Jay Ajayi

Cardinals To Work Out Jay Ajayi

The Cardinals will meet with running back Jay Ajayi, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The running back will take a physical and audition for the club on Monday and Tuesday.

Before his injury-shortened 2018, Ajayi posted two strong seasons. In 2016, he earned his first career Pro Bowl nod as he averaged 4.9 yards per carry for the Dolphins. In 2017, a midseason trade sent him to the Eagles, where he averaged 5.8 yards per tote off of 70 tries and captured his first ever Super Bowl ring.

Unfortunately, that career progress was halted by a torn ACL, but Ajayi is now healthy and ready to show the NFL what he can do. For the Cardinals, he could be a useful fill-in amidst multiple injuries at the position. D.J. Foster was ruled out against the Giants and star David Johnson is pushing through an ankle injury of his own.

The advanced metrics indicate that Ajayi is among the league’s better running backs when healthy, so he could provide a major midseason boost to the Cards or any team in need of backfield help. After Sunday’s win over the Giants, the Cardinals are 3-3-1 as they get ready for a Sunday showdown with the Saints. When they take on New Orleans, they might have one of the league’s more intriguing RB talents in uniform, behind Johnson.

The Cardinals are also taking a look at Spencer Ware and Benny Cunningham, Rapoport hears (Twitter links). Ware was initially set to play for the Colts this year, but wound up on PUP with a toe injury. Ware disagreed with the team’s decision and was ultimately released in September. The Jaguars cut the former Rams and Bears back midway through training camp, and his in-season workouts thus far have not led to any contract agreements.

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Jay Ajayi Nearing NFL Return?

Free agent running back Jay Ajayi could be game-ready as soon as next week, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Ajayi lost the bulk of his 2018 season to an ACL tear, but is apparently feeling spry enough to get back on the field. 

Before his injury-shortened 2018, Ajayi turned in a pair of fine campaigns. In 2016, he earned his first career Pro Bowl nod as he averaged 4.9 yards per carry for the Dolphins. In 2017, a mid-season trade sent him to the Eagles, where he averaged 5.8 yards per tote off of 70 tries and captured his first ever Super Bowl ring.

In theory, Ajayi could be a solution for the Giants, who are in need of reinforcements after losing star Saquon Barkley to a high-ankle sprain. The Chiefs, not long ago, also profiled as a fit for Ajayi, though the re-emergence of LeSean McCoy probably has them covered in the wake of Damien Williams‘ injury.

The advanced metrics indicate that Ajayi is among the league’s better running backs when healthy so he could provide a major midseason boost to any club in need of ground game help.

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Let’s Find A New Team For Jay Ajayi

Jay Ajayi is one of the more high-profile names still left on the free agent market, but it’s perhaps unsurprising that he’s yet to find a new contract after hitting free agency in March. The former Eagle and Dolphin has never ranked favorably in running back efficiency metrics, and his injury history is concerning. After tearing his right ACL while at Boise State, Ajayi dealt with hamstring, rib, shoulder, head, and shoulder issues in the NFL before suffering another torn ACL — this time, on his left knee — in 2018.

However, there are still some reasons to be optimistic about Ajayi’s future. As recently as 2016, Ajayi finished seventh in Football Outsiders’ DYAR, which measures value over a replacement level player. The following year, he ranked 10th in broken tackle/per touch percentage, a statistic that, as Josh Hermsmeyer of FiveThirtyEight.com tweets, is mostly under the back’s control and thus a reliable metric for evaluating the position.

As training camp approaches, let’s take a look at a few teams that could still use a back like Ajayi:

Houston Texans

Houston finally made investments in its offensive line over the offseason, adding free agent Matt Kalil on a one-year pact and using two of its first three draft picks on offensive tackles Tytus Howard and Max Scharping. How much Kalil (who hasn’t played well or been able to stay healthy in recent years) or small-school projects Howard and Scharping will actually help in 2019 is unclear, but the Texans needed to do something to improve its rushing attack, which ranked just 26th in DVOA a season ago.

The next step might be adding a complement to running back Lamar Miller, whose share of Houston’s carry total has decreased in each of his three seasons with the club. The Texans don’t have many serviceable options behind Miller, as the leading candidate for No. 2 duties is D’Onta Foreman, who handled only seven carries in 2019 after recovering from a torn Achilles. Ajayi could give Houston another dimension on offense while protecting the team against a Miller injury.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are the only team to have actually hosted Ajayi thus far, doing so when free agency originally opened back in March. However, reports quickly followed indicating no deal was imminent between Indianapolis and Ajayi, and the Colts clearly haven’t had the urge to sign him since. Indy already has a solid rushing infrastructure, boasting one of the NFL’s best offensive lines and three competent backs in Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins, and Nyheim Hines. Indianapolis doesn’t need Ajayi, but he’d be interesting on a cheap deal.

