Eagles' Jay Ajayi and his baggage reminds Doug Pederson of Andre Rison joining Packers | Marcus Hayes
Andre Rison was a good guy in 1996 as he helped the Packers win Super Bowl XXXI.
Doug's seen a Bad Moon Rison.
Doug's seen trouble on the way.
Pederson was the backup quarterback in Green Bay when the Packers signed combustible receiver Andre Rison in late November of 1996. This was after the Jaguars and hard-nosed head coach Tom Coughlin had released Rison, a controversial diva whose lack of discipline painted him as such a liability that no one claimed him off waivers at the age of 29.
Eagles running back Jay Ajayi, acquired from the Dolphins at the trade deadline Tuesday for a fourth-round pick, brings nowhere near the baggage to Pennsylvania that Rison brought to Wisconsin. At worst, Ajayi, 24, has been cast by Dolphins coach Adam Gase as a player who has not "bought in" to Gase's two-year-old program, and by other sources as a player dissatisfied with his role.
Pederson isn't worrying about Ajayi's satisfaction. He will rely on leaders such as Malcolm Jenkins, Carson Wentz, Jason Kelce and Brandon Graham to ice the locker room should Ajayi disrupt the surprising 7-1 nirvana Pederson has created.
"I trust the guys on this team to handle the players. Everybody's got a past," Pederson said. "I was in a situation where we brought in a player and there were reports of character issues and all kinds of things. You know what? The guys rallied around him and there was not one issue whatsoever. And we went on to win the Super Bowl."
Indeed they did, but they did so with stronger personalities than the Eagles have now. Favre was in his fifth season as a starter and was the reigning MVP; Wentz is in his second season. Reggie White was a Hall of Fame lock; Brandon Graham is, well, not. Head coach Mike Holmgren and general manager Ron Wolf are people Pederson and Howie Roseman still try to emulate. Jason Peters and Jordan Hicks, two of the Eagles' more significant leaders, were lost for the season two weeks ago.
"He seems like he'll be a great fit for this team. A great fit for this locker room," Wentz said after talking to Ajayi for the first time Wednesday morning — though, as Pederson admitted before the deadline Tuesday, the Eagles have a good thing going.
"You never want to mess with that mojo, but I think this move is something I don't think anyone is concerned about. We have such good leadership, such good veterans, if there is any of that, it'll get squished pretty quick," Wentz vowed.
"I view myself as a team guy," Ajayi said. "It's a time for a new opportunity for me. I'm embracing it."
Wentz said feature back LeGarrette Blount was eager to share playing time with a running back who also rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2016. With 465 rushing yards this season, Ajayi is on pace to break that threshold again. Blount, 30, is near that pace, too … and he also earned a reputation as a difficult teammate early in his eight-year career.
Perhaps the issue of character and leadership is overblown. Players often reset their attitudes when they land with more successful organizations. The Patriots are effectively a Betty Ford Clinic for the Disgruntled and Undisciplined. They rehabilitated Randy Moss, Corey Dillon and Blount; but then, the Patriots' chief counselors are Belichick and Brady, who hold doctorates in leadership.
By all reports, Ajayi is nothing like a seriously problematic player, and his profile will remain low, likely until after the Eagles' bye next week; Pederson made clear that, for the foreseeable future, Ajayi will be little more than another horse in a very crowded stable. Also, Ajayi is a third-year player drafted in the fifth round with 19 career starts and one remarkably productive season. Rison was much more accomplished and much more notorious.
When Rison landed in Green Bay, he had been to four Pro Bowls on the strength of four seasons with double-digit touchdown receptions. He also had been accused of multiple incidents of domestic violence and was accused of brandishing a firearm in altercations with his girlfriend, late R&B star Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes, who went to a halfway house for therapy after burning down their Atlanta-area mansion and allegedly bashed in the windows of his two Benzes.
The Jay Train's baggage seems trifling by comparison. A low-cost, high-talent player under control for another season, Ajayi makes more sense in Philly than Rison did in Green Bay.
Sure, the Pack had injury issues and needed a receiver, but after they failed to sign Rison in 1995, Favre expressed relief because he anticipated that Rison would be a "problem, internally."
Rison retorted that, if he was a defensive player, "I'd try to break [Favre's] face." Rison added that, had he not matured, "I would have said he's a hillbilly jealous of a black man making money." Fortunately, though, Rison's evolution as an adult precluded him from making such a statement.
Rison arrived from Jacksonville with 34 catches for 458 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games, a pace for 54 catches and 733 yards, which would have been a second consecutive season of vastly diminished production. As a complementary receiver in Green Bay he had 13 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown in five games.
However, in the 1996 playoffs, he caught seven passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns, including one in Super Bowl XXXI.
If Ajayi scores twice for the Eagles in the postseason en route to their first Super Bowl title, his imperfect past will be quickly forgotten.
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