Did Eagles hint at some big backfield changes during Combine presser?


Yesterday, Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson took to the podium to field questions leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft Combine. There were plenty of compelling tidbits; morsels of information that may hang heavy in the minds of Eagles fans while anticipation builds for the upcoming season. Statements contrary to new reports surfacing speculating Nelson Agholor’s future with the team, questions surrounding Jason Peters and Darren Sproles’ return to the field and Nick Foles’ big farewell are sure to grab the headlines. However, hidden away in the countless queries about the “Carson Wentz Report” and budgetary concerns were some scintillating story lines addressing the Eagles backfield.

It’s no secret that there are some very talented running backs set to hit free agency this off season. One big name in particular, Le’Veon Bell, has taken to twitter to toy and jest with current Eagles about the possibility of joining the team. In other news, reports were released today that indicate that the Falcons do not expect Tevin Coleman to return to Atlanta in 2019 and that the Chicago Bears will make Jordan Howard available for trade. While Roseman and Pederson were mum about specific players, they addressed the current state of the running back group and their mind set heading into free agency.

Before diving head first into outside alternatives, both men were adamant they would weigh the options both in the draft and on the current roster. They alluded to the success the team has had adding talent through free agency, trades and the draft — whether as draft picks or as undrafted free agents. Moreover, neither seemed of the opinion that the current roster is devoid of talent. Both Coach Pederson and GM Roseman stated they would welcome back Darren Sproles with open arms if he decides to return to the team. While there is bound to be some contract logistics to hash out, it seems that the two parties would be able to work something out. The desire is definitely present. When asked about in-house options, Doug put forth a confident response when asked about Josh Adams’ development in the 2018 season.

“He’s really embraced his role. I think this will be a really good off season for him to continue to grow in our system, to get better as a runner, to listen to Coach Staley and what he’s teaching. [He] showed some flashes last year, so I’m excited for him.”

Adam’s role on the team had its ebbs and flows last season. Thrust into the starting spot due to injuries, the Notre Dame product displayed both the good and the bad components of his skill set. While he definitely showcased his ability to turn any hand off into a highlight reel run, he also exhibited some indecisiveness and struggled to keep his momentum going when opposing defenses started featuring his name in the game plan. Philadelphia also got an unanticipated, but welcome boost from third-year back Wendell Smallwood. The coaching staff love Smallwood, who looked like a work in progress for his first two seasons. He showed some life in 2018, unveiling some poise and tenacity as a rotational feature of the Eagles backfield. Both backs, along with injured Corey Clement, should be in the plans for 2019, but may be pushed to the cusp of the roster if the Eagles add one or more athletes to the pack this off season.

All three should get an opportunity for a team that did not run the football like they wanted to last season. Carries and yards were down from Philly’s 2018 Super Bowl winning year and coaches were constantly harassed with questions on how to improve. Changes are definitely coming. Both Howie and Doug mentioned the fact that the team will look to add talent to the backfield in the coming months. Whether through the draft or free agency, many fans and analysts alike have put forth the idea that the Eagles need to add a bona fide star to the backfield. However, aficionados of that theory may have to bite their tongues while Pederson is in charge. Discussing his intentions for the offensive running scheme, the coach delivered enlightening slice of information:

“We won a championship with a rotational system and I think, honestly, [when] you look at a lot of teams around the league, they’re usually a two-back type operation.”

For those pondering Philadelphia’s plans going forward, this short statement is incredibly important. Primarily, it makes the position a harder sell for the free agents that want a full-time starting role. Tevin Coleman has been insistent that he wants to leave Atlanta to be a number one option somewhere else. While the Eagles may be able to offer him more snaps than the Falcons, the chances of him tallying 25 carries a game in Philadelphia are slim. There are still circulating speculations that the Eagles will be in the hunt for Coleman, but if his motive truly is to be the feature back, he may be able to find a bigger role in a different city. Still, that won’t stop Roseman from making his pitch.

“I expect us always to be aggressive . . . we’re not going to be risk-adverse . . . we’re not going to use the cap as an excuse.”

This is music to the ears of Eagles fans who sing the praises of former Pittsburgh Steeler Le’Veon Bell. Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long and Lane Johnson have made remarks via social media coaxing Bell to Philly, and they’re not alone. However, Bell will reportedly seek a contract worth $50 million in the first two years according to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora and that just simply isn’t in the Eagles budget. Howie Roseman is known as a cap specialist and has worked his magic on many occasions. The fact remains, unless Bell is willing to settle for less he is unlikely to be in the Eagles’ plans in 2019. This is especially true if the offence sticks to their guns and rolls with a rotational backfield in the upcoming season. Why pay $25 million for a piece of the puzzle?

