Eagles

The danger of too much Darren Sproles

The danger of too much Darren Sproles

Darren Sproles had 16 touches in the Redskins game Sunday.

He’s 36 years old.

To put that in perspective, it had been 13 years since an NFL running back 36 or older had 16 touches … in a SEASON.

Sproles got nine carries, caught three passes, returned four punts. 

The last time a running back 36 years old got that kind of workload in a single game it was Hall of Famer Marcus Allen in 1997.

Sproles was effective Sunday -- 9-for-47 rushing, 3-for-16 receiving and 4-for-46 on punt returns.

But it's too much.

There's no way 16 touches a week is sustainable for Sproles, who missed most of the 2017 season with a broken arm and torn ACL and missed most of last year with a lingering hamstring injury.

Jordan Howard had eight touches (for 58 yards) and rookie Miles Sanders 12 touches (for 27 yards). Corey Clement didn’t have any.

So Sproles wound up with only four fewer touches than Howard, Sanders and Clement combined.

Pederson acknowledged that he has to keep an eye on Sproles’ touches moving forward but doesn’t think it was a mistake to use Sproles that much Sunday.

We always are going to monitor that each week,” he said Wednesday. “(It’s) kind of how our game plan fell with the running backs a little bit. We still want to keep him involved as best we can, but at the same time we want to make sure that Miles and Jordan — because they're both younger backs -- are good and keep that rotation solid, along with Corey.

Some more notes on Sproles’ opening-day performance (from Pro Football Reference):

• Only four other running backs in NFL history have ever had 109 all-purpose yards in a game after their 36th birthday: MacArthur Lane of the Chiefs in 1978, Hall of Famer John Riggins twice in 1985, Allen once in 1996 and Fred McAfee of the Saints twice in 2005.

• The last player 36 years old with four punt returns in a game was Troy Brown of the Patriots in 2007. 

• The last time a running back Sproles’ age had 16 touches in a game was Allen in 1997. 

• The last time a running back Sproles’ age had 47 rushing yards in a game was 2004, when McAfee ran 53 yards on a fake punt.    

The last time the Eagles saw a healthy Sproles in the postseason he was returning an Alex Henery kickoff 39 yards and getting horse collared by Cary Williams to help the Saints record a last-second wild-card win at the Linc in 2013.

He didn’t play in the 2017 playoffs and clearly wasn’t himself in the postseason last year, with 16 carries for 25 yards, five catches for 35 yards and a punt return for minus-one yard.

His 16 touches Sunday actually matched the 12th-most of his career, and he’s played 178 games.

Pederson has used Sproles too much in the past. And you can understand why. 

It's tempting. He’s an explosive guy, he never fumbles, he's always in the right place, and Doug knows he can break a game open at any point.

But there’s also a point of diminishing returns with Sproles. The more he plays, the less he’ll likely be able to help you in the long run. And the Eagles need a healthy, productive Sproles in December and January.

Right now, this is a case of less is more, and Pederson needs to understand that.

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What George Kittle’s landmark contract means for Zach Ertz and Eagles

What George Kittle’s landmark contract means for Zach Ertz and Eagles

George Kittle didn’t just reset the tight end market on Thursday. He obliterated it. 

And you can bet Zach Ertz is taking note. 

The 49ers and Kittle just agreed to a groundbreaking contract for the All-Pro tight end that comes with an average of $15 million per season. 

Ertz, 29, is still under contract through the 2021 season but is also in line for a contract extension of his own. And while you might not think he deserves as much money as Kittle or even Travis Kelce (who is also in line for an extension), Ertz might think so. 

Check out what Ertz said about the comparisons to Kittle and Kelce last week: 

I do consider myself in that upper echelon of guys, in that same tier with all those guys,” Ertz said last Friday. “I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think a lot of guys in this building feel the same way about me. I’m never in the business of comparing people. I think all three of us are at the top of our games, and I think we’re all perfect in the offense that we play in, honestly. I think we all have unique skill sets. We’re all very different, with some similarities. But overall I don’t think my game is any less than any of their games.