Los Angeles Chargers

We don’t know how Melvin Gordon‘s holdout is going to end. Will he and the Chargers agree to a deal? If not, will he sit out the entire season like Le’Veon Bell did in 2018? These are currently unanswerable questions, but if Gordon does miss game action as threatened, Los Angeles could potentially need another running back.

Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson both proved to be efficient when filling in for Gordon when the latter suffered a sprained MCL last season, and Ekeler, especially, has been extremely proficient in the passing game when called upon. In the event of a Gordon absence, the Chargers could probably get by with a duo of Ekeler and Jackson, but Ajayi would give Los Angeles another option capable of handling carries.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers finished 24th in rushing DVOA and 28th in expected points gained by their rushing attack in 2018, but did next to nothing to address their backfield during the offseason. Sure, Tampa Bay added Bruce Arians favorite Andre Ellington and undrafted free agent Bruce Anderson to its roster, but the lack of meaningful reinforcements means the club will once again be relying on veteran Peyton Barber and 2018 second-round pick Ronald Jones as its primary ball-carriers.

Jones handled only 23 attempts during his rookie campaign, but the USC product is expected to be a larger part of the Bucs’ offense this season. He’s generated some buzz by gaining 13 pounds over the offseason, but adding weight has historically not been a recipe for success for running backs.

Jones’ lack of production in his first NFL season was relatively unprecedented, especially for a second-round pick. Here are the all first- or second-round round running backs since 2010 that handled fewer than 100 carries during their respective rookie years, via Pro-Football-Reference.com:

It’s not a great group! Some backs like Shane Vereen and Carlos Hyde, eventually found success, but the track of record of RBs who did next to nothing in their rookie seasons is certainly unspectacular. Barber, meanwhile, has never produced an above-average campaign, so Ajayi could be a welcome addition to Tampa Bay’s running back depth chart.

Compensatory Pick Formula Ends Today

Starting at 4pm ET/3pm CT, any unrestricted free agent that signs with a new team will not count towards the 2020 compensatory draft pick formula, as Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. This should quickly accelerate the market for several free agents of note, including:

Compensatory picks are given to teams that lose a greater number of compensatory free agents (or, a greater quality of free agents) than they acquire. The complicated formula that dictates how the picks are dispersed is not disclosed to the public, but teams are wary of signing even lower impact UFAs while it is in effect.

But, when the formula is turned off, veteran free agents should start flying off of the board.

Eagles Could Still Re-Sign Jay Ajayi

Jay Ajayi’s free agency is in a bit of a holding pattern, but it could end with the running back landing with the Eagles. Agent Drew Rosenhaus says he is maintaining discussions with the Eagles about his client, as Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweets

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Ajayi recently visited the Colts and Rosenhaus says the meeting went well, even though the two sides left without a deal in place. It could be a little while before Ajayi signs because, as Rosenhaus puts it, he’s expected to be ready for the start of the season, but not much before that point.

Ajayi, 26 in June, is arguably the best back still available on the open market after Le’Veon BellTevin Coleman, and Mark Ingram came off the board during the first week of free agency. The Eagles pursued Coleman, but didn’t sign him, which leaves a big need in the backfield.

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FA Rumors: Colts, Ajayi, Giants, Lions, Chiefs

Although the Colts met with free agent running back Jay Ajayi this week, there’s no deal imminent between the two parties, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). However, Indianapolis does plan to continue talking with Ajayi, which suggests it could look to sign the ex-Eagle down the line. Ajayi, 25, is arguably the best back still available on the open market after Le’Veon Bell, Tevin Coleman, and Mark Ingram came off the board during the first week of free agency. The Colts don’t necessarily need another running back given their depth chart already includes Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins, and Nyheim Hines, but Ajayi could give the club another dimension in the backfield.

