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Are 2018 Eagles better or worse at running back?

Are 2018 Eagles better or worse at running back?

The Eagles’ leading rusher a season ago, LeGarrette Blount, was allowed to walk in free agency. Of course, the team already picked up his replacement, Jay Ajayi, in an October trade with the Dolphins.

The changing of the guard is complete in the running backs room, but are the 2018 Eagles better for it?

Better

Younger

Blount proved there was something left in the tank, but was running on fumes by December. Over his final eight games including playoffs, the 31-year-old averaged 3.5 yards per attempt or below in all but two — a meaningless Week 17 contest against the Cowboys and 14-carry, 90-yard performance in Super Bowl LII.

The Eagles should be better served by fresh legs down the stretch. Ajayi, 25, quickly snatched the lead role from Blount with a healthy 5.3-yard average after the trade, bringing a needed explosive element to the offense. And Corey Clement, 23, is in line for more touches after racking up 616 yards from scrimmage and leading the team’s backs with seven total touchdowns.

Blount served his purpose. His bruising, between-the-tackles rushing style simply isn’t conducive for a running back’s body holding up over a full season at that age. With a split workload, wearing down shouldn’t be an issue for Ajayi and Clement.

Worse

Ball security

Somewhat surprisingly, the most troubling aspect of the Ajayi trade wasn’t his bad knee, which has been referred to as a ticking time bomb — not yet, anyway.

That’s a concern, although the more immediate question is whether Ajayi can take care of this fumbling problem. He’s now put the ball on the carpet eight times over the past two seasons, or once every 73 touches. Only Tavon Austin has coughed it up more during that span.

Ball security is paramount. It doesn’t matter how fresh Ajayi is in January. If he fumbles at the wrong time, it can cost the Eagles their season.

The same

Darren Sproles

Technically, you can call this an upgrade, seeing as the Eagles were without Sproles since September of last season. The important thing is the Eagles know what they’re getting when they plug the three-time Pro Bowl selection into the lineup. He’s a shifty ball carrier who can get to the second and third levels quickly, and a matchup problem as a receiver out of the backfield.

Sproles is 35 and coming back from a torn ACL, issues we addressed in a previous chapter. Despite those concerns, as a special weapon getting 5-10 touches per game, he has enough short-distance quickness and veteran savvy to get the job done.

The unknown

Donnel Pumphrey

Chosen in the fourth round in last year’s draft, Pumphrey looked completely out of place in preseason action. The NCAA’s all-time leading rusher averaged 1.9 yards per carry, 5.5 yards per reception and couldn’t get much going in the return game, either.

Listed at 5-foot-9, 176 pounds, is Pumphrey too slight to play in the NFL? With 4.48 speed, is he not elusive enough to dodge hits at this level? Maybe.

It’s also possible Pumphrey was some combination of slowed by a hamstring injury (he eventually landed on injured reserve in September, though it’s unclear whether it was related), a little in over his head learning the playbook and not put in a position to succeed in the third-string offense. Yes, he needed to bulk up and needs to adapt to the speed of the game, but the Eagles felt the 23-year-old warranted another look. We’ll see.

Better or worse?

Blount exceeded some expectations last season, but the late-season declines have become a regular occurrence. It’s only a matter of time before he’s plodding and un-menacing in September, too. Give those touches to Ajayi and Clement, mix in Sproles, and maybe even a dash or Pumphrey or Wendell Smallwood, and this has the making of a much more dynamic group than a season ago. BETTER
 

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Bryce Harper meets some Philly sports legends at the Sixers game

Bryce Harper meets some Philly sports legends at the Sixers game

The new big man in town, Bryce Harper, went to the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night to take in the Sixers game against the Milwaukee Bucks. He rubbed shoulders with some of the previous biggest (little) men in town.

Harper was in attendance and rang the bell prior to tip-off — something he'll surely do many times during Phillies games across the street this summer.

