Eagles

Eagles have liked Jay Ajayi since August

The Eagles had a pretty close look at Jay Ajayi just a few months ago when the Dolphins were in town for joint practices in August. 

And they liked what they saw. 

"He's one of the guys that when we came back after those practices, we said, 'That's our kind of guy,'" Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said on Tuesday. "He's got the mentality that we're looking for. He brings the presence and he plays the kind of way we want to play and we want to represent our football team with and our fans with."

While Roseman said the Eagles didn't have a sense that Ajayi would be available for a trade just a couple months later, the Eagles did use those practices to scout the Dolphins. So they watched Ajayi, came away impressed and tucked that information away. 

They brought it back out on Monday when they began discussing a trade that would bring the running back to Philly. The move, which sends a fourth-rounder next year back to Miami, was completed on Tuesday.

While the Eagles were impressed with what they saw from Ajayi on the practice field in August, they couldn't possibly have seen inside the Miami locker room through the first seven games of this season. According to a report from the Miami Herald, Ajayi had become a chemistry problem, even storming out of the locker room after wins because he didn't get enough carries. 

For a team with a head coach who, as recently as Monday, was concerned about negatively affecting the chemistry of a 7-1 team with a new face, this could seem like a pretty big problem. 

But the Eagles did their homework, Roseman said, and came away feeling good about the move. 

"We weren't going to bring anyone here that would disrupt team chemistry," Roseman said. "We feel very confident and comfortable about the player."

A couple times on Tuesday, Roseman mentioned "trust" when talking about making deals with Miami. The Dolphins are run by Roseman's friend Mike Tannenbaum, and it was their close relationship that helped the Eagles make the move from 13 to 8 in the 2016 draft. 

So when the Eagles made the decision to go ahead with the trade on Tuesday, they probably leaned on the information they gathered from the Dolphins as well as their own talks with Ajayi, who they interviewed at the 2015 combine. Ajayi was a fifth-round pick out of Boise State. 

Another major question mark about Ajayi is his health. He has struggled with knee issues dating back to college and the pre-draft process, and those issues aren't past him. He has been listed on the Dolphins' injury report this season. As of Tuesday afternoon, Ajayi still needed to pass a physical. 

Even if Ajayi's knees don't make him a candidate to fill the void at running back for the long term, he can at least help the Eagles make a Super Bowl push over the next two seasons. He's just 24 — as Roseman eagerly pointed out a few times on Tuesday — and is cheap for the rest of this season and next. 

After a Pro Bowl season last year, Ajayi's 2017 hasn't gotten off to a great start. He's averaging just 3.37 yards per carry this year, the second-worst average among backs with at least 100 carries. Even taking the Dolphins' poor offensive line into account, there has been a pretty clear numbers drop for Ajayi this season with two pretty notable exceptions. 

"I think you look at the Chargers game and the Falcons game and you could argue he put the team on his back," Roseman said of Ajayi's two 100-yard rushing performances in 2017. "That was this season."

What the Eagles can hope is that he returns to the form that sent him to the Pro Bowl in 2016. He was great last season, rushing for over 1,200 yards and averaging 4.9 yards per attempt. He averaged 3.46 yards per attempt after contact. 

His yards after contact average from last year is actually better than his yards per attempt average through seven games in 2017. 

But if the Eagles can get the 2016 version of Ajayi, they got a steal. 

"This is a physical, downhill running back, he can run after contact, he can make people miss," Roseman said. 

Sure, adding a piece to a team that is already in control of the NFC East and is the frontrunner to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs is a risk. Chemistry is a real concern and it's why Doug Pederson seemed so hesitant on Monday. 

The Eagles are in a unique position at 7-1 and maybe acquiring Ajayi will help them get to the Super Bowl and bring the city its first major football championship in over half a century. For a fourth-round pick, the Eagles took that gamble. 

"I think you take into account where you are," Roseman said. "It's certainly different when you're 7-1 than if you're having a losing season. But at the same time, we're not going to do anything that puts us in a bad spot going forward. Again, a big part of this trade, this is a 24-year-old back that's not just on a one-year deal. But if there are opportunities to improve our team and improve where we're at, we have a responsibility to the people on the field, the people off the field, our fans, to evaluate everything."