The Le’Veon Bell pipe-dream died a slow and painful death and a few short days later, Tevin Coleman signs a very appealing two-year deal worth $10M. The Eagles are clearly in need of running back help, so why haven’t they attacked free agency?
We first have to ask ourselves why Coleman, a 25-year old running back in his prime, signed such a small offer so early in the free agency proceedings? Could it be because the market was not as vicious as originally made out? If so, why?
Coleman recorded a career-high 800 yards on 167 rushing attempts last year, scoring nine rushing touchdowns last season for the Atlanta Falcons along with 276 receiving yards and four touchdown receptions. The appeal to a team who crave a versatile back was obvious…but that doesn’t mean they were ready to throw money at him, or any back for that matter.
Let me cast your minds back to 2015. Chip Kelly signed the league’s rushing leader, DeMarco Murray, to a five-year $42M contract. That didn’t exactly pan out as expected and after a tumultuous year where Murray was misused and averages just 3.6 yards per carry, he was cast out of Philadelphia. While a lot of his failure can be placed on the arrogance of Chip Kelly, who tried to turn Murray, a north-south runner, into a do-it-all back, Murray was responsible for his declining effort levels, lackadaisical play and sloppy errors.
One year later, two key names enter the building. Howie Roseman returned to power after being exiled from his previous role, having watched the short rise and dramatic fall of his employer, while Doug Pederson was signed as the team’s rookie Head Coach. A man who had previously coordinated a Kansas City Chiefs offense that turned to a committee backfield in wake of a Jamaal Charles injury.
Charles had a base salary of $4.45M in 2015, but when injuries plagued his explosive play, the team turned to Charcandrick West, Spencer Ware and fullback Knile Davis to carry the load…and what they noticed was that even without a running back who in the year before had caught 70 passes, the Chiefs were carving up defenses in the same vein, but without the major hit. Even when Charles returned, he still caught 21 passes in 5 games…but Spencer Ware could slice and dice between the tackles and Charcandrick West was averaging over 10 yards per reception. There wasn’t a need for a featured back anymore.
For better or worse, Pederson brought that mentality to Philadelphia…and it’s been a run of two swords. On one edge, a somewhat dysfunctional committee effort has guided the franchise to its first ever Super Bowl and a playoff run one year later, while missing its starting quarterback in those cold and crucial December Months in both scenarios.
On the other, the Eagles have been unable to establish any kind of stability at running back. Bizarrely, every season has kind of followed the same narrative. To begin with, the run-game is virtually nonexistent before one blistering breakout balances the offense. Just as things begin to really pick up, injuries destroy any hopes of sustenance and depth is sorely tested. Whether it’s Ryan Mathews or Jay Ajayi, it’s not as if the Eagles have lacked productive backs, it’s been keeping them on the field that’s the problem.
But the point remains, the Eagles are yet to pay a back any kind of substantial money in this era.
Jay Ajayi? He made $325K in 2017 and $1M one year later.
Wendell Smallwood is set to make $700K in 2019.
Corey Clement is set to make $648K in 2019.
Josh Adams is set to make $570K in 2019.
Could it simply be that the Eagles have seen the damage a star running back like DeMarco Murray can do to an offense from both a business sense and a production sense? For every Zeke Elliott or Saquon Barkley, there’s the concern of a Dalvin Cook. If that star goes down, you’re tied to him financially and your production takes a huge hit.
The benefits of a committee speak for themselves. In fact, no back has carried the ball more than 16 times since the start of the Pederson era. Backs stay fresher, they can rotate based on skill sets that fit a certain situation and can avoid 8-man boxes with the threat of being active in the passing game. Not to mention, you can find backs to fit a group effort for a fraction of the price.
Maybe the Eagles just don’t want to invest $5M into a running back and would rather bolster the trenches, or maybe the Eagles just haven’t fallen in love with a running back yet. That could be Jordan Howard or T.J Yeldon, it could even be Jerrick McKinnon. But it’s not likely.
The Eagles are going to do what the Eagles do best. Build through the draft and use one of their vast array of picks to invest in a back who compliments the pieces already on the roster in the hopes that he carves out a key role sooner rather than later.
Whether that’s a bell-cow back, a change-of-pace rusher, or a passing option, I don’t know…but it’s hardly shocking that Howie Roseman watched the Eagles fall to pieces and had to somehow rebuild the Castle that Chip Kelly destroyed, shifting that enormous cap hit of DeMarco Murray, and now values the running back position.
So while pipe-dreams of a Le’Veon or even a Tevin remain, the realistic option is just that the team continue to craft a committee effort.
Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports