Eagles

Even with Jay Ajayi, Eagles still 'counting on' LeGarrette Blount

Even with Jay Ajayi, Eagles still 'counting on' LeGarrette Blount

Frank Reich's message to LeGarrette Blount was a simple one.

"'Keep doing what you're doing,'" Reich said. "'You're a big reason we're 7-1. You're a big reason we've made the strides we've made in the running game.

"'Your tenaciousness running the football, the attitude that you've brought, the toughness that you've brought, the unselfishness that you've brought, is a big part of our identity.'"

Blount, the Eagles' leading rusher the first half of the season, suddenly found his role up in the air Tuesday when the Eagles made a trade-deadline deal to acquire Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi from the Dolphins in exchange for a fourth-round pick in 2018 (see story).

Other than the Chiefs game, when he mysteriously had no carries, Blount has gotten between 12 and 16 carries in every game this year. Blount and Ajayi rank 10th and 12th in the NFL in rushing yards, although Blount's 4.7 average is much higher than Ajayi's 3.4.

But Ajayi ran for nearly 1,300 yards in his 2016 Pro Bowl season, and the Eagles didn't bring him here to ride the bench.

So what happens to Blount?

And what happens with promising rookie Corey Clement, second-year pro Wendell Smallwood and veteran Kenjon Barner? Not to mention injured rookie fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey?

There are a lot of backs and only one football.

"LeGarrette continues to be our starter and [we're] just really excited to have that group and add a good player," Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said.

"We like our running back group. This was an opportunity that came to us. We thought [he] was a good player who could add to our team. He’s a young player who's under contract for the next couple years (through 2018).

"At the same time, everyone has seen the way LeGarrette has run. Wendell has had really good games for us. Corey. We brought Kenjon back, as well. It just adds to the group, and all that stuff with playing time is sorted out by the coaches.”

Roseman said he spoke to Blount as soon as the deal was finalized to reassure him that he wasn’t being replaced.

“LeGarrette's awesome,” Roseman said. “He wants to win. He's won. He's all about winning. He's been in situations before where there have been productive backs on the team. He's been a tremendous team guy since he's walked in the building and a leader for this football team. Nothing changed today.”

The Eagles, who own the NFL's best record at 7-1, have the fourth-ranked running attack in the NFL, although they've been held to 3.8 yards or lower in each of the last four games.

Smallwood has 143 yards and a 3.8 average, Clement 131 yards and a 3.6 average and Barner 34 yards and a 2.8 average (see story).

"LeGarrette has been productive when he's gotten the ball," Roseman said. "He's a warrior. He's a two-time Super Bowl champion and we're really glad to have him.

"So, you know, I really shouldn't get into starter roles. That's really up to the coaches, but we are counting on LeGarrette going forward here.

"This [trade] is no reflection of any of those running backs. This was a good opportunity for the Philadelphia Eagles, and our job is to add good players who fit what we do and we believe Jay Ajayi does that."

Blount, who turns 31 in a few weeks, wasn't available for comment on Tuesday. The Eagles return to practice on Wednesday.

But Reich said he isn't concerned at all about Blount.

"The guy is a pro, man," Reich said. "He's a big part of why we are where we are right now, the leadership, his attitude.

"I really give him a lot of credit. Because you understand, personally — you can say all you want about team, but we all know [running backs want the football]. We all know. So a lot of credit to LeGarrette."

So what does the rotation look like moving forward? Reich wouldn’t speculate but insisted the Eagles are happy with all the backs on the roster (there are seven, including injured Pumphrey and Darren Sproles).

"We’ll have to see how it all plays out," Reich said. "I think that’s the only fair way to say it. We are happy with all the guys that we’ve got in the building.

"This business is a very competitive business. To get a spot in this building is not easy, and when you get a spot in this building, it means we love you and you're ours. You're our family and you get treated like that, with the respect that you've earned your way here.

"So every person, whether it's the top guy or the quote-unquote bottom guy on the roster, every spot is valuable."

And how do you keep five running backs happy?

"Keep winning," Reich said. "Winning has a way of keeping everybody happy."

Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

ap-darren-sproles.jpg
AP Images

Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

In the latest edition of Eagle Eye, Derrick Gunn and Barrett Brooks discuss Darren Sproles' upcoming retirement. Does it put the Eagles in an awkward position on game days? Why do players care so much about their ratings in Madden? Also, Barrett shares how he decided on his jersey numbers throughout his football career?

