According to ESPN, the Philadelphia Eagles have acquired New Orleans Saints running back, Darren Sproles, for a late round draft pick. The move adds another offensive play-maker to Eagles head coach Chip Kelly’s arsenal. The diminutive 30 year old was a valuable piece to the Saints and San Diego Chargers success for several years. He has the ability to take carries out of the backfield or swing out for screen passes, while also lining up as a receiver anywhere on the field. His versatility and speed is an ideal fit for the Eagles uptempo offense, taking attention away from running back LeSean McCoy and the rest of the offensive weapons.
The Sproles acquisition also coincides with Philadelphia’s blatant focus on adding role players, which can contribute on special teams this off season. After signing coverage aces, safety Chris Maragos (from the Seattle Seahawks) and linebacker Bryan Braman (from the Houston Texans), and now trading for Sproles, it is obvious that Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly are looking to upgrade that facet of the game. The ultimate demise of the 2013 season began with Sproles’ kick return (followed by an inadvertent personal foul), on the final drive of the divisional playoff game against the Saints. Over his entire eight year career he has contributed an explosive element, putting the offense in good starting position, as well as notching five touchdowns on punts and kickoffs.
The Eagles have struggled with finding a consistent return threat since former Philadelphia Eagles kickoff and punt returner Brian Mitchell played under then Eagles head coach Andy Reid. Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson offered an elite option for a short period of his career on punts (being named the Pro Bowl returner in 2009), but saw that role limited, as he developed more into the offense. Kelly and Roseman understood the need so much, they brought in former Buffalo Bills receiver Brad Smith during the middle of their playoff run last season, in hopes he could have provided an upgrade. With today’s trade, Smith may now be deemed expendable, as being cut would save the team over $1 Million against the cap.
The emphasis on special teamers may not end with their recent transactions though, as all too often, the Eagles relied on key cogs on defense to fill in on kickoffs and punts last year. Eagles starting cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher were asked to contribute beyond their means in order to put the best units on the field. Future signings and draft picks for positions of need such as linebacker, cornerbacks and edge rushers, will likely involve players willing to do the dirty work as specialists, in addition to their roles on defense. This would also coincide with acquiring young talent, as normally long-tenured established veterans try to avoid any possible added injury risk later in their career, by playing on kickoff and punt coverage units.
As of today the Eagles improve their offense with another weapon for starting quarterback Nick Foles, the depth on defense with key role player signings, but drastically made over their special teams units. That’s usually what happens when a team essentially is knocked out of the playoffs on return. And with Sproles, “if you can’t beat ‘em…go pick ‘em.”