There was no way Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was sitting out this historically active NFL trade deadline with his team in Super Bowl contention. No chance in hell.
The freewheeling executive, who, over the years has dealt everyone from Donovan McNabb, Sam Bradford and Kevin Kolb to Asante Samuel—and traded for the likes of Darren Sproles and Ronald Darby entered the league’s trade deadline fracas with a bang Tuesday morning.
As a practical matter, the deal does two things for Philadelphia:
• On Day One, Ajayi walks onto the practice field and becomes the best pass blocking running back the Eagles have. This is not to say Ajayi is close to prolific, (Dolphins head coach Adam Gase was quite critical of his pass blocking in the team’s blowout loss to Baltimore last week) but with left tackle Jason Peters out for the season, there is a desperate need to fortify any space between Carson Wentz and an oncoming defensive end. I thought Sunday’s game against the 49ers hammered the point home. San Francisco was utilizing a ton of interesting stunts and blitzes involving their corners and speedier linebackers—attackers that sometimes fall on the shoulders of pass protecting backs. Philadelphia’s two most utilized running backs, Wendell Smallwood and LeGarrette Blount, are good role players in this offense, but Ajayi’s presence can add an every-down practicality to the team’s running back situation.
• The presence of a Pro Bowl-caliber running back also adds to the matchup issues the Eagles can already create with their current set of weapons, thus taking stress off Wentz’s shoulders. It was thrilling last Monday to watch Wentz scramble and wheel his way around an advancing Washington defense, but it also has to be terrifying for the coaching staff. Blount is a great power runner, especially as a closer late in games when worn down teams don’t feel like dealing with a runaway bus. Ajayi attacks with a different style and speed, as does Smallwood. Through the cold November and December slog, this is a trio of running backs good enough to lift a team in quarterback-neutral contests.
From an emotional standpoint, this is no different than the telling actions of a general manager during baseball’s deadline: It signifies belief, it conveys a sense of urgency and it shows a locker room that their personnel team is listening.
Not all of Roseman’s eyebrow-raising moves have worked out in the past. The assembly of their “dream team” was a notable failure. Plugged-in Dolphins reporters have noted Ajayi’s knee issues and the speed with which Gase sent Ajayi away has to be alarming at some level. And yet… the beauty of Roseman’s tenure has been a total lack of fear to make the leap. The Eagles will live and die this way, and right now they’re the best team in the NFC.