The NFL trade deadline is already bonkers. The Eagles traded a fourth-round pick — they have a lot of them — for running back Jay Ajayi of the Miami Dolphins. Ajayi, a fifth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, rushed for 1,272 yards last season in just 15 games for Miami, averaging 4.9 yards per carry with eight touchdowns. He also caught 27 passes out of the backfield. Ajayi made the Pro Bowl and had three 200-yard games in 2016. And Miami just dumped him for a fourth-rounder.
This year Ajayi has been the Miami feature back, but on 138 carries he’s averaging just 3.4 yards per run. Miami coach Adam Gase has been on Ajayi’s case lately about not trying to hit the homerun, but really, part of the problem in Miami is that the offensive line stinks. In Philly, Ajayi should have chances to go for the long run, the short run, all kinds of runs.
Here’s the other thing: Ajayi is just 24 years old and he’s making just $670,203 this year and $760,204 next year, his last of his rookie contract. He costs next to nothing and the Eagles gave up a pick they’ll never use for a player of this quality. He has had knee issues in his career, including earlier this season, but it wasn’t deemed serious at the time. Maybe it is, or maybe Gase is simply making an example out of a guy to get the rest of his team in line. Either way, the Eagles have a huge upgrade at a position of need for very little risk.
The Eagles still need help at offensive line and need an upgrade at linebacker with the injuries to Jason Peters and Jordan Hicks, but this is a huge step in the win-now category for the Eagles, as Ajayi will come in an immediately supplant LeGarrette Blount as the team’s feature back. That puts Blount in a more comfortable position of short-yardage specialist who can come in late in games and pound a tired defense. This is the kind of balance Doug Peterson needs for this offense, and it’s a smart way Howie Roseman can sure up the offense in a way to protect Carson Wentz without having to overpay for an old offensive lineman like Seattle just did by giving up far too much for tackle Duane Brown.
It also means that we may have seen the last of either Corey Clement or Wendell Smallwood. Clement has been a bright spot off the practice team and Smallwood was nearly cut this year after being drafted last season and being hurt most of his time in Philly. He’s the odd man out, for sure. That, or Kenjon Barner, brought in off the street when Darren Sproles got hurt, might go. But he also returns kicks.
Oh, and there’s one more thing that makes this trade bonkers: It may have also protected the Cowboys from getting Ajayi. Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension for six games was upheld late Monday, meaning the Cowboys need a running back. Instead, the Eagles got one of the best on the trade market.
The Eagles had three fourth-round picks in 2018, so something was going to happen for sure. They had their own pick, the Vikings pick they got in the Sam Bradford trade (a throw-in with a first rounder they used to draft Derek Barnett) and the pick they got for trading Eric Rowe to New England. Now they have a guy who went to the Pro Bowl last year and he’s under contract for next season for less than a million bucks.