Sproles a valuable addition to the Eagles - in more ways than one

Posted: March 14, 2014

THERE IS LITTLE not to like about the Eagles' trade acquisition of Darren Sproles yesterday morning, other than maybe the fact he will turn 31 in June.

But considering they gave up only a fifth-round pick for him, and he comes with an affordable price tag - he will make $3.4 million this season in the final year of his contract - and he figures to get no more than 150 touches, and he's missed only six games in eight seasons despite being barely big enough (5-6) to ride on the roller coasters at Dorney Park, his age isn't a big deal.

Sproles, who caught 71 passes last season for the Saints and has the second-best rushing average (5.1) among active NFL running backs, gives an explosive Eagles offense, which finished second in the league in total yards and fourth in scoring, yet another lethal skill-position weapon for coach Chip Kelly to play with.

Adding Sproles does something else for the Eagles. It gives them a little bit of trade flexibility in the event they want to add some more ammunition for the May draft. And they most definitely would love to do that.

This year's draft class is being hailed as one of the very best in years, thanks to the exodus of a record 98 underclassmen.

"From my perspective, this is the deepest and best draft class I've seen in probably 10 years," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "That's been reinforced by most of the general managers and scouts I've talked to throughout the league. I had one GM tell me the other day that having a top-20 pick this year is very similar to having a top-10 pick last year.

"There's more depth. I think there are certain positions that are stacked this year, and you can get a quality player through three or four rounds."

Those positions include wide receiver and cornerback, both of which are definite areas of interest to the Eagles.

General manager Howie Roseman has repeatedly made it clear that the Eagles are a build-through-the-draft football team. They want to grow their own talent and hang on to the best of that talent, as evidenced by the recent re-signings of center Jason Kelce and wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper.

Since abandoning the draft-for-need approach espoused by former coach Andy Reid, the Eagles put together two excellent drafts in 2012 and 2013. Roseman thinks that if they can follow that with two more productive drafts this year and next, they will be equipped to contend for the Super Bowl year-in-and-year-out for the foreseeable future.

This is a great draft to have a lot of selections, but the Eagles have only six after giving that fifth-round pick to the Saints for Sproles. That's their fewest since 2003. They have the 22nd overall pick and only two of the first 85 selections.

Given the importance of the draft to the Eagles, you can safely assume that Roseman and his personnel advisers are brainstorming possible ways to turn water into wine, ways to turn those six picks into eight or nine, so that they can capitalize on the depth of the draft.

The addition of Sproles could help them to that.

While Sproles is expected primarily to earn his keep as a pass-catcher and return man, he still is technically a running back. He had 53 carries for the Saints last season.

Sproles' arrival would seem to make one of LeSean McCoy's two backups - Bryce Brown or Chris Polk - expendable. Both were signed as undrafted free agents following the 2012 draft.

After a promising rookie season that included a pair of 150-yard rushing performances, Brown wasn't nearly as effective last year. Fifteen of his 75 rushing attempts went for losses. He had only five double-digit-yard runs and converted only six of 11 situations of 2 yards or fewer into first downs.

Brown, a 225-pounder with sub-4.4 speed, would be attractive to a lot of teams, including the Indianapolis Colts, whose general manager, Ryan Grigson, is a former Eagles personnel guy.

Last year, Grigson traded the Colts' first-round pick to the Browns for running back Trent Richardson. Richardson turned out to be a major disappointment. He averaged only 2.99 yards per carry. So the Colts still are looking for a running back to complement quarterback Andrew Luck.

Then there's DeSean Jackson. There already has been plenty of speculation this offseason about whether the Eagles would be willing to trade Jackson. He's coming off a career year that included 82 receptions, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. But he can be a major pain. He spent the entire 2011 season sulking because the organization wouldn't give him a contract extension, and already has said he wants the 5-year deal he signed in March 2012 restructured.

There's also the matter of his size. Jackson is just 5-9 1/2 and 175 pounds soaking wet. The trend in the league is toward bigger, more physical receivers.

Last year, Kelly was reluctant to put Jackson and 5-8 Damaris Johnson on the field at the same time because of the size disadvantage. It stands to reason that he might also be reluctant to do the same with Jackson and Sproles.

Three NFL personnel people I talked to last month said the Eagles were not shopping Jackson at the scouting combine last month. They never mentioned his name.

But now that the Eagles have re-signed Maclin and Cooper and traded for Sproles, whom Kelly can line up anywhere in the formation, and now that they know they should be able to get at least one good wide receiver in the first three or four rounds of the draft, they might be more willing to move Jackson so that they can stockpile draft picks.

One AFC personnel man I respect told me a first-round pick is out of the question for Jackson, but a second-round pick isn't. With an extra second-round pick, the Eagles could move up in the first round for the right player or acquire more picks.

It's still early, so we'll see. But thanks to the addition of Sproles, they have that flexibility now.

Email: pdomo@aol.com

On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian.com


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