Go back a year. It was interesting time for the Eagles. And for Josh Adams.
The Eagles were 7-1. A division title was practically a formality, and they had bigger goals … and running-back issues. Darren Sproles was injured. LeGarrette Blount was struggling. Corey Clement was an undrafted rookie. Wendell Smallwood wasn't all that trustworthy. So at the trade deadline, they sent a fourth-round draft pick to the Miami Dolphins for Jay Ajayi, and a position that was once a question became a strength.
"That helped us win a championship," coach Doug Pederson said Monday.
At around the same time, Adams, a Central Bucks South grad, was reaching the apex of his career at Notre Dame. On Oct. 28, in a victory over North Carolina State, he rushed for 202 yards and a touchdown, capping a four-game stretch in which he gained 670 yards, scored seven touchdowns, and averaged 10 yards a carry. He was a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Notre Dame even unfurled a promotional campaign, called "33 Trucking," based on Adams' jersey number.
Now, return to this year. The Eagles are 4-4. They're trailing the Washington Redskins, who are 5-2, in the NFC East standings. Sproles is hurt again. Ajayi is out for the season with a knee injury. Clement has been hobbled by a calf problem. Smallwood has improved, but he remains an uncertain blocker whenever an opposing defense blitzes Carson Wentz. The trade deadline is 4 p.m. Tuesday, and perhaps the Eagles will add another running back. But one could argue there are other positions — wide receiver, for instance — that they ought to prioritize more highly, and there's a reason one could make that argument.
The reason is Adams, who rushed for 61 yards on nine carries Sunday in the Eagles' 24-18 victory over the Jaguars, who ran in a way that Clement and Smallwood haven't lately, who gave the Eagles a needed jolt. He gave his career one, too. It was dicey for him for a while. His production had plummeted over his final five games for the Fighting Irish. His Heisman candidacy fizzled out. At the NFL scouting combine, he learned he had a broken foot. No one drafted him. The Eagles signed him, waived him, then signed him again. He had just 11 carries in five games for them before Sunday, before he gave the Eagles pause to think that maybe they don't have to surrender another valuable draft pick to acquire another running back.
"I think we have that guy," Pederson said. "If you go back and watch the game, I called a few more third-and-2, third-and-3 runs in the game that we converted, and of course Josh was in the game at the time. Wendell had some tough runs. He had the tough run at the end of the game to ice the game, basically. So we're very comfortable. Corey is another one who can get us those yards, and really, a lot of that starts up front, with our offensive line blocking extremely well against a tremendous front against Jacksonville. I feel real comfortable with the guys we have back there."
Pederson, of course, didn't feel quite so comfortable halfway through the fourth quarter, when, with the Eagles leading by six, Adams appeared to lose a fumble at their 32-yard line as he tried to surge forward. But the officials overturned the call, ruling that Adams was already down.
"Gosh, you hate to take aggressiveness away from anybody on the football field," Pederson said, "and situations like that, we talk to him, say, 'You don't have to fight sometimes for the extra yardage. Just go down.' Now, you also have to mindful: In a pile, that's when defenders begin to rip the ball. Those are all things he'll learn from."
After that non-fumble, it wasn't surprising that Pederson went back to Smallwood on the Eagles' final possession, and he carried three times to help melt the clock to 0:00. But Adams' value, for this season anyway, won't come from being what Ajayi was for them last season and what he was supposed to be this season: a first-among-equals back.
The Eagles are a different team, in a different place, than they were a year ago when they traded for Ajayi, when they calculated that they were close enough to a championship to sacrifice some of their future for him. They didn't have to let go of anything for Josh Adams, except a little of their fear that he could handle a bigger role in an important game. He was already here, and now he's another viable option in the backfield for a team that is still trying to find itself, and hopes it found something in him.