runs of 10+ Yards
Redskins. . . 11 65
Seahawks. . . 10 50
Eagles. . . 10 60
Cowboys. . . 10 66
Ravens. . . 9 56
Browns. . . 9 60
Runs of 0 or Negative Yards
Chargers. . . 31 61
Texans. . . 28 80
Eagles. . . 27 60
Panthers. . . 25 57
Jets. . . 24 71
Redskins. . . 23 65
* In their Week 1 win over Jacksonville, the Eagles rushed five or more defenders on just 13 of 46 pass plays (28.3 percent). On Monday night against the Colts, they rushed five or more on 17 of 34 pass plays (50 percent). A two-game breakdown of the Eagles' pass rush and the results:
Plays C-A Yds. TD/I Sk.
Rush 3. . . 7 6-7 56 0/0 0
Rush 4. . . 43 22-42 228 2/1 1
Rush 5. . . 18 9-17 102 2/0 1
Rush 6. . . 11 7-10 52 1/0 1
Rush 7. . . 1 0-1 0 0/0 0
* The Eagles lined up in a lot of two-tight-end sets Monday night. They ran 31 of their 65 offensive plays against the Colts with "12"' personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WRs), 30 with "11" personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs), three with "23"(2 RBs, 3 TEs) and one with "21" (2 RBs, 1 TE, 2 WRs.). In the first two games, Nick Foles has thrown the ball much better with 12 personnel (21-for-29, 315 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 130.7 passer rating) than with 11 (24-for-49, 300, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 58.2 passer rating). On the other hand, LeSean McCoy is averaging just 2.2 yards per carry out of two-tight-end sets.
This and that
* The Eagles have averaged a play every 22.2 seconds in their first two games. That's nearly 2 seconds faster than their 2013 season average of 24.0, which was the fastest in the league. "Both games so far, the officials have done a good job of getting the ball set and letting us play with the tempo we want to play with," center Jason Kelce said.
* When LeSean McCoy fell on the back of his right leg in the second quarter of the Jacksonville game, Evan Mathis thought his season was over. "I was thinking worst-case scenario," the All-Pro left guard said. "I was like, damn, is this year over already?" It isn't.
Mathis tore his MCL rather than his ACL. Didn't need surgery. Was placed on short-term injured reserve and can start practicing in late-October and play again on Nov. 10 against Carolina. "[The short-term IR designation] fits the injury very well," he said.
"It also will help me not hurry to get back. Because if there was no [designated] timeline, I'd be like, OK, I'm ready. Time to go [back and play]. But because I'm on IR, I can't practice for 6 weeks. Hopefully by the time I'm ready to practice, I'll be perfectly healthy."
Mathis said he's already able to bend the knee 30 degrees. He's giving serious consideration to wearing a brace when he returns. His linemate Kelce has been wearing a knee brace since tearing an ACL in the second game of the 2012 season.
"I would think it would make sense," Mathis said. "I tried wearing them one year in college [Alabama]. I don't know if it didn't fit right or what. But they hurt at first and were uncomfortable. Maybe it'll be OK if I just wear one knee brace. Kelce is a great example of how it doesn't look like [a brace] slows you down."
FROM THE LIP
* "If Adrian wasn't in the limelight, I don't think this would be coming up at all, because you raise your kids how you raise your kids. I think Adrian is a great guy, great dude, great father, great football player, and I just think the way he's being treated is unfair." — Adrian Peterson's Vikings teammate, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn
* "That guy should never be on the field again. I don't want to hear about how he grew up, what he learned. This was a whipping of a 4-year-old boy, for God's sake! All I'm telling you right now is that is sickness to me. That player should never be on the football field again until he is held accountable by a court of law." — CBS studio analyst and former NFL QB Boomer Esiason, on Peterson
* "Don't you think it's a pretty good idea to throw it to [Darren] Sproles?" — Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, when asked why Nick Foles was more effective throwing to his tight ends and running backs Monday night than his wide receivers
* "It's almost like everyone gives him a pass because he won two Super Bowls. He needs to be held accountable, too. He has to take better care of the ball. He has playmakers." — NBC studio analyst and former safety Rodney Harrison, on Eli Manning
BY THE NUMBERS
* Seven teams are off to 0-2 starts, including three '13 playoff teams — the Saints, Colts and Chiefs. Since the league expanded the playoffs to 12 teams in 1990, just 11.6 percent of the teams that have started 0-2 managed to recover and qualify for the postseason.
* In the first 2 weeks, teams have rallied from 10-plus-point deficits to win seven times, including the Eagles who have done it twice. The last time more than seven teams had comebacks of 10-plus points in the first 2 weeks of the season was 1987 (8).
* With 10 catches against the Titans last week, Cowboys WR Dez Bryant has 307 career receptions in 61 games. No other receiver in club history has caught 300 passes that quickly.
* The Cardinals are the first team since '82 to start 2-0 after being behind in both games entering the fourth quarter and not allowing any fourth-quarter points.
* Redskins RB Alfred Morris became the fastest player in club history to rush for 3,000 yards. With 85 yards against Jacksonville last week, he has rushed for 3,064 yards in just 41 games.