Virtually everything the Eagles touched in 2017 turned to
gold silver. With free agency around the corner and the draft to follow, we look back at the top 10 moves the Eagles made on their path to the Super Bowl.
This is supposed to be about Jay Ajayi, but you can’t talk about Jay Ajayi in 2017 without talking about Howie Roseman, Adam Gase, and Doug Pederson (and Duce Staley).
Having already lost Darren Sproles, Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, and with Ronald Darby on the shelf, Howie Roseman needed to add bodies before things got out of control and derailed the Eagles season. The Seahawks priced them out of a Peters replacement with the Duane Brown trade, and there wasn’t anything worthwhile at linebacker. He’d find replacements in free agency a few weeks later. But at the trade deadline Adam Gase, 2016’s coaching darling, had his Dolphins floundering and felt that what was needed was a culture change. Roseman put the finishing touch on his season of aggressive but smart moves and traded a fourth round pick for a 24 year old starting running back who his coach all but called a cancer. The Dolphins went 2-7 the rest of the season.
Ajayi on the other hand was an instant hit. On his second drive as an Eagles he had a 46 yard touchdown. In his second game a 71 yard run. In 10 games with the Eagles, Ajayi averaged 75.3 yards from scrimmage a game, good for 1205 yards over a 16 game season, which would be 15th among running backs in 2017. And he was only the lead back by touches in half of those games as Doug Pederson continued to rotate his runners.
The culture change did Ajayi pretty well. Doug Pederson had built a tight knit and fun locker room, and there were reasons to be hesitant if Ajayi would be an issue. Ajayi appeared to be a model teammate. In fairness, his problems in Miami were under the surface, but Ajayi looked anything but malcontent on the Eagles.
When Corey Clement scored in the Super Bowl, Ajayi ran off the bench to tackle him in celebration. Post-game he went to NFL Network’s on field set along with LeGarrette Blount. Maybe his attitude was an issue in Miami. Maybe he just needed a coach like Duce Staley, who Blount called “one of the best coaches I’ve ever had in my life” to guide him. Maybe the Dolphins and Adam Gase are just dumb. Whatever the reasons, he’s no longer the Dolphins problem, and he’s the Eagles gift.
In 2018 Ajayi will probably lead the Eagles in attempts while continuing to be part of a rotation. The Eagles limited his practice time to manage his health and to keep his runners fresh to close out games late. It’s no coincidence that the Eagles rotated runners and had one of the best fourth quarter offenses by both scoring (6th) and time of possession (5th). Whatever will happen will happen. In 2017 Jay Ajayi was the latest addition to a team full of difference makers.