Darren Sproles open to return, but should Eagles be?


Darren Sproles was ready to make 2017 his final NFL season. Then he tore his ACL and broke his forearm. 

He rehabbed and planned to make 2018 his final NFL season. Then he dealt with a hamstring injury that limited him to just six games. 

Sproles, 35, hasn’t retired yet. And based on his interview with Dr. David Chao on the the Pro Football Doc podcast, it seems like he might not exactly be ready to walk away. 

“If the right team calls, then I’ll go back,” Sproles said. 

The implication here is pretty obvious and Chao (who was a doctor with the Chargers when Sproles played there) brought it up. In this case, the right team would be the Eagles, Chargers or Saints. Those are the three teams for which Sproles has played in his career. He still lives in San Diego (even though the Chargers now play in L.A.) and he’d still be interested in rejoining the Eagles. All three teams were playoff teams in 2018. 

Sproles has a Super Bowl ring, but he told Chao he actually wants to play in the big game. He was sidelined with a torn ACL for Super Bowl LII. 

So — the big question — should the Eagles bring him back? 

For now, the Eagles have Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders and Corey Clement considered to be their top three running backs. Bringing back Sproles would pretty much ensure his spot on the roster. But later this month, Sproles will turn 36 and as age-defying as he’s been, how much does he really have left? 

When he came back in 2018, he gave the Eagles a little boost at the end of the regular season, but didn’t contribute much in the two playoff games. He averaged 1.6 yards per carry in the playoffs. But in the six regular-season games, he scored three offensive touchdowns and helped get the Eagles into the postseason. 

Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman have praised Sproles publicly, but they’d have to gauge how much he can really help them in 2019. Toward the end of 2018, Sproles definitely showed some flashes. But at times during his tenure as head coach, Pederson has probably relied on Sproles a little too much. If Sproles were to come back in 2019 (which I honestly think might still be unlikely), his main role would have to be as a punt returner (the Eagles don’t really have one right now) and occasional change-of-pace back on offense. Could Sproles help in a very limited role? Yeah, maybe.

If the Eagles did bring back Sproles, it would be bad news for Wendell Smallwood, Boston Scott, Josh Adams and Donnel Pumphrey, who are all competing for the fourth running back job. 

The reason Sproles is open to a return in 2019 is the same reason he returned in 2018. He doesn’t want to go out with an injury. 

“That’s my whole thing,” Sproles said. “I want a full year. I want to get up to top four or top five in all-purpose yards, like ever. Right now, I’m No. 6. If I would have played a full year last year, I’d be No. 4 right now.”

Here’s the top 10 in all-purpose yards: 

1. Jerry Rice: 23,546
2. Brian Mitchell: 23,330
3. Walter Payton: 21,803
4. Emmitt Smith: 21,564
5. Tim Brown: 19,682
6. Darren Sproles: 19,520
7. Marshall Faulk: 19,190
8. Steve Smith: 19,180
9. Frank Gore: 18,551
10. LaDainian Tomlinson: 18,456 

If Sproles plays in 2019, he’d very likely catch Brown, who is just 162 yards ahead of him. Catching Smith, who is over 2,000 yards ahead of him, probably isn't going to happen. 

At one point this offseason, Sproles said he was going to wait until May to make his decision about retirement. Well, it’s June and he seems to want to play another year. Just before the podcast interview with Chao, Sproles finished up a 2½-hour workout. The Eagles don’t have to worry about Sproles’ fitness level. He’s going to be in shape. They just have to figure out if they want to make the call. 

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