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Are Eagles barreling toward contract dispute with Jay Ajayi?

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Are Eagles barreling toward contract dispute with Jay Ajayi?

After sharing the backfield last season, Jay Ajayi appears to be in line for a bigger role with the Eagles in 2018. Will he demand a contract commensurate with his status as the primary ball-carrier?

There were a lot of stories floating around when the Eagles acquired Ajayi from the Dolphins for a fourth-round draft pick in October. Yet rumors about a selfish athlete who would demand more touches never externalized after the trade, as the Pro Bowl running back worked seamlessly with LeGarrette Blount.

Team culture and locker room chemistry, as one Miami Herald report put it, proved to be non-issues. Now that Ajayi spent 14 incident-free weeks with the Eagles, the story has been altered slightly.

“But to say a clash of personalities was the only reason the Dolphins dealt Ajayi would be wrong,” Adam H. Beasley of the Herald wrote.

“Ajayi, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, was not shy about telling the Dolphins he wanted a contract extension.”

The timing of Beasley’s report — the morning after the Eagles won the Super Bowl — lends the appearance of damage control. Per NFL rules, Ajayi isn’t even eligible to sign an extension until March 2018, so any conversations about a new deal were likely preliminary in nature.

But just because Ajayi was a good soldier in his relatively short time with the Eagles doesn’t mean money can’t come between them. He’s set to earn only $705,000 next season as the team’s No. 1 back, having averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 10 games, including playoffs. Blount, by the way, is a free agent.

The trouble is paying Ajayi might be easier said than done. The Eagles have a lot of maneuvering ahead with the salary cap this offseason, and based on current projections, they’re actually over the spending limit at the moment.

The cap space dilemma should buy the Eagles some time — at least a few months. But if the organization isn’t making progress on a new deal with Ajayi by this summer, it’s fair to wonder what the consequences of that might be.

RUNNING BACKS BREAKDOWN
*Ages as of September 2018

Jay Ajayi
Age: 25
2018 Cap Hit: $705,000

The other issue here is Ajayi’s health. Some around the NFL feel his right knee is a ticking time bomb, which led to his falling to the fifth round of the 2015 draft and obviously was a factor in the trade. Ajayi possesses amazing short-field burst but visibly labors at the end of long runs. The Eagles may need to placate him financially but should be cautious about the structure of an extension.

Donnel Pumphrey
Age: 23
2018 Cap Hit: $699,000

If we’ve learned anything from guys like Nick Foles, Nelson Agholor and Brandon Graham, maybe don’t write players off after one or two seasons. Or, in Pumphrey’s case, one preseason. A fourth-round pick, Pumphrey looked like a massive disappointment before landing on injured reserve. It was a much-needed redshirt year for the NCAA’s all-time rushing leader. He’ll get a shot to earn a roster spot as the third back and return specialist.

Wendell Smallwood
Age: 24
2018 Cap Hit: $691,000

At this point, Smallwood probably needs a change of scenery. He runs hard but wasn’t able to stay healthy his first two seasons in the league, and his opportunity with the Eagles has probably passed. With a clear depth chart already forming, a trade would be beneficial for Smallwood.

Corey Clement
Age: 23
2018 Cap Hit: $558k

Another reason the Eagles would hesitate to pay Ajayi: He may not even be the most talented back on the roster. Clement carved out a role as the offense’s change of pace in the playoffs, recording 10 receptions for 139 yards with a 55-yard catch in the Super Bowl and a 22-yard receiving TD. He finished with 616 yards from scrimmage as an undrafted rookie, including 172 in the postseason. All appearances are Clement can be a starter in this league.

Darren Sproles
Age: 35
Free Agent

Sproles reportedly wants to return for his 14th NFL season, and until recently the Eagles were probably very interested. Since Clement emerged as a viable receiver out of the backfield, maybe less so. Money is a factor as well. Sproles was lost for the season to a torn ACL and broken forearm in September.

LeGarrette Blount
Age: 31
Free agent

Prior to his stellar performance in the Super Bowl, Blount was showing signs of slowing down. Over the Eagles’ final eight games, including playoffs, he averaged 3.7 yards per carry — 2.9 if you subtract the Super Bowl. Blount is a volume back, and his touches diminished after the trade for Ajayi as well, but the late-season dip in performance is part of a larger trend for this particular aging back.

Kenjon Barner
Age: 28
Free agent

Re-signed after the injury to Sproles, Barner was primarily used as a specialist, lining up for only one offensive snap in the playoffs. Aside from earning NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors in his first game back, he was not an especially dangerous or reliable return man, either.

Previously: Quarterbacks

Joel Embiid belongs among the very best

Joel Embiid belongs among the very best

You can't really fake it at an All-Star Game, especially one where people are actually trying. There's no lucking your way into a couple open shots and a couple generous foul calls and all of a sudden rolling your way to a 30-plus-point game; there's no isolating one defensive mismatch and exploiting it to make yourself look like '01 Shaq. Generally speaking, an All-Star Game shakes out as it should: The best shine the brightest, and those who aren't ready yet fade into the periphery with extra motivation to step things up for next year. 

