Eagles Sign Jay Ajayi, but Could be Minus Top Two Weapons vs. Patriots

Ed Kracz

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Eagles are nothing if not desperate.

The Eagles (5-4) will be without their number one receiver Alshon Jeffery and quite possibly their number one running back Jordan Howard when they host the one-loss New England Patriots (4:25 p.m.) on Sunday.

The Eagles signed running back Jay Ajayi to fortify a position that is in tatters, with Darren Sproles being placed on Injured Reserve on Friday after announcing he tore a right hip flexor. Howard suffered a stinger that happened late in the their win over the Chicago Bears on Nov. 3, before heading into their bye week.

Howard, who was listed on Friday’s practice report as questionable for Sunday, had yet to be cleared for contact as of Friday morning when head coach Doug Pederson met with reporters. The team seems to be holding out hope that the clearance will come on Saturday.

Howard is the Eagles’ top touchdown-maker with seven, including six on the ground, and leads the team in rushing yards with 525.

Ajayi would be the second player the Eagles have been forced to sign off the streets this week.

Receiver Jordan Matthews was brought in on Monday to replace DeSean Jackson, who had surgery two days after the game with the Bears to repair a core muscle tear in his abdomen and was put on Injured Reserve.

Matthews will most definitely have role on Sunday, likely a juicy one, too, because not only are the Eagles without Jackson, they will not have Jeffery, either, who was ruled out with an ankle injury that, despite having two weeks to heal thanks to the Eagles’ bye week, never quite did.

The week off didn’t help linebacker Nigel Bradham, either. Bradham (ankle) will miss his fourth straight game.

“He's looked good,” said Pederson about Matthews. “It hasn't been that long since he's been here, so his familiarity with the offense was good, his recall was good, his energy was good. He spent some time with Carson (Wentz) this week. I would expect him to play and to get some snaps in this game.”

Jeffery, though, is the team’s second-leading receiver, behind Zach Ertz (527 yards) with 353 yards on 36 catches and four touchdowns, including three through the air.

Somehow it seems the Eagles emerged from their week off in worst shape health-wise than they were heading into it. Go figure.

Like Matthews, who is back for his third stint with the team that originally drafted him in 2014, Ajayi has some familiarity with the Eagles offense.

Ajayi spent 10 games with the Eagles in 2017, including the postseason and Super Bowl LII, and another four games in 2018 before an ACL tear ended his season. He has been trying to land with a team for nearly a month after his agent let it be known that he was fully recovered from knee surgery.

“Yeah, I think so,” said Pederson about the potential for Ajayi seeing some reps.

With Jeffery out, not only will Matthews likely need to have an impact against the Patriots’ top-ranked defense, but so too will J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.

It’s a lot to ask of Arcega-Whiteside, who has just two catches for 14 yards this year, and will now face an NFL dynasty led by quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick.

“He’s put in a good week's work,” said Pederson about Arcega-Whiteside. “He's always done that. He's always practiced well, but he's been behind Alshon. If his load increases this week, we expect him to go in and play well. That's why we drafted him and that's why he's here.”

Arcega-Whiteside looked overwhelmed in his first few games and hasn’t played much at all. Pederson, though, said he sees a difference in the rookie second-round pick.

“I think his sense of urgency, his attention to detail, all those things,” said the coach. “I think there is heightened awareness that there is a chance that he gets an opportunity.”