Here’s more from the free agent rumor mill:

  • The Giants had interest in defensive end Vinny Curry before he signed with the division-rival Eagles, and in fact offered Curry more money than Philadelphia, reports Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Aside from last season, Curry had spent his entire career with the Eagles, and it sounds like he simply preferred to return to Philadelphia rather than consider other destinations. Indeed, Curry only landed a one-year deal with a base value of $2.25MM from the Eagles, although the pact does contain $1.25MM in incentives. Before landing with the Eagles, Curry also took a visit with the Bengals.
  • Free agent Jake Fisher will work out as a tight end for the Bills on Thursday, tweets John Keim of ESPN.com. A second-round pick of the Bengals as an offensive tackle in 2015, Fisher is now attempting to convert to a skill position, and is reportedly down to 285 pounds. Fisher, who played tight end in high school, has been limited by injuries and ineffectiveness throughout his career, and has started just 12 games in four years. He’s also auditioned for the Texans and Redskins.
  • The Lions hosted defensive tackle Al Woods on Wednesday, according to NFL reporter Howard Balzer (Twitter link). Woods is now entering his age-32 season and didn’t perform well in 2018 (bottom-20 DT among 112 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus), so he likely won’t command much guaranteed money. Detroit is already well-stocked in the middle of its defensive line with Damon Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson, and Da’Shawn Hand in tow.
  • Although he recently announced his retirement and took a collegiate coaching position, former Buccaneers tight end/fullback Alan Cross took a visit with the Chiefs this week, tweets Greg Auman of The Athletic. Cross, who posted 13 receptions over three seasons in Tampa Bay, would give Kansas City an option as they seek to replace former No. 2 tight end Demetrius Harris. The Chiefs also met with former Jets tight end Neal Sterling this week.

Jay Ajayi To Visit Colts

Jay Ajayi is set to visit with the Colts next week, reports NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (via Twitter).

It was only two years ago that Ajayi had just wrapped up a 1,272-yard campaign with the Dolphins. Since that time, the 25-year-old has been traded, forced to take on a reduced role, and suffered a major injury, and this will presumably reduce his value on the open market.

After being acquired from Miami during the 2017 campaign, Ajayi ended up playing a significant role for Philly en route to a Super Bowl championship. While he was the starter heading into the 2018 season, he was forced to share carries with several of his teammates. Ajayi then tore his ACL during Week 5, ending his season early. He ultimately finished the campaign having compiled 184 rushing yards and three touchdowns in four games (three starts).

The Colts aren’t necessarily hurting for running back depth. Marlon Mack had a breakout season in 2019, and they’re also rostering a pair of 2018 draft picks in Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins.

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East Notes: Giants, Manning, Eagles

Is Eli Manning to blame for the Giants’ 1-4 start? That’s not necessarily a new question in New Jersey. People in the Giants organization began wondering if Manning was hindering the offense as early as four or five years ago, sources with knowledge of the club’s thinking tell Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com.

Recently, Odell Beckham Jr. made waves by questioning Manning’s effectiveness, among other things. One could argue that the offensive line is hindering the passing game, but that excuse might not hold up after the Giants signed left tackle Nate Solder to a four-year, $62MM deal with $34.8MM guaranteed.

Last year, Giants fans revolted when the club benched Manning in order to audition backup Geno Smith. Ultimately, the Giants reversed course by reinstate Manning as the starter and tossing GM Jerry Reese and coach Ben McAdoo on the Turnpike. If the Giants continue to struggle this year, the new regime might be able to move on from Manning without fan interference.

Manning’s contract runs through the end of the 2019 season, but the Giants can release him this offseason with just $6.2MM in dead money versus a cap savings of $17MM. The $17MM savings won’t be enough to sign an elite quarterback (if there is one available), but the Giants could find their signal caller of the future in the draft, particularly if they’re picking in the top five.

Here’s more from the East divisions:

  • Eagles running back Jay Ajayi is done for the year after suffering a torn ACL, but he’s protected thanks to a unique insurance policy, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com writes. Ajayi’s loss-of-value insurance policy will cover him up to $5MM, tax free, in the event that his open market value dips to the point where he is a lower-level free agent. The exact parameters of his policy are unknown, but if Ajayi was valued as being able to earn a four-year, $16MM deal before the injury, but nets just $8MM over four years after the ACL tear, the policy will nearly make up the difference. Most players do not have policies such as this, but it’s something that pending free agents should probably look into. Rapoport hears that this type of insurance can cost between $80K-$100K, and that’s a relative drop in the bucket for players who are in the mix for mega deals.
  • Jets head coach Todd Bowles says that defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers visited the team facility on Thursday and there is a “small chance” that he will coach this weekend (Twitter link via Manish Mehta of the Daily News). Rodgers is dealing with an undisclosed medical issue that Bowles says is “serious.”

NFC Notes: Olsen, Eagles, Breida, Giants

Greg Olsen opted against undergoing surgery on his refractured foot this season, but the Panthers tight end does expect to need a corrective procedure done on it. The Pro Bowl tight end said (via The Athletic’s Joe Person, on Twitter) he likely will need a surgery to fix his Jones fracture. However, he will try to make it through the season before doing so. Olsen’s missed the past four Panthers games but could be in line to return on Sunday, Ron Rivera said. He’s been ramping up his workouts in recent weeks and views Wednesday as the key day in determining his Week 6 availability, per the Charlotte Observer’s Jourdan Rodrigue.

