The Philadelphia Eagles made one of the biggest trades of the season by acquiring Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi from the Miami Dolphins. Now the big question is what Ajayi will bring to the NFC East leaders.
The cost was relatively cheap for Ajayi because Philadelphia gave up a fourth-round pick. The 24-year-old rushed for 1,272 yards (fourth in NFL) on 4.9 yards per carry last season. He also has a cost-effective contract that runs through 2018.
This looks like a good trade on paper, and Ajayi’s high profile adds excitement from a fan standpoint. But the Eagles bear some risk because Ajayi had some locker room problems in Miami, hence the fact that the Dolphins gave him up for a mid-round draft pick.
That said, let’s discuss the concerns behind this trade for the Eagles and if this will ultimately be a good fit.
Ajayi Has Never been Consistent
Last season, Ajayi became one of just four running backs to rush for 200 yards in back-to-back games. And he had three different contests with over 200 rushing yards.
However, this also means that he only gained 600+ yards combined in the other 13 regular season games. He never had more than 79 yards in a single contest outside of his 200-yard games.
Consistency hasn’t been Ajayi’s strong point so far in his early NFL career. Case in point, he’s only averaging 3.4 yards per carry this season and has rushed for more than 100 yards twice. He’s also yet to find the end zone in seven games.
Of course, Miami’s offense hasn’t exactly been booming either. They’re ranked dead-last in the NFL in both scoring and total yards. Neither Jay Cutler nor Matt Moore have been particularly effective in their starts at quarterback. And the other running backs, Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams, haven’t done much on their 22 combined carries.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t completely absolve Ajayi from his lack of production. Head coach Adam Gase has criticized the former running back for trying to “hit home runs,” rather than taking the guaranteed shorter charts and yardage.
Knee Problem Keeps Cropping Up
Prior to his NFL career, Jay Ajayi dealt with a knee condition so bad that some wondered if he’d even play in the pros. This caused him to drop to Miami in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Reports on Ajayi after pre-draft surgery said that his right knee was “bone on bone.”
Obviously he’s been able to dispel the doubters with his performance last season. But the Eagles have to be concerned long-term when thinking about Ajayi’s knee issue. It’s very possible that his knee could be bothering him now since he’s been off and on Miami’s injury report.
Ajayi is Bad in the Passing Game
Philadelphia was relying on Darren Sproles to help them in the passing game. However, Sproles’ injury has left them without a good receiving back.
Unfortunately, Ajayi won’t help remedy these problems from either a receiving or blocking perspective. In fact, Gase bashed Ajayi’s blocking just days prior to trading him.
The only solace here is that quarterback Carson Wentz doesn’t check down much to his running backs anyways. However, Wentz, like any QB, needs his running back to pick up blitzers. And if Ajayi can’t do this, than how will he be any different than Blount?
Does Ajayi Really Add Anything to Philly’s Backfield?
Ajayi is one of the league’s best downhill runners when he’s healthy. But does Philadelphia really need this when they already have Blount?
The latter has put in a solid season so far, rushing for 467 yards and two touchdowns with 4.7 yards per carry. It’s arguable that Ajayi could do even better when healthy and playing behind the Eagles line – rather than Miami’s. Going further, he’s also younger and faster than Blount.
But then again, he’s not that much of an upgrade as a starter. And this begs the question of whether they really needed another running back who’s good at running between the tackles, but not catching passes. A better option could’ve been to trade for a receiving running back who better complements Blount.
Maybe Ajayi will surprise me and be outstanding in Philadelphia. But on the surface, it just doesn’t seem like he offers a whole lot more than Blount. Furthermore, he doesn’t address their need for a receiving back.
Locker Room Problems
Ajayi didn’t have the best attitude in Miami, which is why he was traded in the first place. The Miami Herald reports that he had a bad attitude and was a me-first guy.
Here’s an excerpt from Herald reporter Armando Salguero:
“He complained bitterly about not getting the football. He stormed out of the locker room — get this, after wins — because he hadn’t gotten what he deemed to be enough carries. And, oh yes, he didn’t exactly light it up on the field.
“And here’s the thing: All this was done undercover. Ajayi complained to his position coach. And he carried around an attitude around other teammates. But he never took his concerns to the only voice that matters and that’s Gase.”
Of course, the NFL is all about second chances if you have the talent. But the question is how much Ajayi has outside of a few magical games in 2016. He’s mostly a downhill runner who has a chronic knee condition.
This being the case, don’t look for Philadelphia to put up with much crap from Ajayi if he’s not producing on the field. This is especially the case when considering that they have a 7-1 record and look like legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Perhaps the latter is why the Eagles are willing to roll the dice on Ajayi for a fourth-round pick. He does add more depth to their backfield. Furthermore, the combination of he and Blount could wear down opposing defenses.
This trade is by no means a slam dunk for Philadelphia until proven so. But it could look good in hindsight if Ajayi regains his 2016 form behind a better offensive line.