darren sproles

Why keeping Darren Sproles is so important for Eagles

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Why keeping Darren Sproles is so important for Eagles

A running back coming off a major knee injury who turns 35 this summer. Normally, this would be a no-brainer.

And actually it is a no-brainer.

Bring him back.

Darren Sproles is not a normal human being, and he’s certainly not a normal running back. Most running backs his age aren’t just washed up, they’re out of the league and have been for years.

Running back is a young man’s game.

Only six of the 133 NFL 1,000-yard rushing seasons over the last decade were by backs in their 30s. Running backs routinely lose their effectiveness or even retire after two or three big seasons.

The wear and tear of getting battered down after down, week after week, takes a toll on running backs that wide receivers and quarterbacks don’t endure.  

Then there’s Sproles.

Since turning 30, he’s averaged 4.5 yards per carry, which ranks 12th of 97 running backs — of any age — with at least 200 carries since 2013.

Since turning 30, he has 225 receptions, eighth-most among all NFL running backs over the last five years.

Since turning 30, he has four punt return touchdowns, tied with Deion Sanders for most in NFL history by a player in his 30s.

Here’s a list of every player in NFL history to average 4.5 yards per carry and catch 200 passes in his 30s: Darren Sproles.

Sproles in his 30s is better than most running backs in their 20s. His body was just built differently. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s never had to carry the load. He’s averaged about 8 ½ offensive touches per game over the last decade, a perfect number for him to be electrifying but still not get beat up.

You don’t bring back Sproles because he’s a great guy or a tremendous leader. You don’t bring him back because of his tremendous heart or how he inspires his teammates.

You bring him back because you’re a better football team with him than without him.

Sproles spoke last summer about retiring after the 2017 season, but after suffering a season-ending injury in the first Giants game and then watching his teammates win the Super Bowl, Sproles has decided he wants to play at least one more year with the Eagles, and Doug Pederson said at the owners’ meetings he wants Sproles back.

So it’s apparently now just a matter of figuring out a salary that makes sense for the cap-strapped Eagles. But they’ll get it done.

Maybe one day Sproles will slow down. Maybe.

But in 2016, his last full season, he became only the seventh running back in NFL history in his 30s — and the first at least 33 years old — to average 4.7 yards per carry and catch 50 passes.

He also averaged 13.2 yards on punt returns, second-highest ever by a 33-year-old.

We know Pederson likes to use rotate his backs, and a rotation of Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles works for me. And if you get anything out of Wendell Smallwood or Donnel Pumphrey it’s a bonus.

Give Sproles six to eight touches on offense along with punt returns and I don’t care if he’s 50, he’s going to help you win football games.

Only 10 running backs in NFL history have netted 250 yards from scrimmage in a season after their 35th birthday, and six of them are in the Hall of Fame.

Only 10 in the 98-year history of the NFL.

But that doesn’t mean Sproles won’t be an effective back at 35. It just means that number is going up to 11.

Sproles wants to return, Eagles want him back … so?

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Sproles wants to return, Eagles want him back … so?

ORLANDO, Fla. — Darren Sproles wants to return to Philadelphia. And the Eagles want him back in 2018. 

All signs point toward a reunion. 

“He wants to still play,” head coach Doug Pederson said during an hour-long interview session on Tuesday morning at the NFL owners meetings in Central Florida. “And I want him to play. And I want him to be an Eagle.”

Sproles is a 34-year-old free agent running back returning from a broken arm and a torn ACL, but he doesn’t want his career to end with a trip to IR. The 12-year veteran played in just three games last season before going down, but before the injuries was the Eagles’ primary third-down back and punt returner.

He played last season on a one-year contract extension he signed before the 2016 season. In December, Sproles said he was leaning toward a return (see story) and his posts on social media show a comeback in the works. 

“We’ve reached out to [Sproles] during the free agency period and talked to him,” Pederson said. “Listen, guys like that, he’s expressed he wants to be back here. He knows we want him back here.”

During his four years in Philadelphia, Sproles has averaged 4.6 yards per rushing attempt and has caught 154 passes. Since coming to Philly, he’s also had a punt return average of 12.5 yards per return, by far the best average in the NFL during that span. 

The Eagles seemingly have a hole to fill on their roster at running back. The top two backs — Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement — are set, but there are question marks after that. LeGarrette Blount signed with Detroit, Kenjon Barner is a free agent and Wendell Smallwood and Donnell Pumphrey are on the roster but aren't guaranteed to stick. 

On Tuesday morning, Pederson spoke about Sproles as if he were already back on the roster: “He’s a big part of our team.”

Pederson also mentioned how Sproles has handled the last few offseasons and said he doesn’t have to worry about how the vet takes care of his body. Over the past few years, Sproles would work out on his own and spend time with his family, occasionally visiting the NovaCare Complex. 

“I’m not concerned about a Darren Sproles going forward,” Pederson said. “I just know the way he works, the way he trains, the way he gets himself prepared. If and when he decides to sign and come back, come on. We’re ready for him.”

Darren Sproles doesn't look ready to retire

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Darren Sproles doesn't look ready to retire

Darren Sproles seems well on his way to a full recovery.

Just five months after tearing his ACL and breaking his forearm, Sproles posted this video in an Instagram story of him running approximately 300 miles per hour.

The 12-year veteran back and return specialist has been saying that he's not quite ready to retire. 

"I don't have to play next year, but I'm leaning towards coming back," Sproles said back in December. "I can't end like this."

The Eagles will have an interesting decision to make regarding Sproles, who will be a free agent this offseason along with veteran LeGarrette Blount. With Jay Ajayi locked in for 2018 and the emergence of undrafted back Corey Clement, the Super Bowl champions face some tough choices.