As one of the finest quarterbacks in the NFC’s history continues his coronation night, here’s the latest from the conference:

  • The ACL Jay Ajayi tore is in his left knee, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane reports (on Twitter). This is key because Ajayi’s past issues have been with his right knee. Ajayi tore his right ACL while at Boise State, and his draft stock took a hit because of reports of chronic issues with that knee. The Eagles running back will undergo surgery on Thursday, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). He’s not believed to have torn any additional knee ligaments. Rapoport adds this injury came while Ajayi was working in pass protection, but the fourth-year veteran played through it until game’s end.
  • Philadelphia has engaged in “exploratory” conversations regarding Le’Veon Bell, according to Rapoport (video link), but those talks haven’t really gotten off the ground. The Bell-to-Philly subject has been a disputed topic thus far this month, with some outlets reporting the Eagles aren’t going down that road and others indicating they have strongly considered doing it.
  • Fletcher Cox‘s restructured contract gave the Eagles $6.5MM in 2018 cap space, pushing that total to around $10MM. The veteran defensive tackle will see $8.19MM in base salary converted to a roster bonus, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets, adding that his 2019 base will be reduced to $930K. An option bonus of $14.76MM will be included in Cox’s contract now, per Yates, though it’s unclear when that option would vest. But Cox accepting the restructure would indicate he’s not in danger of losing that money he transferred from his 2018 and ’19 base salaries.
  • The 49ers will likely have another starting running back when they take the field against the Packers on Monday night. Matt Breida is going to be doubtful to suit up in Green Bay, Kyle Shanahan said (via the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch, on Twitter). The good news on Breida, though, is he didn’t suffer a high ankle sprain. Instead, it’s a less severe mid-ankle sprain, Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area reports. Alfred Morris would be in line to start, with Raheem Mostert possibly backing him up. Shanahan said the team will consider bringing Jeff Wilson up from the practice squad. The 49ers intended to deploy Jerick McKinnon as their starter, and they turned to Breida after the initial first-stringer’s season-ending injury. But Breida should be expected to return fairly soon.
  • Pat Shurmur wants to add a kicker to the Giants’ practice squad, Ryan Dunleavy of NJ.com tweets. Big Blue will need another offensive tackle soon as well, being set to end the Ereck Flowers era on Tuesday. Aldrick Rosas serves as the Giants’ kicker, and the second-year UDFA is 100 percent (11-for-11) on field goals thus far.
  • Prior to signing Bryan Witzmann, the Bears visited with offensive lineman Willie Beavers, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune tweets. Beavers was a fourth-round Vikings pick in 2016.

Eagles Place Jay Ajayi On IR

The Eagles’ depleted running back situation became considerably thinner on Monday. The team is placing starter Jay Ajayi on IR.

A knee malady’s afflicting Ajayi, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (on Twitter), and ESPN’s Adam Schefter reveals (via Twitter) it’s a severe setback. Ajayi tore an ACL and will miss the rest of the season. The 25-year-old back was already playing through a fracture in his back.

The Eagles signed defensive tackle T.Y. McGill to take Ajayi’s roster spot.

This is brutal timing for Ajayi, who is in a contract year. The fourth-year running back had knee issues coming into the NFL, and they’re believed to have caused the 2015 fifth-round pick to have dropped in the draft. Nevertheless, he submitted two seasons of starter work, the second of which helping the 2017 Eagles soar to the Super Bowl LII championship.

Now, Ajayi will likely head into free agency on the heels of one of the worst injuries possible in football.

Philadelphia already has been without Darren Sproles and Corey Clement, forcing the likes of Wendell Smallwood — the team’s previous No. 4 back — and Josh Adams (the player whom Smallwood beat out for that back-end job during the preseason) into action. Clement, though, looks to be close to returning from his quadriceps injury. He was active on Sunday against the Vikings but didn’t play.

This also figures to add heat to the Le’Veon Bell-to-Philly rumors. That’s been out there for several days now, with the Eagles reportedly giving “serious consideration” to acquiring Bell from the Steelers. Now that their backfield is bereft of a proven starter, this figures to be perhaps the team to watch if Pittsburgh is indeed ready to unload its superstar back.

Ajayi exited Week 5 averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Following the midseason trade from the Dolphins, Ajayi posted a stellar figure of 5.8 per tote for the Eagles last season. He rushed for a career-high 1,273 yards en route to a Pro Bowl nod in 2016. It’s fair to wonder if Ajayi will be able to secure a medium- or long-term pact from a team after this ill-timed injury.

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