Darren Sproles had transitioned from “pissed” as he was helped off the field and into the locker room at Lincoln Financial Field after suffering a torn ACL and broken arm in the midst of the Week 3 victory over the New York Giants last September. He was working hard in his recovery, unsure of his football-playing future, when his 8-year-old daughter, Devyn, looked him in the eye one day and told him what she thought he should do.
“She said to me, ‘You have to play one more year.’ That really hit home with me,” said Sproles on Tuesday from the NovaCare Complex after officially signing a one-year contract for 2018 with the Eagles, his third contract with the team and seventh contract in his remarkable NFL career. “From that point on, I knew what I was doing to do. Before that, I wasn’t so sure.
“I just couldn’t end it that way.”
So he isn’t ending it that way. He’s going to play this season, and Sproles said his recovery from the knee injury is going very well. If there is any doubt in your mind about what’s ahead for Sproles and what kind of player he’s going to be this season, well, relax just a bit.
Sproles says he’s going to be the same way he’s always been.
“I’m going to be Darren Sproles,” he said.
That’s exciting news for the Eagles and for the fans, because Darren Sproles is a one-of-a-kind player who complements everything the Eagles do offensively, and he scares the living daylights out of special teams coordinators as a punt return man. The Eagles have been using Sproles in a variety of ways since acquiring him from New Orleans in 2014 at the cost of a fourth-round draft pick, and he’s made three Pro Bowls in that time.
Sproles is very difficult to cover in the passing game. He’s averaged 4.7 yards per carry in his time as an Eagle and he’s one of the most underrated backs in the game in pass protection. The Eagles lost Sproles early in the regular season and then recovered to win the Super Bowl, a testament to their depth of talent and creativity in the scheme.
But everyone agrees that the team is better with Sproles on board.
“I feel great. Everything has been great,” Sproles said. “My recovery is right where I want it to be. I’m excited to be back. I had interest from other teams, but I knew that I wanted to come back to the Eagles. We have something special here.”
It’s going to even more special with Sproles on the field, instead of serving as a locker-room leader and sideline mentor. Sproles admitted that it was “tough” watching the Eagles play and win the Super Bowl and not be able to take part in the on-field fun in 2017 and into February. The experience, though, was one never to forget.
“It was great,” he said. “That parade, that was incredible.”
Sproles will work into an offensive backfield that includes Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement, along with Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey. The exact nature of his role and of his touches is to be determined, of course. But having Sproles and his skill set to be able to line up all over the formation, and to give the Eagles favorable one-on-one matchups in coverage, make him extremely valuable. He’s gained more than 19,000 yards of total offense in his amazing 14 NFL seasons, and having another one ahead is icing on the cake.
“Darren brings a lot of versatility and experience here, and we know how explosive he is,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “We can do a lot of things with him. He’s a tough guy to cover in the passing game. You put him out in space and that’s a challenge for any defense. We just want to get the ball in his hands and let him do his thing on offense. As a return man, there aren’t any better. He changes games.”
The next step for Sproles is to join the team’s offseason conditioning program, which is why he’ll now be at the NovaCare Complex for the rest of the offseason finishing off his rehab. There is no word on when he’ll actually get back on the field, but Sproles isn’t worried. He is a workout warrior and he knows what it takes to get his body right.
A healthy Sproles helps the Eagles in 2018 and gives his daughter something to remember of Daddy’s playing days.
“She’s old enough to know, so that’s going to be fun playing and knowing she is watching,” Sproles said. “I’m looking forward to getting back out there. I wanted to play for the Eagles again. I have some things that I want to do out on the field.”
He’s going to get his chance. Suddenly, the Eagles have a player back in the fold who brings terrific versatility in the scheme. And as a punt returner, the Eagles have one of the game’s most dangerous weapons.
“This is where I belong,” he said. “We’re going to have fun this year.”