Another year, another injured starter for a playoff-caliber team in the NFC, and another opportunity for the Eagles to make their team better by dumping a starter they no longer need.
News broke Monday morning that Saints center Max Unger suffered a foot injury and will miss roughly five months. He will be placed on the NFL PUP list — physically unable to perform — meaning he’ll miss at least the first third of the season, maybe more. The only other center on the Saints roster is a former undrafted free agent. The Saints need to do something, and that could start and end with signing free agent center Nick Mangold to a short-term deal.
Unless there was a team with a ton of centers who could serve as a trade partner with the Saints. And unless that team needs the one thing (note: many things, but at least the one thing) the Saints have an abundance of: Running backs.
The Eagles have so many centers there was talk they would cut Jason Kelce outright this off-season. Kelce is set to make $5 million this season and counts $6.2 million against the cap, with a dead cap hit (should he be cut) of $2.4 million. Next season, Kelce will count $7.2 million against the cap, with a $1.2 million cap hit, so the chances he lasts with the Eagles beyond this year are zero. There is no chance.
So, if the Eagles can find value for him now, why the heck not? And all the Eagles should ask in return is Mark Ingram, the exact type of running back they need to fit into their current backfield rotation.
Ingram comes with a cap hit of $5.245 million and is signed through 2018, where is $6.245 million cap hit is offset by a $1.645 million dead cap should he be released. Ingram rushed for 1,043 yards last season for New Orleans, a 5.1 yards per carry average, scoring six times on the ground and adding another four scores on 46 catches in the air. At 5-10, 215, Ingram isn’t exactly a battering-ram of a running back, but he’s the type of value play the Eagles could make to add more talent to the roster.
This kind of move would not be unprecedented for the Eagles. Last year, Howie Roseman pulled off the blockbuster of dealing Sam Bradford to the Vikings when their starting quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, got hurt in training camp. With Carson Wentz in tow, the Eagles dealt Bradford for a first-round pick this year, selecting defensive end Derek Barnett.
This year, the Eagles’ needs are a bit more immediate, as the team still has to figure out a viable plan at running back. Just last week we wrote that the three backs on the roster are hardly every-down caliber, with Darren Sproles nearing the end of his remarkable do-everything career and second-year back Wendell Smallwood and 2017 fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey set to see time as well. There’s hope, long-term, that Smallwood — a fifth-round pick in 2016 — could become an every-down back, but he didn’t show that as a rookie, and his durability is a definite question mark as well. Pumphrey is being tabbed as a ‘Sproles clone’ but for all the great things Sproles has been in the NFL, being an every-down back isn’t one of them.
The Saints signed Adrian Peterson just before the NFL Draft to be their featured back, then drafted Alvin Kamara in the third round — the Tennessee back many had pegged to go to the Eagles after they failed to grab Christian McCaffrey or Dalvin Cook in the first two rounds. I was actually sitting in on the Bleeding Green Nation livestream from the draft when the Saints took Kamara and said on air that if I were Roseman, I’d trade the rest of my draft picks for Ingram. (It was just a very late third and some third-day picks, so don’t go crazy.)
Now, with the Saints in need of a center, it seems the Eagles wouldn’t even have to give up that much.
In our post last week we failed to mention any trade options because the Eagles really aren’t in a position to give up future draft picks for a auxiliary running back and, at the time at least, there wasn’t a pressing need the Eagles could help another team fill.
Now there is, and the Birds could slide in Stefen Wisniewski at center and barely miss a beat. Kelce had an okay year, and was better in the second half of the season, but at times in 2016 he was a liability for Wentz, not the calming, defense-reading security blanket the rookie quarterback needed. And that says nothing for the Eagles’ long-term plan at center, which is likely to shift second-year guard Isaac Seumalo over to center. There’s already been talk he will take over the position this year, whether Kelce is traded or not.
One team’s trash is another team’s center.
The only question is if Kelce would be enough on his own to get Ingram. The Saints have a need now, but only for the first few months, assuming Unger comes back by late October or November. The hints have always used a running back-by-committee strategy, so even with Peterson carrying the load and Kamara serving in a backup capacity, Ingram should get touches.
Unless Peterson has the kind of year he had most seasons in Minnesota. And unless the Saints look at their current roster and see how, despite a defense that needs a ton of help, it’s worth trading Ingram for a half-year band-aid.
The Saints could ask for Mychal Kendricks as well, giving them a viable starter on defense and a stopgap on the offensive line, but they may have to add in something in addition to Ingram. Is that another player? Is that a future draft pick? Is that cash?
This is where Roseman has made his mark in the past, and he may be in a perfect position to do it again.