By Ryan Waterman
Is it too late for the plot-twist ending, where we wake up, revealing the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles season to be nothing more than a bad dream? As much as we'd love that, it's far too late for that.
The defending Super Bowl champs nightmarish season took a devastating blow on Monday with the news that starting running back Jay Ajayi has been placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL, ending his 2018 campaign, and quite possibly his career as a Philadelphia Eagle.
As much of an unfortunate situation it is for Ajayi, it's equally as devastating for the Eagles organization. The Birds have spent a large portion of the season thin at running back, with Darren Sproles missing the last month with injury, and Corey Clement dealing with a hamstring injury. Suddenly, they now find themselves without their best running back. With Sproles still rehabbing, and Clement working his way back into form, the Eagles are now left with a healthy Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams to lead the backfield.
Following back-to-back crushing losses, coupled with this devastating injury, the Eagles suddenly find themselves facing an unexpected crossroads.
A report surfaced earlier this evening that the Eagles restructured the contract of defensive lineman Fletcher Cox this past Friday, freeing up an additional $6.5 million in cap space for this season, and opening up a sizable $11.7 million for the 2019 season. This immediately led to speculation that the Eagles could pull the trigger on a highly-anticipated Le'Veon Bell trade. While it's still possible, ESPN's Adam Schefter was quick to pour water on that fire, citing a source with knowledge of the Eagles plans who claimed "it's 100 percent misleading to think Cox's restructuring was done with Le'Veon Bell in mind."
So, that now begs the question. If Le'Veon Bell is truly not in the Eagles plans for this season, then what's next moving forward?
One strategy could be for the Eagles to use their now $10 million in cap room to bring in some reinforcements and attempt to right the ship in hopes of another Super Bowl championship. If Howie Roseman opts for this strategy, there are a few holes that could use some plugging -- obviously beginning at running back. There are a plethora of options that would be able to provide immediate help to the Eagles.
Let's begin with the one that is currently on everyone's mind, and that's Le'Veon Bell. It's no secret that Bell's not happy in Pittsburgh, that much has been cemented with his holdout lasting this far into the season. Bell was said to be reporting before the Steelers opening game against the Cleveland Browns, but he no-showed. Little's been known regarding his status before a couple weeks ago, when reports began to surface that Bell would report to the Steelers during their Week 7 bye. That's all fine and good, as Bell needs to report by Week 10 at the latest to be eligible for free agency in March. Unfortunately, with James Conner seemingly firmly entrenched as Bell's replacement, it's not much of a surprise that Pittsburgh's open to trading the All-Pro. Their asking price has been reported as "a 2nd-round pick, and a 'good' player." Whether that is true remains to be seen, but if the Eagles are serious about a repeat, this is the best move that the team can make. Adding a player of Bell's caliber to this offense would add an explosive dimension that hasn't been seen since the days of LeSean McCoy.
Speaking of LeSean McCoy, he also sits as an option for the Eagles to explore. During the Chip Kelly era, they moved on from McCoy, some may say prematurely. Since leaving Philly, the 30-year old McCoy has compiled a pair of 1,000 yard seasons, with a third falling just short. He's shown to still possess the explosion that's made him one of the more dangerous backs in the league, but a lackluster Buffalo offense has hampered his abilities this season. Given his familiarity with the organization, and the offense as a whole, McCoy may be the safest, smartest option.
Other options at running back, should the Eagles look outside of the organization could include Tevin Coleman from the Atlanta Falcons, Mark Ingram of the New Orleans Saints -- both of which come at an affordable cap hit, with Ingram sitting at $4 million, and Coleman just under $900k. A potential dark-horse option might be free agent Charcandrick West, the former Kansas City Chief, who's incredibly familiar with the offense that Doug Pederson runs from their time with the Chiefs.
In the event that Howie and Coach Pederson opt to stay in-house, and trust the quartet of Clement, Sproles, Adams, and Smallwood, they could look to shore up the defense, which has some glaring needs at linebacker and safety. They've tried to fill those needs with in-house candidates in Avonte Maddox, who's actually fared pretty well, and the combination of Kamu-Grugier Hill and Nate Gerry, which hasn't worked out as well. An interesting option to potentially keep an eye on as the trade deadline draws closer is the status of Arizona Cardinals hybrid linebacker Deone Bucannon. Recent reports have suggested that the struggling Cardinals could look to move the 26-year old. His most attractive quality has to be the fact that he's a converted safety. Deone has had his share of struggles in Arizona, but has flashed the potential that made him a first-round selection. To be frank, at this rate, what's the harm? At worst, you lost a mid-round pick by letting him walk this offseason. Best case scenario, you find a two-position stud, who's a late-bloomer, and can patiently bide his time before sliding in as Malcolm Jenkins' eventual successor.
Thinking logically, it's most probable that the Eagles stand pat, and don't pull the trigger on a flashy move. Instead, they carry over the $10 million they currently have in cap space to the 2019 season, and use that to retain some of their key free agents. Brandon Graham, a key contributor defensively, is still seeking a payday following a late-career breakout season. Jordan Hicks will look to cash-in as much as he can given his injury history, and it's still entirely plausible to believe that Jay Ajayi could return next season on a one-year "prove it deal" should he decide he wants to continue playing football. Oh, and let's not forget the incredibly lucrative contract extension that awaits the franchise cornerstone Carson Wentz.
The Birds currently sit at 2-3, and history says they face a tough climb if they have hopes of a playoff berth. Perhaps the only thing working in their favor at this point is the fact that they've yet to play a divisional opponent, which changes this Thursday when they do battle with the New York Giants. That game is more important now then we could have imagined, as it could tip the scales as to which direction the Eagles head moving forward.