Another year, another Eagles running back conundrum

NFL: OCT 18 Ravens at Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – OCTOBER 18: Philadelphia Eagles Running Back Miles Sanders (26) carries the ball in the first half during the game between the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles on October 18, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

The offseason is upon us and the Eagles have plenty of questions to answer over the next few months. One of the most overlooked holes on the roster is undoubtedly the sizable one at running back. Unfortunately, this is nothing new.

It’s easy to see why this need doesn’t really come up in conversation all that much. The Eagles ended the season as the NFL’s most potent rushing offense and of course drafted Kenny Gainwell last year. But that doesn’t mean that keeping the band together will be easy.

Running back2021 yards2021 YPC2021 rushing TD’sContract expirationaverage salary
Miles Sanders7545.502023$1,337,544
Kenny Gainwell2914.352025$953,88
Boston Scott3734.37Free Agent$920,000
Jordan Howard4064.73Free Agent$495,000

Credit the offensive line by all means, but both Boston Scott and Jordan Howard stepped up in a huge way when Nick Sirianni first flicked the switch and decided to run the ball. Neither will command top-tier money and both should be retained by Howie Roseman, but in the event they’re not, the Eagles will need help from elsewhere.

There’s one real issue here making things complicated:

Howie Roseman doesn’t like paying running backs anything substantial.

You could argue that the five-year, $42M contract handed to DeMarco Murray in 2015 scarred the Eagles GM. Since then, it’s all been committee efforts and bargain-bin buys. From Ryan Mathews, to Jay Ajayi, and the development of UDFA’s such as Corey Clement, Boston Scott, and Josh Adams, the Eagles have gotten away without needing to pour a ton of money into the running back position.

Just look at Jordan Howard. The Eagles poached him from Chicago in his contract year, squeezed a huge season out of him before his injury, let Miami give him his big paycheck, and then took him back later when his value diminished, and his upside increased.

The main issue the Eagles face here is how they handle the Miles Sanders situation. If you’re Howie Roseman, you have to view the Jordan Howard 2019 situation as a starting point. The Bears introduced a new coaching staff and drafted Tarik Cohen, and it soon became clear that Howard was expendable. He was replaced with a similarly styled back in David Montgomery, and the rest was history.

The same kind of thing happened early on with Kenny Gainwell…and it’s not really as if Sanders has taken a huge step in development since first being drafted. The same issues haunt his game and outside of his home-run potential, he struggles with consistency whenever he isn’t breaking off an 80-yard gain.

Could the Eagles survive by bringing back Howard and Scott, and then trading Sanders for a draft pick that can be used on a back on a rookie contract? Absolutely. And behind this offensive front, you’d be hard-pressed to find a runner who wouldn’t be immediately more dangerous.

Or, do they instead see if they can give Sanders an extension, potentially at the risk of losing both Scott and Howard? The Eagles haven’t invested more than $5M at the RB spot since 2015. After leading the league in rushing, there’s no reason that needs to change.

But will Roseman be willing to make an exception? It could be viewed as a risky move penning Sanders to an extension now, but if he is going to be used as an RB1 all season in 2023, can stay healthy, and take a step forward, then it could end up being a massive win for the franchise, However, if the inverse happens, it would obviously come back to bite them…which is where the idea of letting him play his contract year comes in.

In essence, the Eagles have two pending free agents, a lead running back entering his contract year, and a second-year player who fills some of the voids Sanders creates as a lead back. Howie is going to have to address this in either an ultra-aggressive way, or a more conservative one. But based off of the success of the running game in 2021, and the fact he’s been extremely reluctant to pay running backs anything more than a few million dollars, it’s hard to see him going all-out to give any of the three in question a shiny new deal that turns heads.

Will Roseman stick to his gameplan in 2022 with so much ammunition at his disposal? Only time will tell…

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire