Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly just got another interesting chess piece for his fascinating offensive concepts.
On Thursday morning, as first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter, the New Orleans Saints traded running back Darren Sproles to the Eagles for a fifth-round draft pick. The move takes Sproles' $3.4 million base salary and $100,000 workout bonus off the books as the Saints try all sorts of things to free up salary cap space, but it leaves Drew Brees without an intriguing and versatile target.
It's a perfect fit for Kelly's high-paced and atypical offense, because Sproles is anything but your garden-variety running back. Selected in the fourth round of the 2005 draft by the San Diego Chargers out of Kansas State, Sproles really came into focus when he signed a four-year, $14 million contract with New Orleans in July 2011 and became Reggie Bush's replacement as Sean Payton's satellite back.
"Darren Sproles is an unbelievable offensive weapon," Kelly said in a statement. "He can do it all, run, catch, plus he's a proven winner. And on top of that, he can bring all of those dynamic skills to the return game as well. There is no question we were all excited once we found out we were going to be able to trade for him."
Over the last three seasons, Sproles has ranked first in targets, receptions (232), receiving yards (1,981) and receiving touchdowns (16) among NFL running backs. In 2011, he set the league record for all-purpose yards in a season with 2,696, and he ranks third among active player in career all-purpose yards (behind Steve Smith and Wes Welker) with 15,504.
In 2013, Sproles gained 220 rushing yards and amassed two rushing touchdowns on 53 carries, caught 71 balls for 604 yards and two touchdowns, returned 29 punts for 194 yards and returned 12 kicks for 255 yards. His total yards from scrimmage have declined in each of the last three seasons (from 2,696 to 1,577 to 1,273), but he can still be an effective weapon in the right offense.
As things changed between Sproles and the Saints' front office, it got a bit sour. On Wednesday, Sproles' wife Michel called out the organization on Instagram.
"I purposely posted this to see all the factions and I'm not at all surprised, and for those that responded ignorantly [they] completely fell for it," Mrs. Sproles said in a follow-up. "I [did] not attack Who Dat Nation, I specifically said I was referring to the front office."
That front office might have released Sproles but for the interest in his services, and he's now in a place where he can make a major difference.
"Darren is a player that we have admired for many years – he's a proven performer at a high level," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said. "He's such a dangerous back and he's a great piece to add to our offense and to our special teams. We spent a considerable time in order to try to make this happen and we were very happy to get a deal done with New Orleans." Grade: A-minus. There should be a bit of concern about Sproles' declining numbers and advancing age (31 in June) when you're talking about a $3.5 million cap hit for a situational player. But Kelly already turned LeSean McCoy into the Eagles' first NFL rushing champ since Steve Van Buren in 1949, and he has an innate understanding of how to maximize the abilities of everyone in his backfield. Those defenses who felt relief whenever McCoy came off the field just got a whole new headache.