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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

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.

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