December 24th, 2019 at 1:26pm CST by Andrew Ortenberg
The Eagles made a few roster moves Tuesday. Philly is signing tight end Richard Rodgers and promoting receiver Deontay Burnett from the practice squad, the team announced. To make room on the active roster, they officially waived running back Jay Ajayi and placed cornerback Ronald Darby on injured reserve.
Rodgers was with the Eagles in camp, but was placed on injured reserve in August and released with an injury settlement shortly after. He first signed with Philadelphia in 2018 and spent last year with the team, catching only one pass in seven games. The best year of his career came back in 2015 with the Packers, when he caught 58 passes for 510 yards and eight touchdowns. His signing could indicate that the Eagles aren’t too optimistic about having starter Zach Ertz for their Week 17 game against the Giants. Ertz is dealing with a fractured rib that he suffered during their big win over the Cowboys.
Thanks to the victory against Dallas the Eagles are in the drivers seat, but they still need a win in their finale to clinch the NFC East. Darby went down with a hip injury, and there was some initial hope he’d be able to return for the playoffs. Obviously, that turned out not to be the case, and Rasul Douglas will slide into the starting lineup in his place. Darby is dealing with a grade 2 hip flexor strain that fortunately won’t require surgery and will only knock him out for about a month, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
We heard yesterday they were planning on waiving Ajayi, so that move was only a formality. Burnett is a 2018 UDFA from USC, who signed to their practice squad a couple of weeks ago after being cut from San Francisco’s taxi squad. Given the state of the Eagles’ depleted receiving corp, it’s highly possible he finds himself playing significant snaps.
Jordan Howard is due to return for the Eagles’ Week 17 game. As a result, the NFC East leaders are waiving Jay Ajayi, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter).
Ajayi caught on with his former team recently, doing so because of Howard’s late-season injury issues. Out of football since his rookie contract expired after the 2018 season, Ajayi was used sparingly behind Miles Sanders. The fifth-year veteran gained 30 yards on 10 carries in his latest Eagles stint.
A torn ACL suffered midway through last season sidetracked Ajayi’s career. Instead of a free agency payday, the former Dolphins draft pick-turned-Eagles Super Bowl cog spent months rehabbing his knee. The 26-year-old back would seemingly be on track to attract interest in 2020, being healthier than he was this year. But Ajayi’s stock certainly is not where it was before the injury.
Howard missed Philadelphia’s past six games with a shoulder stinger, but the contract-year back will stand to help the Eagles clinch their third straight playoff berth. The offseason acquisition has gained 528 yards on 119 totes, bouncing back after a down 2018 season with the Bears. The Eagles can clinch the NFC East title with a road win over the Giants on Sunday.
Let’s take a quick look at a few items from the City of Brotherly Love:
Eagles starting RT Lane Johnson is in the concussion protocol, as Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweets. Johnson suffered a head injury during Sunday’s loss to the Patriots, and while he tried to play through it, the injury worsened and he was ultimately forced to exit (Twitter link via McLane).
The Eagles can ill afford to lose Johnson, arguably the best right tackle in football, as they fight for the NFC East title. But if they are without Johnson for any period of time, they could turn to rookie Andre Dillard rather than veteran Halapoulivaati Vaitai, as McLane tweets.
Jay Ajayi finally found an NFL home for 2019 when he signed with the Eagles on Friday. Interestingly, the deal includes a right of first refusal for 2020, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. So if it wants, Philadelphia can match any offer Ajayi receives on the open market, which could be significant if the team lets Jordan Howard walk in free agency.
Cornerback JalenMills is eligible for free agency this offseason, and while he is not perfect, he has been very good since returning from injury in Week 7, and McLane says Mills may be playing his way into a second contract with the Eagles (Twitter link).
Eliot Shorr-Parks of 94WIP.com believes the Eagles need to completely overhaul their WR corps this offseason, and he offers a few names the club could target in free agency and the draft. He also says the Eagles could find a trade partner for Alshon Jeffery and/or DeSean Jackson, though obviously the returns on either player would be minimal.
November 15th, 2019 at 12:44pm CST by Zachary Links
The Eagles intend to sign free agent running back Jay Ajayi, a source tells NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). Ajayi worked out for the club this week and a deal should come together before the end of business today.
Ajayi joins the club just after word of Darren Sproles‘ season-ending (and possibly career-ending) injury. Given his track record, Ajayi figures to provide some serious support in the backfield, if he is healthy himself.
The Eagles traded for Ajayi in 2017 and saw immediate results out of the former Dolphins ball carrier. After his 1,272-yard 2016 season with Miami, he became a key part of the Eagles’ Super Bowl run the following year. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry with the Eagles in 2017. He did not fare as well with the ’18 Eagles, who lacked consistency on the ground. But, the team will see what the 26-year-old can provide as they come down the home stretch.
Ajayi may make his Eagles return on Sunday, when the Eagles face the Patriots in Philly.
After workouts with the Cardinals and Lions did not produce a landing spot, Jay Ajayi will visit one of his former teams. The ex-Dolphins and Eagles running back will head to Philadelphia on Friday for a visit, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter).
Ajayi’s ACL tear has forced him to miss much of this season, but the four-year veteran was productive in Miami and Philly prior to the injury. The Eagles have revamped their backfield since Ajayi’s tenure, going with a Jordan Howard–Miles Sanders tandem this season. Both are averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
Howard is listed as questionable to face the Patriots this week, having been limited in practice by a shoulder injury. The offsason trade acquisition has not missed a game this season.
After his 1,272-yard 2016 season with the Dolphins, Ajayi became a key part of the Eagles’ Super Bowl run the following year. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry with the Eagles in 2017. He did not fare as well with the ’18 Eagles, who lacked consistency on the ground. But the team will see how the 26-year-old back looks for a possible late-season addition.
November 1st, 2019 at 11:31am CST by Zachary Links
The Lions will work out running back Jay Ajayi on Friday, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). Ajayi, one of the most intriguing free agents in the NFL, could provide an immediate boost for a team in need of backfield help.
Before his injury-shortened 2018, Ajayi posted two strong back-to-back 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 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. The advanced metrics echo the traditional stats, too: Ajayi is one of the best RBs in the league, when he’s on the field.
The Lions have been after running back support since Kerryon Johnson hit the injured reserve list in October. That search pointed them towards Devonta Freeman and other running backs prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline, but they weren’t able to get a deal done.
The Lions are 3-3-1 heading into Sunday’s game against the Raiders. After that, they’ll round out November with games against the Bears, Cowboys, Redskins, and Bears (again).
October 21st, 2019 at 10:33am CST by Zachary Links
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 (Twitterlinks). 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.
September 25th, 2019 at 9:33am CST by Zachary Links
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.
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 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.
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.
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.