As the sun rose on day 3 of 2014 NFL free agency, the New Orleans Saints kept busy, making their third notable move in the last 72 hours as they agreed to trade Running Back Darren Sproles to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a 2013 5th round draft pick. The Eagles had an extra 5th round pick in their arsenal thanks to last season's trade that sent Defensive Tackle Isaac Sopoaga to New England. It's a bittersweet deal for the Saints, as they lose a notable contributor from the last three seasons, but gain what could turn out to be a valuable draft pick and most importantly, clear some extra cap space with the team hopeful of making further signings this month.
Meanwhile, Eagles coach Chip Kelly gets yet another weapon to add to his dynamic offense. The Eagles finished last season ranked number 2 in the league despite injuries at the Quarterback position and a brand new scheme that Kelly installed following his successful tenure in the collegiate ranks at Oregon. Sproles is still an effective player that can thrive in an offense such as Kelly's. While his production was somewhat down from previous seasons due to injury and the emergence of teammates Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson, he still managed to reel in 71 receptions and found the end zone four times while contributing in the return game as well. Still one of the better all purpose backs in the game, Sproles has just 1 year remaining on the deal he signed in 2011, so it is a low-risk play for Philadelphia. Darren Sproles is on his way to Philadelphia.
New Orleans had considered releasing Sproles outright, but after guaging his value on the trade market, they elected to send him to Philadelphia. While it may be a risk sending him to a fellow NFC contender, the Saints will get a 5th round draft choice, which may have been more than other interested parties were willing to offer, and also manage to clear the $3.4 million owed to Sproles off their books. The Eagles' NFC East rival Washington Redskins were also said to be interested, as were a handful of other teams including the Houston Texans. Sproles ultimately lands in Philly where he should not only find his own niche in Kelly's system, but provide extra relief for LeSean McCoy, who racked up 366 touches last season. In contrast, Sproles' career high for offensive touches in a season came in 2011, his first year as a Saint, when he tallied 173.
While Sproles was hoping to be granted his release in order to choose his next destination, he will surely find his new digs comfortable as Kelly is one of the best in the business at getting the most out of his playmakers. As for New Orleans, it will be interesting to see how GM Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton plan to replace Sproles. Dating back to Payton's first season in 2006, the team has always had a versatile weapon in it's possession, such as Sproles or Reggie Bush, to cause confusion by lining up in the backfield, splitting out wide, in the slot, and helping in the return game. Like Bush before him, Sproles is at his best in space, and can take a simple dump off in the flats and convert it into a huge gain by using his diminutive size and game-changing speed to his advantage.
The Saints have both Robinson and Ingram poised for bigger roles, while also announcing that they have agreed to an extension with Pierre Thomas. None of those players possesses the skill set of a Darren Sproles, so it is quite possible that Loomis and Payton will look to the draft to find their next 'satellite' weapon. The Saints have a history of using their later round picks in impressive fashion, with the likes of Marques Colston, Carl Nicks, Thomas Morstead, and Zach Strief all selected between the 5th and 7th rounds. Saints Director of Player Personnel Ryan Pace and the team's scouts also have a strong recent history of unearthing undrafted diamonds in the rough who have gone on to play imprtant roles, such as Thomas and Robinson.
There is the infamous saying that 'one man's trash is another man's treasure,' though, Darren Sproles is far from an item one would find in a garbage receptacle. Still able to change games with his playmaking ability, Sproles could have not asked for a better landing spot in terms of how the Eagles play and their desire to move the ball and score points at will in an up-tempo fashion. Sproles is not getting younger, but there is still juice to burn, and he should make an impact with his new team provided he can keep good health on his side. As for his former team, the New Orleans Saints, it is just the latest in what figures to be a continuous flurry of moves in the days and weeks ahead.