After a relatively slow first two days of free agency, the Eagles made a splash Thursday morning when they acquired running back/returner Darren Sproles from the Saints in a trade, according to an NFL source.
The Saints received one of the Eagles' fifth-round draft picks -- the one they acquired from the Patriots for nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga -- for Sproles, per a source. The Eagles officially announced the move a few hours later.
“Darren Sproles is an unbelievable offensive weapon,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said in a statement. “He can do it all, run, catch, plus he’s a proven winner. And on top of that, he can bring all of those dynamic skills to the return game as well. There is no question we were all excited once we found out we were going to be able to trade for him.”
There were reportedly multiple teams interested in trading for the 30-year-old Sproles. Some thought he would eventually be released. But the Eagles pulled off a bit of shocker and got another piece for Kelly's fast-paced offense.
The 5-foot-6, 190-pound Sproles is multi-faceted on offense. He ran for 220 yards and two touchdowns on 43 carries (4.2 avg.) and caught 71 passes for 604 yards (8.5 avg.) and two touchdowns in 2013. He is also noted return specialist and should step into the kick return role the Eagles have struggled filling for years.
Many Eagles fans will recall in painful detail Sproles' 39-yard kick return late in January's playoff game that set up a game-winning field goal. He averaged only 21.3 yards per kick return and 6.7 yards per punt return in 2013, though.
In his first eight seasons, he averaged more than 25 yards per kick return and more than 8 yards per punt return. Sproles, who will turn 31 before the start of the season, has seen his production slip mildly on offense. His best season came in 2011 when he ran for 603 yards and caught 86 passes for 710 yards out of the backfield.
"Darren is a player that we have admired for many years – he’s a proven performer at a high level,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. “He’s such a dangerous back and he’s a great piece to add to our offense and to our special teams. We spent a considerable time in order to try to make this happen and we were very happy to get a deal done with New Orleans.”
The Eagles now have possibly four running backs that could make their 53-man roster -- LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk and Sproles. Matthew Tucker is currently also on the roster. There has been speculation that the Eagles could have Brown on the trade block.
All four could stick around, though. The Eagles could simply carry four wide receivers -- DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper and an unnamed fourth. Damaris Johnson is not expected to return.Sproles often lines up in the slot and with the release of Jason Avant could be one more receiving weapon to line up inside.
The Eagles could also keep only two tight ends -- Brent Celek and Zach Ertz -- and cut James Casey and his $4 million salary if they wanted to retain all four running backs and carry five receivers.
Sproles has one year remaining on a four-year contract. He is slated to earn $3.4 million in base salary.
After trading away a fifth-round pick, the Eagles have six remaining selections -- one in each round except for the sixth.