It was a stunning, wonderful announcement on Thursday morning: Darren Sproles to the Eaglesfor the price of a 2014 fifth-round draft pick. It seems like the perfect marriage of Sproles and his multi-dimensional and explosive ball-in-his-hands skills and the Eagles and their wide-open, fast-paced style of play on offense.
Sproles helps the Eagles in many ways – in an offense that spreads the field and seeks advantageous one-on-one matchups and on special teams in a return game that needs some punch – and the creativity that Kelly and the X's and O's already provide have an added dimension with Sproles in the fold.
Imagine the formation variation with Sproles and LeSean McCoy on the field together. Think about how much more potent the screen game can be with Sproles as an option for quarterback Nick Foles. How often, the mind wonders, can Kelly split Sproles out and dare a defense to use a linebacker in coverage? In what other ways will Kelly want to get the ball into the hands of Sproles a half-dozen times a game from the line of scrimmage? He can be a change-of-pace running back as well.
You look for favorable matchups in this league, and with Sproles and his quickness in and out of his cuts and his natural skills as a pass receiver, the Eagles should have more with which to work.
The idea that Sproles would be moved became a hot topic early in the free-agency period, and the national reports kept a high Sproles profile alert prior to Thursday. Would the Saints release Sproles and make him an unrestricted free agent? That was the first indication via the reports, but then the Saints received so much interest that they made it known throughout the league that they would look to trade him.
And trade him to they, do the Eagles for a fifth-round draft pick in May. It's a late-round draft pick that sometimes can be turned into a good player, and every team covets draft picks (the Eagles now have six in May), but in this instance the Eagles just could not pass up the chance to add a proven commodity – a "new toy for Chip Kelly" said ESPN's Adam Schefter – for the offense and a much-needed explosive element for the special teams.
The addition of Sproles was the big splash on Thursday, but as is the case in free agency, business continues. The Eagles also added cornerback Nolan Carroll, a 6 feet 1, 205-pounder who has good size and who is physical and is coming off a strong season in Miami. A fifth-round draft pick from Maryland in 2010, Carroll had three interceptions and two quarterback sacks last season and he comes in to compete for playing time on the edge of the Eagles' defense.
Free agency has been highly productive for the Eagles, who have brought in safety Malcolm Jenkins, safety Chris Maragos and cornerback Carroll to the secondary, linebacker Bryan Braman to the edge and Sproles to the offense. Maragos, Braman and Sproles are all expected to impact the special teams.
Don't forget that the Eagles retained punter Donnie Jones and wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, and extended the contracts of left tackle Jason Peters and center Jason Kelce.
General manager Howie Roseman has played the free-agency game the right way in the first week. The team put together its game plan and has been aggressive when needed and disciplined when necessary. In a period when some teams overspend and then regret it later, the Eagles have made strong football moves and have retained their flexibility for the near future and the longer term.
We're still early in the whole process, what with some good players still out there in free agency, with the trade game always vibrant and with the draft still a couple of months away. The Eagles know there is much work to be done.
But, boy, is this team off to a fine start carrying forth the momentum generated from a 10-6, NFC East-winning season in 2013. There is a young talent base that continues to expand, and the free-agency period has provided an opportunity to add pieces here and there. And the Eagles have taken advantage, and are continuing to build this roster the right way.
Sproles is the headliner, but each move means something as the Eagles put this puzzle together. Interesting stuff. Exciting times. The beat goes on in free agency and the Eagles are in concert upgrading every phase of this team for 2014 and beyond.