The Eagles trade for Jay Ajayi was a stunning one. And it looks like another in a line of smart acquisitions by the Eagles this season. While running back was certainly a need at today’s deadline, if the Eagles traded for one the expectation was for a rotational back who could be trusted in pass protection. They went further than that, adding a bonafide starter to a rushing attack that is already 5th in the league in yards per game. It’s a win-now move that also will pay dividends next year and possibly beyond, and is entirely in line with the Eagles personnel moves this season.
The Eagles’ plan this season has been pretty clear: get Carson Wentz a supporting cast that will enable him to take the next steps in his development, while adding pieces on both sides of the ball that can grow with him. Nothing about that plan is notable, as everyone else with a young QB tries to do that as well. It’s the aggressiveness with which they have done so that is impressive.
The Alshon Jeffery one year contract was bold and risky, but it’s paying off on two fronts: Jeffery has been a boon to the Eagles offense, but without putting up huge numbers (so far) it doesn’t look like it will be hard to keep him. The team took chances on Torrey Smith on the outside and Nelson Agholor on the inside, and they’re paying off as well, Smith has been the spacing deep threat they needed, and Agholor has turned his career around. LeGarrette Blount was also a risk, he’s been a great signing.
The risks of signing Blount—30 years old and coming off his highest workload—are another reason why the Eagles were wise to trade for Ajayi. With 100 carries and 4 receptions through 8 games, Blount is on track for the second highest workload of his career, marginally outpacing his current second highest workload season of 206 touches in his rookie season in 2010. At some point the tread falls off every running back’s tires, and the loss of Darren Sproles meant the Eagles had to lean on Blount more than intended, adding more wear and tear. Ajayi gives them a new lead back, and should keep Blount as fresh as can be. If and when Blount is grinding out first downs in January, this trade will be a factor.
However, as with every move, there are risks involved. Ajayi had reportedly worn out his welcome with Adam Gase, not “buying in to the team culture”, along with Jarvis Landry. Considering that the shine has come off Adam Gase this year, it all sounds a bit like Chip Kelly, but that Ajayi was apparently complaining about playing time in wins can’t be ignored. In his press conference on Monday, Doug Pederson said that given the strong locker room the Eagles have, fit would, at least for him, be a concern if a player was traded for. He might get a test with Ajayi, but with Pederson and his players seemingly pushing all the right buttons this year, the Eagles should trust that it will work out.
Ajayi’s lack of production is a concern, though context is key here. The Dolphins offensive line has been a mess this season, Ajayi’s 3.4 yards per carry is both terrible and by far the best on the team, with Damian Williams sporting a 2.7 yards per carry average and Kenyan Drake a 2.5. But they have just 22 total rushing attempts, a nearly worthless sample size beyond further indicating that the issues with the Dolphins run game starts in the trenches. There’s plenty of reason to think he will bounce back behind a good line. If there weren’t some warts Ajayi wouldn’t have been available in the first place.
Teams don’t get better by sitting still. Regardless of the outcome, the Eagles aggressive and at times unorthodox process of adding talent and young talent around Carson Wentz is a worthwhile plan that should hit more than it misses. The trade for Dorial Green-Beckham last year didn’t pan out, but like the Rueben Randle experiment it was a low risk move. Neither young receiver worked out, but they didn’t cost anything of value.
This year the Eagles have been even more aggressive, acquiring a 24 year old starting running back (Ajayi) and 23 year old starting cornerback (Ronald Darby), which were two of their biggest roster holes in 2017 and draft needs for 2018, for the cost of a 3rd, a 4th and free agent-to-be Jordan Matthews. (Spinning it back a bit, they got Derek Barnett and Jay Ajayi for Sam Bradford.) The chances that the players who will be taken with those picks are better than the players they were acquired for are slim, the risk in these trades is minimal. More teams should be making these types of moves. There’s still half a season to be played, but barring Alshon Jeffery signing elsewhere in free agency (and the Eagles then being unable to fill the void with a veteran) the team looks to have no desperate needs in the draft. That’s quite a turn around.
The Eagles continue to excel at trades, and with Carson Wentz as the franchise, they can increase the risks they take if they so chose. Given their smart shopping, they should choose to do so.