On the day of the NFL trade deadline, the Philadelphia Eagles delivered some shocking and potentially startling Halloween news to the rest of the league: they are here to win now. On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Eagles traded a fourth-round pick to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for their star running back Jay Ajayi. It was easily the most surprising and out-of-nowhere deal of the day and has generated great conversation throughout the league. This means a great many things for the Eagles, Dolphins and the league but in the end, the Eagles are adding a very talented, young back who fills a need.
What the Jay Ajayi Trade Means for the Philadelphia Eagles
Who Ajayi Is and What He Brings
Ajayi, 24, was a fifth-round draft pick of Miami back in 2015. After minimal use and injuries in his rookie year, he exploded in 2016.
Last year, he ran 260 times, for 1,272 yards and eight touchdowns and earned a Pro Bowl nod. He was top five in the league in rushing and helped lead Miami to a playoff berth. He is also a very solid pass catcher, hauling in 65 passes for 308 yards in less than three years.
2017 has gotten off to a tougher start for Ajayi. Last year he ranked first in elusive rating from Pro Football Focus, led the league in broken tackles on runs with 58 and was second in league with 3.46 yards after contact. So far this year, he is 20th in elusiveness and has only 2.77 yards after contact. He has only rushed for 465 yards on 138 attempts and has no touchdowns.
It came as a bit of a shock that he was dealt after so much success last year and with Miami in contention for the playoffs again. There is talk that he was upset with head coach Adam Gase regarding his usage and was creating a toxic locker room.
Regardless of the reasons for his trade, Ajayi had solidified the Eagles as a bruising backfield alongside LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood and rookie Corey Clement. Ajayi, built at 223 pounds of muscle and force, is just like Blount in every sense but with better speed, elusiveness and youth.
How He Will Fit
The Eagles rank fifth in the NFL in rushing (129.2 yards per game), but only 15th in yards per carry. The Birds now have two of the top three running backs in missed tackles since last year, with Ajayi leading the way with 81 and Blount in third. They lead the league in carries inside the five-yard line and Blount, who has 11 of those, has a net total of one yard gained and one touchdown.
The Eagles have deployed a firm running back by committee (RBBC) approach this season. Blount has been the starter all year, but he is only averaging 12.5 carries per contest and Smallwood, Clement and Kenjon Barner see ample opportunities during the game. It’s a philosophy that keeps running backs fresh and active, but may work against Ajayi.
Ajayi averaged 17.3 carries per game last season and through seven games this year it has risen to 19.7. The best games of his career have come when he gets more than 20 carries per contest and he is a back that gets better with more reps.
At the very least, Ajayi gives opposing teams more to prepare for and another headache to deal with. He has the power and strength like Blount. General manager Howie Roseman stated after the trade that Blount is still the starter, but it would be left up to the coaches how that plays out the rest of the season.
Even if Ajayi plays the rest of the season on a low snap count and limited carries compared to Miami, he should still be much more effective behind the Eagles better offensive line. The Dolphins owned one of the worst lines in football, which contributed to the down numbers for Ajayi. Those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.
With Philly flying high and their offense attack clicking on all cylinders, don’t expect the approach to change without extenuating circumstances. The RBBC approach has been successful; the approach has given Philadelphia one of the most balanced offenses in football, gotten opportunities for younger talent like Smallwood and Clement and most importantly, it has allowed Carson Wentz to flourish.
To preserve that, expect Blount to remain the starter but his carries to go down to around the seven-nine range and to also change based on game flow/individual success from each back. Ajayi should slide into the 1B role next to Blount’s 1A and receive the same work load, with each Ajayi getting more work some games and vice versa.
Ajayi could immediately get the first shots at the end zone when the Eagles get into the red zone. Blount has not been very reliable so far and Ajayi is itching for his first scoring celebration of the season. With Ajayi being a good pass catching back, he could very well be out there all three downs in clear passing situations.
Overall, Ajayi will immediately take work away from the other four backs and each running backs carries will probably take a significant hit. The coaching staff really likes Clement, Barner and Smallwood and knows how to use them correctly so they should continue to see the field. Each back will keep defenses on their toes and guessing.
What This Says About the Eagles
The Birds are already in first place at 7-1, not only in the NFC East, but in the NFL. They have risen far above expectations, Wentz looks like a legitimate MVP, and their defense is ferocious. What’s better is the NFC is wide open this season for the taking.
This move signals the franchise’s mentality to win now and show the rest of the league they are for real. Ajayi is signed through next year on his rookie deal and if he plays like the team expects him to, he will be the full-fledged starter next season when Blount’s contact is up. Then the team can work on signing him long-term since he is still young.
Jay Ajayi now has a fresh start with a top franchise that looks to be soaring. This could be just what he and the team need to get over the hump.