And that's why it's so awesome that Joel Embiid, a mere 75 games into his NBA career, unquestionably belonged on the biggest stage with the biggest names last night. Playing for Stephen Curry's squad, JoJo posted 19 points on 8-13 shooting, with eight rebounds and two blocks, and a +5 rating for the night -- the only positive plus/minus for the Steph starters. 

Out of context, those numbers may not sound particularly impressive for an All-Star outing, considering the final score of 2017's game was 192-182. But thanks to increased financial and personal motivation in this year's game, the competition was ratcheted up, and though the final score was still a robust 148-145 -- Team LeBron emerging victorious -- no one player really went off in this one, with Team Stephen being led in scoring by DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard (21 each). Consider that JoJo's 19 outpaced both teammates James Harden (12 points on 5-19 FG) and Curry himself (13 on 4-14 FG) -- only two of the greatest scorers in NBA history. 

And what's more, down the stretch it was Embiid who seemed most ready to rise to the moment. With minutes remaining and his team up one, Embiid posted up LeBron James -- LeBron James!! -- for an easy bucket, and with the score tied and under a minute left, he got stuck isolated on the perimeter against Paul George, and still ended up blocking George's shot to win the possession back for his team. Had his squad been able to hang on in this one, he would've been able to mount a fairly compelling case for MVP, which would've made him the first player since at least the 20th century to win top honors in his first All-Star appearance. 

Of course, it didn't happen that way, and Team Stephen coach Mike D'Antoni might get most of the blame as to why. With his squad up one and Team LeBron inbounding out of a timeout, D'Antoni opted for some incomprehensible reason to bench Embiid, his best defensive player -- which, somewhat unsurprisingly, resulted in LeBron scoring quickly and easily at the basket to go up one, and then DeMar DeRozan throwing the ball away at the other end. Embiid entered for the final possession, with his team needing a three to tie, and he had a chance to hoist one, but understandably passed to Curry, who drove his way into traffic and ended up not even getting a shot off. Team LeBron won, and James took home his third MVP. 

Frustrating finish, but it can't ruin what came before: Joel Embiid squaring off against the best the NBA has to offer, and proving himself a factor. (Also nailed a three and then blocked a Russell Westbrook drive at the other end, btw, so that beautiful random feud lives on.) He got as good as he gave -- LeBron drilled a triple in his face immediately after JoJo took him down low -- but he was in the mix, and a crucial part of his team's successes and failures. It should be the first of many such All-Star starring roles for Embiid, and hopefully the last for some time that doesn't also include him being flanked by Process Truster in Arms Ben Simmons. 

But even if it isn't -- even if nothing good ever happens again with Joel, and we look back at this All-Star Game 25 years from now as the high point of this career -- it still would have all been worth it. It was worth it when the team went 10-5 two Januarys ago. It was maybe worth it when Embiid gave his first-ever post-game interview following a Sixers win. 

That's what people will never understand about The Process, and that's what makes nights like this so gratifying. Franchises go decades, entire generations, without getting a moment to feel this way about one of their players, and even getting the chance to feel it about one of ours is worth seasons of sacrifice. JoJo lives, and somewhere in the bowels of the Staples Center last night, Our Once and Always Dark Lord Sam Hinkie had to be there and be smiling. Hope he enjoyed the Fergie national anthem as much as I did, as well. 

JJ Redick responds to video in which he allegedly used racial slur

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SB Nation/Twitter

JJ Redick responds to video in which he allegedly used racial slur

Updated at 12:50 a.m.

Early Sunday, a video surfaced on social media that appeared to put Sixers’ guard JJ Redick in an extremely poor light. Redick has since responded to clear up the situation.

Here’s what happened:

At about 8 a.m., a post appeared on Reddit showing a screenshot and caption alleging that Redick said a racial slur during a video from NBA players wishing Chinese fans a Happy New Year. The video caused a huge uproar on social media. If you wish to see the video, it is located here, at the top.

On the surface, without a response, it looked odd from the start. Redick, who we have come to know as a well-spoken individual who is typically very appreciative of basketball fans, isn’t someone you’d expect this from, let alone with a camera pointing directly at his face with an NBA microphone in front of his lips.

He offered this response on his official Twitter account, saying he was tongue-tied and had no intentions of saying what he did on the video.

Fans reacted on both sides of the issue, some still asking for an apology and others taking Redick for his word. 

On Sunday night, Redick followed up with a longer statement on his Twitter and Instagram, where he further explained himself and indeed issued an apology.

Please read. Thank you.

A post shared by JJ Redick (@jjredick) on

Early Monday, Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin tweeted a statement saying that he spoke with Redick and believes the Sixers' guard didn't say a racial slur.

With the All-Star Break going on, Redick won’t be available for a few more days for the media to ask him about this. There’s a chance this story will continue into next week.