There is also the issue of how such an infamous personality would fit into the locker room. When the team acquired Michael Bennett from the Seahawks a year ago, the same questions arose. To his credit, Bennett has been nothing but a team player since arriving in the City of Brotherly Love. Therefore, the speculation about Bell rubbing teammates the wrong way may be all for naught. Doug Pederson emanates a team-first charisma that has clearly been contagious with the players. However, character and attitude have always been meaningful virtues for the Eagles’ Head Coach. He echoed that in his presser concerning draft prospects. Le’Veon in midnight green is not out of the realm of possibilities, but cheaper options are available and Carson Wentz’ approaching contract looms large on the books.

Cheaper free agent options include names such as Minnesota Vikings’ Latavius Murray, New York Jets’ Bilal Powell, and Kansas City’s Spencer Ware or Charcandrick West. The Eagles could also budget for slightly more expensive options in Jacksonville Jaguars’ T.J. Yeldon or New Orleans Saints’ Mark Ingram, or wait to see what happens with Baltimore Ravens’ restricted free agent Alex Collins.

Outside of free agency, there are two more possible forums for Philadelphia to add to their stable of running backs. The first is through trade. There has been some speculation that the Jacksonville Jaguars are not sold on Leonard Fournette as their running back of the future. Comments by the coaching staff and ownership state otherwise, but perhaps they could be convinced to part with the bruising back for the right price. His name linked to the Eagles when the possibility of a tag and trade for Nick Foles was still under consideration. The other eye-catching target for sale is the Chicago Bears’ Jordan Howard. CBS’ La Canfora reported that the Bears will be actively shopping Howard at the combine. Both backs made a ton of sense for the Eagles because of their cheap rookie contracts. An ulterior consideration is that the team can recoup some value in the form of compensatory selections if they let the young backs’ rookie contracts expire. This has been a popular approach for Howie Roseman in his time as a GM. He was quick to mention the benefit generated from taking this avenue yesterday.

“Compensatory picks are an added bonus for us and we look at that when we are trying to decide who we’re signing in free agency, who we’re retaining and who we’re not.”

The second and most pressing opportunity for the Eagles to add talent to their backfield is through the draft. You can check out a full break down of early options for Philadelphia in the running back edition of the 2019 Eagles Draft Encyclopedia.

Roseman did not shy away from the topic of adding a runner in April’s draft. Many are calling for the team to forgo their recent habits of passing on first round talent in search of greater value later in the draft. Alabama’s Josh Jacobs is the most highly touted back in the class and he would fit seamlessly into Pederson’s offensive scheme. It is likely he will be off the board by the time the Eagles are on the clock, but that hasn’t stopped draft pundits from penciling his name under Philadelphia’s 25th selection. Roseman’s comments likely put a stop to those hypotheses.

“We’re not going to force any particular position just because of perceived need and we will evaluate each position based on the value of each particular player.”

Howie Roseman discussing the possibility of drafting a running back in the first round.

If habitual tendencies indicate anything, it is unlikely the Eagles value any running back in this class as a first round talent. Nevertheless, that still leaves a ton of options available for the Birds on the second day of the draft. The Eagles have only requested two formal visits so far at the combine. The first is with Iowa State’s David Montgomery. Montgomery is a legitimate number one option for teams who can supplement his deficiencies in the passing attack with other backs. He should also still be available in the second round when the Eagles take the podium. The team will likely schedule many more visits with potential picks, so it’s too early to jump to conclusions. However, keep an eye on Montgomery as a potential day two target for the Eagles.

All in all, the shape of Philadelphia’s backfield for the 2019 is still completely up in the air. Though, both Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman’s press conferences did add a little clarity to the picture. The Eagles will almost certainly stick with a rotation next season, meaning free agents dying for full-time carries may look elsewhere for work. Still, that won’t stop Howie from dangling what little money his cap wizardry can manage as bait. The team is also unlikely to solve their concerns in the first round of the draft. More likely than not, the solution will be multiple players. Plunging into the speculative nature of the off season, let’s end this article with two provocative predictions.

Number one: the Eagles trade for Jordan Howard (2019 5th round pick, 2020 6th round pick) and add a third down back — Darrell Henderson, Myles Gaskin, Justice Hill, Bryce Love — in the draft.

Number two: the Eagles select David Montgomery with the 53rd overall pick and sign Tevin Coleman ($15 million/3 years) or T.J. Yeldon ($2.5 million/1 year).

Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports