As last season was coming to a close, with the Eagles set to miss the playoffs for a third straight year, Darren Sproles sounded resigned to retiring following the 2017 campaign. Now that it's May and the Eagles have a new lease on life, suddenly Sproles isn't quite convinced this year will be his finale in the NFL after all.
"We're gonna see," Sproles said in the locker room after practice Monday. "Right after we make the playoffs, then come back and ask me."
Sproles never said 2017 was definitely going to be his last but admitted there was mounting pressure from his family, specifically his two daughters. Five months later, he's joining the Eagles for organized training activities at the NovaCare Complex, a voluntary offseason program he chose to skip a year ago.
"[The Eagles] wanted me here for the young guys, so they could learn from me," Sproles said. "I said, 'Yeah, that's fine.'"
Sproles came into the league with the San Diego Chargers in 2005 and benefited from mentors such as Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson and two-time Pro Bowler Michael Turner. Now the 13-year veteran wants to "give back" and set a similar example for his Eagles teammates.
“The main thing I tell them — it's really just the more you can do," Sproles said. "You want to show them you can catch punts, you can catch kickoffs, you can play receiver. It's just the more you can do. You'll be in this league a long time."
No doubt, the Eagles are hoping fourth-round draft pick Donnel Pumphrey can shadow Sproles and pick up a thing or two to help speed up his development this offseason. The rookie out of San Diego State is being groomed for a similar role as a "move" player who can take handoffs out of the backfield or line up at wide receiver.
"We want to get him in space," Sproles said. "We get him in space, he can do some things for us."
In addition to Pumphrey, the Eagles also have Wendell Smallwood and Byron Marshall entering their second season, as well as undrafted rookie Corey Clement. There are a lot of eager young minds in the running backs room.
Fortunately, Sproles is not alone. The addition of LeGarrette Blount in May puts the Eagles in the rare position of having two backs on the roster in their thirties who can impart wisdom and share their knowledge with up-and-coming players.
"They ask you a lot of questions, so we try to tell them whatever they want to know," Sproles said. "That's the good thing about having us in the room."
Sproles also believes Blount can play a pivotal role for the Eagles on the field.
"We need to close games out," Sproles said. "You need that pounder to keep the clock moving, keep the chains moving. He can do that."
While Sproles is focused on teaching the young guys and making the playoffs, he's also taken time to reflect on the career. Whether 2017 is his last season or not, the time to call it quits is approaching.
Sproles admits he has a different perspective now and is trying to enjoy his time at OTAs. With his 34th birthday approaching on June 20 and this being the final year of his contract with the Eagles, he also has goals on how he wants to walk away from the game.
"You don't want to be forced out," Sproles said. "You want to leave on your own terms.
“Once you get over 30 in this league, they try to kick you out.”
So far, the Eagles have shown no desire to give Sproles the boot. In fact, his 94 carries in 2016 were a career high, and he finished with 865 total yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns. The three-time Pro Bowl selection averaged 13.2 yards per punt return as well.
Of course, Sproles is essentially training his potential replacement with the Eagles in Pumphrey. As long as Sproles continues to produce at that clip, he should have no problem finding work in the NFL, regardless of age.