When Harper made his way to his seat in a suite, he was seated alongside Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. Rhys Hoskins was also in the suite as were all of the aforementioned players' significant others. Talk about some serious Philly sports firepower right there.

And then later in the game, the Sixers shared an image of a couple of legendary No. 3s meeting in the bowels of the Center. I'd love to hear the conversation between Allen Iverson and Harper.

Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was also in the building, sitting a bit closer to the court. Rapper Meek Mill was also in the building and took a photo with A.I. Which got me wondering: What's the perfect storm of Philly sports stardom in a Rat Pack sort of way? Obviously you had Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid on the court last night. In terms of the Flyers, aside from Gritty, you'd have to go Claude Giroux or maybe a fun-loving guy like Scott Hartnell from years past? Recently retired players that could fit the bill from other teams would have to include Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and maybe Pat Burrell just for fun. Is anyone in recent Eagles memory a bigger name than Brian Dawkins? He'd fill the fedora quotient. Nick Foles could be fun in a clean and wholesome sort of way.

My Philly sports Rat Pack would consist of A.I., Simmons, Embiid, Kendall Jenner, Wentz, Jason Kelce and Gritty. We got a good portion of that in the building last night.

Who is in your Philly sports Rat Pack?

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Nationals fans don’t get to be mad at Bryce Harper

Nationals fans don’t get to be mad at Bryce Harper

They can boo him. They can even hate him. But there’s absolutely no way Washington Nationals fans can fault Bryce Harper.

Sportswriters instructed Nats fans not to show up to the stadium unless they plan to boo Harper. Metro TV personalities smashed a pinata with the six-time All-Star’s photograph. Fans destroyed their No. 34 jerseys and showed up to the ballpark with signs that read “traitor.” The mayor of Washington D.C. took to social media to compare a baseball player to Benedict Arnold.

And yet, on Monday it was revealed in The Washington Post that the Nationals didn't just offer Harper less money and fewer years than the Phillies. The structure of the 10-year, $300 million contract proposed in September would’ve deferred payment on $100 million – 33 percent of the total value – until 2052. Then, in January, the club followed up with an even worse deal: 12 years, $250 million that wouldn’t be fully paid until the year 2072.

Harper would be 79 in 2072, assuming he lived that long.

There’s loyalty and hometown discounts. Then there’s situations that just don’t make sense.

Now seems like a good time to point out the Nationals are owned by Ted Lerner, whose own net worth is estimated to be in the multi billions. The team has done pretty well for itself at the gate, finishing 11th in Major League Baseball in average attendance in 2018 despite some of the highest ticket prices in the game. And while the TV contract is in dispute, the organization will eventually claim hundreds of millions of dollars in right fees dating back to 2012.

The money was there. Even without Harper, the Nationals have the seventh-largest payroll in baseball this season – never mind management’s inability to construct a winning team with that checkbook.

Why is this coming back on the player?

It’s one thing for fans to suggest a professional athlete should consider taking less money. It’s quite another to argue the athlete should sign a contract where a sizable portion of the cash might be paid when he’s living in a nursing home.

On some level, this is all reminiscent of when Jayson Werth pulled a reverse-Harper and left the Phillies to sign with the NL East rival Nationals in in 2011. The Phillies chose to allocate finances in such a way the club decided it would only retain Werth for below-market value, so he left. Fans weren’t happy, and he was booed every time he came to town.

But Werth wasn’t a generational talent. He was a cog, people ultimately understood he got a better deal, plus letting him go meant the Phillies could re-sign Cliff Lee, for example.

The Nationals let the face of baseball leave D.C. without a serious offer, and all they got was the money to sign Patrick Corbin.

Hey, it happens, and Nats fans should boo Harper for all 13 years in red pinstripes, the same as any Philly fan would in their shoes.

Just don’t cry Harper is a traitor. He’s in a Phils uniform because the Nationals screwed up, and the only place fingers need to be pointed is directly at the front office.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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