Of all the options to replace their latest injured key player, the Philadelphia Eagles may just have to rely on the mantra that worked so well for them last year: “Next man up.”
Now that running back Jay Ajayi is done for the season and likely will never play for them again, their options are limited by the realities of the NFL salary cap and their desire to balance the future with the present.
Their reported adjustment to defensive tackle Fletcher Cox’s contract aside, they still barely have enough money to re-sign their own valued players with expiring contracts, like linebacker Jordan Hicks and wide receiver Nelson Agholor.
Agholor’s option for next season actually has already been picked up, but the team almost has to negotiate an extension that would reduce his 2019 cap hit of $9.4 million before the start of next season.
According to Over The Cap, the Eagles had less than $4 million in flexibility this season before adjusting Cox’s contract and are projected to be more than $20 million over the cap in 2019.
Against that backdrop, we present the following options.
♦ Next man up
Wendell Smallwood has played well in a limited role. Can he be counted on to step up and, say, share the load with Corey Clement and Darren Sproles? This is assuming that Sproles, sidelined with a hamstring injury since Week 2, doesn’t join Ajayi in already having played his last game as an Eagle.
Sproles, 35 and coming off a season-ending injury from early in 2017, again was held out of practice on Monday. Clement also has been injured and did not play in Sunday’s 23-21 loss to Minnesota, though he was a full participant at practice on Monday.
The Eagles also have rookie Josh Adams.
Given the uncertain state of Sproles and the possibility of Clement’s quad injury lingering, the Eagles would be best served adding a running back via trade or free agency.
Here are some options:
♦ Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Hasn’t signed his franchise tender with the Steelers and now is being dangled. Would actually be an upgrade over Ajayi, but even if the Eagles could clear enough space to pay him for the remainder of this season, they almost certainly don’t have enough money to keep him beyond this season
That means they’d have to rely on a compensatory pick, probably at the end of the third round, for losing him in free agency to recoup whatever they might have to give up (second rounder?) to get him.
♦ LeGarrette Blount, Detroit Lions
Helped the Eagles win it all last year and played a much bigger role before Ajayi arrived. He’s not playing much after signing with Detroit. If he’s available, Eagles should at least ask how much it would take to get him.
♦ LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
Another former Eagle, McCoy would be a great fit on the field. But there are two problems: His salary and the drama in his personal life.
Do they really need to give the Bills a draft choice just for the right to absorb the proration of his $6 million salary while issues and accusations from his ex-girlfriend play out?
Guess it depends on how desperate they are.
And according to Josh Reed of WIVB in Buffalo, it seems that they are.
Reed reported on Tuesday that the Eagles have called the Bills to ask about trading for McCoy
♦ Mike Gillislee, free agent
Recently released by the New Orleans Saints, he has experience and can probably net them those tough yards when needed.
Trading for Atlanta’s Tevin Coleman also has been mentioned by some as an option.
Bringing back Kenjon Barner might have been a consideration too — until he re-signed with the New England Patriots just hours before Ajayi went on IR.
The main problem here is money.
No matter how much trade magic executive director of football operations Howie Roseman possesses, he is limited in his ability after recent adjustments of so many other veteran contracts to create more space for the Eagles this year and next year.
Injured reserve list: RB Jay Ajayi, WR Mack Hollins, WR Mike Wallace, CB Elie Bouka, S Rodney McLeod, TE Richard Rodgers, LB Paul Worrilow.
Non-football injury list: DT Tim Jernigan.
PUP list: S Chris Maragos.
Active players who've missed games: WR Alshon Jeffery; RBs Corey Clement and Darren Sproles; LB Nigel Bradham (suspension); DT Haloti Ngata; DE Derek Barnett.