The Eagles suffered a “devastating loss” on Monday when it was learned that running back Darren Sproles has a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and a broken right forearm, injuries that will sideline the respected running back and punt returner for the season and potentially end his career.
Sproles, 34, had hinted that 2017 could be his final NFL season. It’s unknown how the injuries will affect his plans, but he thanked well-wishers on social media and indicated that there could be a potential comeback.
— Darren Sproles (@DarrenSproles) September 26, 2017
The 13-year veteran took a handoff around the left side in the second quarter of Sunday’s 27-24 win over the New York Giants and appeared to injure his knee while trying to cut, and his arm hit the shoe of Giants safety Darian Thompson when he fell to the ground. Sproles walked off the field under his power, but coach Doug Pederson confirmed the “double whammy” injury during a Monday news conference. The Eagles later placed him on injured reserve.
The good news on the injury front is that linebacker Jordan Hicks (ankle) and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (calf) are considered “day-to-day” after leaving Sunday’s game in the first half. Pederson said both players are OK. They are two of the most important players on the roster.
Sproles is up there, too. The Eagles are spending the immediate aftermath figuring out how to replace their lead running back in playing time (41 percent of the offensive snaps) and top punt returner. They still have Wendell Smallwood, LeGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement. They will lean on those three, with Smallwood likely taking Sproles’ third-down duties. Sproles is a unique player and has a package of plays that best suit him, but Pederson indicated the offense will not change.
Torrey Smith is the front-runner to take over punt returns. Rookie Donnel Pumphrey, who was considered a potential Sproles replacement, is on injured reserve with a torn hamstring. Pederson said the Eagles will look into whether they need to add another running back – a remarkable turn considering they had five running backs entering Week 1 – and practice squad player Byron Marshall is a possibility.
But on-field effects aside, there is also an effect in the locker room because Sproles has earned the respect of teammates and coaches inside the NovaCare Complex since arriving in 2014.
“It can be a blow,” Pederson said. “He’s a great man. He’s a great leader, well-liked on this team and in this locker room and in this community. He’s a lot of energy, and that’s hard to replace. It’s hard to replace. And so guys are just going to have to rally and pick up that spot and move forward. But it’s unfortunate.”
Sproles, who is 5-foot-6 and 190 pounds, is one of the NFL’s smallest players. His size caused him to drop in the 2005 draft, and he has since carved a niche as one of the NFL’s most versatile players. No player has more all-purpose yards since he joined the NFL. He ranks eighth on the NFL’s all-time list.
Sproles did not make a Pro Bowl until coming to Philadelphia, and the consensus among other players that year was: What took so long? He has made it every year since. Saints quarterback Drew Brees, a former teammate in San Diego and New Orleans, said the NFL should add an “all-purpose” player to the Pro Bowl to recognize players like Sproles who affect the game in so many ways.
“Sproles is one of my favorite people – one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had,” Brees said in 2015. “We’ve trained together for a while now in San Diego. I say we push each other, but it’s really me trying to keep up with him all the time. His work ethic is second to none. His focus, his intensity. He’s the epitome of what you would want in a teammate.”
Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson said, “Someone like Darren, you can’t put a value on what they bring to the team.” Chip Kelly called Sproles the “best practice player” he’s ever been around. There were well wishes from teammates and others around football on Monday, including for former teammate LeSean McCoy.
Sproles is a free agent at the end of the year. He said in June to ask him after the playoffs if this would be his final season. The Eagles might make it there, but Sproles won’t be on the field.
“You don’t want to be forced out,” Sproles said then. “You want to leave on your own terms.”