We’ll eventually find out if the front office agrees with him. Because the Eagles are going to face a really critical decision soon regarding Ertz. And the existence of Dallas Goedert only adds more layers to this situation. 

Ertz, 29, signed an extension in 2016 that gave him an average per year of $8.5 million. While he might not get to the $15 APY that Kittle just got, he’s going to aim to be in that area. That’s the natural progression of contracts in the NFL. My guess is he gets in the $11-13 million per season range, which is still a really big investment on a player who will likely be over 30 when that deal happens. 

For a long time, the market for tight ends has been really stagnant. The Jimmy Graham $10 million APY had been the benchmark until Austin Hooper passed that with a $10.5 APY this offseason. Now, Kittle has demolished that. 

It’s also worth noting that NFL Network’s Mike Silver reported earlier this offseason that Ertz actually turned down a deal during the 2019 season that was more lucrative than the deal Hooper signed. That should give you an idea of Ertz’s mindset. (But it was the right decision; let Kittle or Kelce reset the market.) 

There’s no questioning what Ertz has meant to the Eagles offense. He’s been their leading receiver in each of the last four seasons and this is the guy who caught the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl! He’s in the middle of an absolutely tremendous career. 

Ertz last week emphasized his desire to play for the Eagles for his entire career. But it’s never that simple. 

Remember, Goedert is still just 25, he has two more years left on his rookie contract and is already a top 10 tight end in the NFL. And while Ertz has put up incredible — like Hall of Fame — receiving numbers, Goedert is definitely a more well-rounded player. Heck, ProFootballFocus actually ranked Goedert ahead of Ertz for the 2020 season.

The one thing that seems clear is that it’s going to be really hard to keep both talented tight ends long-term. 

If the Eagles want to keep Ertz, they’re going to have to give him a huge contract. This Kittle deal just created some framework and a potential obstacle. 

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Doug Pederson hints at big role for Greg Ward Jr. with Eagles this season  

Doug Pederson hints at big role for Greg Ward Jr. with Eagles this season  

Greg Ward Jr. became a great story for the Eagles last season, when he began the year on the practice squad and ended up being their best receiver down the stretch. 

But is he more than a good story? 

Doug Pederson seems to think so. 

The one thing now as he goes into this season, he's in that rotation, in that starting mix for us,” Pederson said on a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday. “It's just a matter of him embracing every day, getting better. Being a former quarterback, he understands our offense. Being in our offense, he knows the concepts and the routes. He and Carson (Wentz) have a really good feel for one another.

“I think for him now it's just a matter of continuing to get better each and every day and putting in the work. We expect some really big things from Greg. He can also be a leader. He can be a leader of that group. Him and DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, these guys, they can be leaders now and mentors to these young players.

In one year’s time, Ward has gone from practice squad player to being a leader in a wide receiver room that includes three draft picks, an undrafted rookie and a second-year draft pick. 

Ward, 25, is technically in Year 4 of his NFL career but he didn’t get a chance to play until the 2019 season and even then he didn’t play until November. 

Ward finished last season with 28 catches for 254 yards and a game-winning touchdown in a huge contest against Washington. 

Maybe Ward will never become a star player in the NFL, but he’s sure-handed, dependable and earned the trust of his quarterback and coaching staff last season. 

If you look at the Eagles’ group of receivers, Ward is probably the top candidate to win the slot job. DeSean Jackson is going to be the starting Z receiver and at the X the Eagles have Alshon Jeffery and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Rookie 1st-round pick Jalen Reagor is learning both outside spots. 

Eventually, could Reagor play in the slot? Absolutely. In fact, I’d love to see him in there because he’d bring an explosiveness to the position that Ward probably can’t offer. 

But Ward is going to play a lot in 2020. He’s going to have a chance to become more than a great story. 

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