By fixing what wasn't broken, Eagles got even better

By fixing what wasn't broken, Eagles got even better

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. β€” The Eagles were 7-1 with the sixth-best running game in the NFL. 

The old adage about not fixing what ain't broke? The Eagles laughed in its face.

With LeGarrette Blount established as the Eagles' No. 1 running back and the Eagles rolling through the league, all of a sudden here's 2016 Pro Bowler Jay Ajayi in the middle of the season.

And like everything else the Eagles have done? It worked.

"It can be difficult coming to a new team in the middle of the season, but I just tried to be myself, be true to myself, and I knew that with my personality and the way I play the game, hopefully, the team would gravitate toward me," Ajayi said Wednesday.

"There was a little bit of a period where we were all feeling each other out, but the running back room was really welcoming and the locker room was really welcoming."

How well have Blount and Ajayi worked together? The Eagles are in the Super Bowl.

And they actually had the fourth-best running game in the league after the Ajayi acquisition.

"Doug (Pederson), Howie (Roseman) and Duce (Staley) brought me in that day, and they told me about the trade, the whole ordeal, and I was cool with it," Blount said.

"They didn't make it seem like he was coming in to do this, that and the other, they just said, 'We got another playmaker,' and I said that's perfect.

"You can never have too many playmakers on the team. That's how we got here. So I accepted it. Although there really wasn't anything to accept."

Blount finished with 766 yards and a 4.4 average, and Ajayi added 408 yards in half a season with a 5.8 average. Undrafted rookie Corey Clement also contributed 321 yards and a 4.3 average.

Ajayi has gotten the bulk of the carries in the postseason, with 127 yards and a 3.8 average. Blount has 15 carries and is at 2.7 but with two touchdowns.

The only reason this works is because Blount and Ajayi respect each other, like each other and ultimately want what's best for the team.

"Me and L.G., we have a high respect for each other," Ajayi said Wednesday. "I respect him very highly. He's a winner, he's won Super Bowls.

"We understood coming in we'd be in this position where we both get carries here and there and it's really about competing with each other and pushing each other to be great, helping each other on the sideline with keys and things one or the other don't see and also just being great teammates to each other. It's been a great ride so far."

This is only the second time in franchise history the Eagles have had three running backs with 70 or more carries and a 4.3 average or higher.

The first, not surprisingly, was 2003, when the famed Three-Headed Monster of Staley, Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter did it.

Now Staley is coaching the next group to do it.

"Why does it work? It's all about communication, it's all about respect, it's all about treating men like men," Staley said. "First thing I did was I brought in LeGarrette and I told him, 'Hey, we're bringing in Jay Ajayi and this is why we're doing it.'

"I told him you guys can be that tag-team 1-2 punch so we won't miss a beat when he's off the field and we won't miss a beat when you're off the field. LeGarrette, he wants what's best for the team. And it's working."

Ajayi's 5.8 average is highest by an Eagles running back with 70 or more carries since Bosh Pritchard averaged 6.0 yards per carry for the 1949 NFL Championship team.

"Obviously, he made our team better," Blount said. "He's a great player. Obviously, I'm a great player. "

The Eagles acquired Ajayi on Oct. 31 in exchange for the Dolphins' 2018 fourth-round draft pick.

Five days later, he made his Eagles debut, rushing for 77 yards and a 46-yard touchdown in a blowout win over the Broncos.

"I think it was great to get into that first game against the Broncos so that the team could actually see what kind of player I am, and I think that helped kind of show guys what I can do and how I can help this team," Ajayi said.

"It's really all about the team. I knew that my role would be to come in and whatever Coach asked, get it done and be a spark for the team and it's been a great, great time so far and now we're here at the Super Bowl trying to finish it the right way."

Trey Burton denies report questioning his Eagles future

AP Images

Trey Burton denies report questioning his Eagles future

Several hours after an NJ.com report surfaced that the Eagles were unlikely to re-sign Trey Burton, the tight end denied it on Twitter.

Replying to a tweet about the report from former Eagles teammate Emmanuel Acho, Burton said he hasn't spoken to anyone.

NJ.com's Matt Lombardo reported Friday that the Eagles made Burton an offer that the soon-to-be-free-agent "didn't consider serious."

"We are fully expecting Trey to sign elsewhere," the source said.

It wouldn't be surprising whatsoever if Burton leaves in free agency. A team will likely pay him starter's money and offer him a chance to start, which he doesn't have here with Zach Ertz firmly entrenched.

The Eagles are over the projected salary cap, and while they could create space in numerous ways, they also have to worry about re-signing key linebacker Nigel Bradham.

6 ways for Eagles to create cap space

6 ways for Eagles to create cap space

The Eagles are coming off a thrilling season but there's a lot of work to be done. 

The NFL's new league year begins on March 14 and the Eagles must be under the salary cap by then. The problem is that based on projections, the Eagles are set to be more than $9 million over the cap, according to OverTheCap. So it's time for some maneuvering. 

The good news is that Howie Roseman's specialty has always been finding unique ways to get the Eagles out of cap trouble. There are ways for him to do it again.

Cut Torrey Smith 
Probably the easiest one. Smith was a great teammate and a solid addition to the Eagles' locker room, and he really stepped up his game in the playoffs, but it's probably not enough to bring him back. He just wasn't good enough last season, and cutting him would save the Eagles $5 million in cap room with no dead money. The Birds still have Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, while Mack Hollins is entering Year 2. 

Cut Brent Celek
This one will hurt, but Celek can take away the sting if he decides to walk away as a champion. He's set to have a cap number of $5 million. That's just way too much for what Celek provides these days. By cutting him, the Eagles would save $4 million in cap space. So just between Smith and Celek, the Eagles will almost get back to zero ... but there's other work to do. They'll still need money to sign free agents and draft picks. 

Extend Brandon Graham 
Graham is entering the final year of his contract with a cap number of $8 million. He wants a new contract and deserves one. Good news: An extension would work for both sides. Graham would get more money long term and the Eagles could get his cap number down this season. 

Rework/cut Vinny Curry
Curry is coming off of probably his best season in the NFL but will have an $11 million cap number. That's tough to swallow, especially with Derek Barnett waiting for his chance to start. It seems likely the Eagles will ask Curry to take a pay cut or rework his deal. If not, cutting him would leave $6 million in dead money but would also save $5 million in cap room. 

Trade Mychal Kendricks
If you remember, Kendricks actually wanted a trade last offseason. Good thing that didn't happen. Kendricks ended up being a big part of the Eagles' success in 2017. Depending on what happens with Nigel Bradham in free agency and with Jordan Hicks' Achilles recovery, trading Kendricks might again be an option. A trade would save $4.4 million in cap space. 

Trade Nick Foles 
This is such a tough one β€” we explore it more here. But basically, Foles is a pretty amazing insurance policy until we know when Carson Wentz is going to be ready. If the Eagles do trade Foles, it would save them $5.2 million that they could certainly use. The problem is that by the time they know Wentz's status, free agency will be long gone and that cap space won't help this year. But it could help in 2019.