1:00 - Derrick is back! What did he do with his time off?
5:30 - Barrett spent time with his grandson ... who ate pancakes with ketchup.
10:00 - Darren Sproles says 2018 will be his final year.
15:00 - Why do players care so much about their Madden ratings?
19:30 - If you can script your career, how would you want to retire?
22:30 - How did Barrett decide on his jersey numbers?

Subscribe and rate Eagle Eye: Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Stitcher / Spotify / Art19

Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

ap_andy_reid_howie_roseman.jpg
AP Images

Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

One thing Andy Reid was spot on about during his long tenure with the Eagles was the importance of building around both lines. 

Big Red always made the offensive and defensive lines a priority, and during the Eagles’ stretch of deep playoff runs — from 2000 through 2009 — the O-line was anchored by guys like Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Jermane Mayberry and Todd Herremans and the D-line by Corey Simon, Trent Cole, Mike Patterson and Hugh Douglas.

During that 10-year stretch, the Eagles had the most wins in the NFC and the third-most wins in the NFL, and the one constant during that stretch was solid line play. 

Donovan McNabb was very good when healthy most of those seasons, and the Eagles always had good running backs and corners, but the heart of those teams was up front.

Just look at how Big Red drafted. Eight of his 11 first-round picks were linemen. After taking McNabb in 1999, all six of Reid's picks in the first half of the first round were linemen.

They obviously didn’t all work out, but Reid was committed to both lines, and Howie Roseman, then a young, rising personnel executive, was paying attention.

The Eagles have done a lot of things differently in the five years since Reid's final season here, but one thing Doug Pederson and Roseman believe in is building around the lines, and it sure paid off last year.

According to figures on salary cap website Spotrac, the Eagles in 2017 were the only team ranked among the top five in the NFL in both offensive line and defensive line spending.

And the only team that had a parade in February.

And they’re only going to spend more this year.

The Eagles will spend 22.36 percent of their 2018 cap money on the offensive line, fourth most in the league, and 28.84 percent to the defensive line, fifth most.

That’s more than half their 2018 payroll on the big guys up front.

The Jets — sixth in O-line spending, 10th in D-line — are the only other team in the top 10 in both.

Seven of the Eagles’ 10 highest-paid players last year were linemen, as are eight of their 13 projected highest-paid players in 2018.

And five of those guys — Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jason Kelce, Vinny Curry and Jason Peters — are actually holdovers from the Reid era.

Think of them as Reid’s parting gifts to the 2017 championship team.

Creating a Super Bowl roster was a complicated process for Roseman, and to be able to make this sort of financial commitment to the two lines means you just don’t have much money left for everything else. 

The only way to make that work is to build with cheap labor elsewhere. 

And that means younger players on bargain-basement rookie contracts, cheap but productive quarterbacks and low-round picks and undrafted players with cheapo contracts excelling.

It means drafting well and making exceptional free-agent decisions without overspending.

It’s a crazy juggling act, and Roseman juggled all those things magnificentely last year.

In fact, according to Spotrac’s data, the two lines are the Eagles' only positional groups ranked even among the top 15 in the NFL.

The secondary and QB positions rank 16th in cap allocations, tight end 18th, running back 21st, wide receiver 27th, linebacker 31st and special teams 32nd.

These numbers are all based on the 53 highest-paid players currently under contract, so they will change slightly once the final roster is set, but they won’t change much.

The Eagles were very good in a lot of areas last year — really, in every area — but their offensive line was the best in football and the best in Eagles history, and the defensive line was easily one of the two- or three-best in football.

Everything the Eagles did, everything they accomplished, started up front.

Put Peters back on the O-line and add Haloti Ngata and Michael Bennett to the D-line with an increased role for Derek Barnett, and both lines could conceivably be even better this year.

It’s going to get harder for Roseman to keep paying the Eagles’ linemen the way he has. Once Carson Wentz signs his next contract, the Eagles’ entire salary cap balance will change. 

Those $25 million annual cap hits for one guy have a tendency to make roster decisions way more challenging.

So it will be tricky for the Eagles to re-sign Graham. He wants a fortune, and he deserves a fortune. 

But even if Roseman can’t get that done, Barnett has three more years on his rookie deal, and that’s the key to making this whole thing work. 

You can’t re-sign everybody, so if you want to remain elite, you have to draft well so you can replace the people you invariably lose.

You lose Patrick Robinson, you have Sidney Jones waiting. You lose LeGarrette Blount, there’s Corey Clement ready to go. You lose Mychal Kendricks, you hope a Nate Gerry can contribute. Trey Burton leaves, and Dallas Goedert is cheaper and better.

You get what you pay for. And the Eagles right now are paying for the best in the business.

More on the Eagles