So far this offseason the Eagles have focused on improving their beleaguered offense. Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith are big additions at wide receiver, and with the signing of Chance Warmack and re-signing of Stefen Wisniewski, they now have eight interior linemen with varying degrees of starting experience. They’ve also swapped out Chase Daniel for Nick Foles at backup QB. But they are far from a full roster on offense. They need additional depth at wide receiver, and they need a running back who can shoulder a 200+ carry workload.
Fortunately, this draft is considered to be pretty deep at running back. The Eagles should, and likely will, draft one. But you’d like to go into the draft with as much flexibility as you can, not needing to draft a particular position by, or in, a particular round. A run on a position can shake up a draft plan, and looking for a particular style of player at a particular position is how you wind up reaching for a player.
The Eagles have the ageless Darren Sproles and a trio of promising young runners, but adding another back in free agency would reduce the sense of urgency to draft a running back without lowering the need to take one. They carried four running backs for most of the 2016 season in Ryan Mathews, Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner, though that could be reduced to three in 2017 if the team opts to add a fullback that Doug Pederson would like to have. But with the only “starting” caliber fullbacks already off the market, it’s not set in stone.
With Sproles, the Eagles have one of the better backup running backs in the league, a dynamic receiver out of the backfield who can give a nice change of pace as a runner. Wendell Smallwood showed potential as a rotational player, but even with Ryan Mathews injured or on the bench, Doug Pederson was reluctant to give him a big workload, he had just four games with more than 10 touches, and a high of 17, twice. Byron Marshall has potential as a runner/receiver and Terrell Watson could turn out to be short yardage back, but they’ll be fighting for roster spots in training camp. With the eventual release of Ryan Mathews, the Eagles will be down a runner who can grind down defenses and grind out first downs in short yardage. Adding someone to at least on paper fill that role and give them the option to take simply the best running back available regardless of type makes some sense.
If the Eagles want to bring in a running back in free agency, they’ll have their pick, as the market has been a wasteland for them. The only running back to switch teams since free agency started on Thursday is Danny Woodhead with the Ravens. (C.J. Spiller signed with the Chiefs in February after being released in December.)
LeGarrette Blount is 30 but with relatively low tread, averaging just 146 carries a season, though inconsistently, his 299 carries in 2016 is by far a career high. He’d give a team a good between the tackles runner. Coming off winning a Super Bowl, he may just want to cash in.
Jamaal Charles has an obvious connection to Doug Pederson, but at 30 and with just 83 total carries in the last two years, any team should stay away from anything beyond an incentive laden, league minimum, no guaranteed money contract.
Eddie Lacy is coming off a disappointing 2015 and a 2016 season where he missed 11 games. The Packers have interest in keeping him and he visited the Vikings as a potential Adrian Peterson replacement, he also visited the Seahawks.
Latavius Murray is also meeting with the Seahawks and the Jaguars. He had nearly 1900 yards and 18 touchdowns in 30 games over the last two years for the Raiders, but at just a 4.0 yards per carry clip.
Adrian Peterson wants to go to a contender. The Eagles can’t afford him anyway.
If the Eagles were to sign a running back, they’d be better off grabbing a clear rotational guy, such as Rex Burkhead, Benny Cunningham, Knile Davis, Lance Dunbar, or Andre Ellington. Great options they’re not, but they wouldn’t cost much either.
Entirely bypassing running back in free agency would be a sound plan. But as the days go by with no real action on the market, the Eagles should at least think about taking advantage of what is turning out to look like a terrific buyer’s market.