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Eagles drawing on A.J. Brown experience to maximize Saquon Barkley

The Eagles' coaching staff is already hard at work as they figure out how to maximize free agent pickup Saquon Barkley.

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ORLANDO, Fla. — The Eagles’ offensive coaches are already hard at work figuring out how to maximize Saquon Barkley.

Head coach Nick Sirianni said it’s an experience similar to when the Eagles traded for A.J. Brown in 2022.

“A couple years ago, we added A.J., just did a lot of work of, ‘Hey, what does A.J. do well?’” Sirianni said on Tuesday morning at the NFL’s annual meetings. “Obviously, you do that going in and then you look at it even more after you get him. ‘What does A.J. do well, how can we use him?’ It’s been a similar process with Saquon.”

The Eagles traded for Brown during the draft in late April a couple years ago. So with Barkley, they have a month and a half head start.

Brown and Barkley obviously play different positions but both are elite talents. And you don’t add elite talent at the skill positions without formulating a comprehensive plan to get the most out of those players.

While the Eagles are meshing two offensive systems this offseason — one in place from Sirianni, the other coming with new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore — any offense needs to be tailored to talent. And Barkley is clearly one of the Eagles’ most talented skill position players.

“Amazing thing: Good players fit well into schemes,” Sirianni said. “He’s obviously a really good player. We’re really excited to have him. The style of play that he brings, the leadership that he brings. Guys like that, however you use them, they’re going to do a good job. We’re obviously working on the ways we’re going to use him now. Our offensive staff is working hard at that. Just really excited to add a player of his caliber to our team.”

The Eagles this offseason made a surprising move when they added a top-of-the-market running back, signing Barkley to a three-year, $37.75 million deal. Howie Roseman explained that move on Monday in Orlando.

While there’s some inherent risk involved with a move like this, the upside is huge. Barkley, 27, was the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft and at his best is one of the best running backs in the NFL. While he’s had some down seasons in his six-year career, Barkley is a two-time Pro Bowler with the potential to be even better in an offense that’s as dynamic as the one the Eagles think they have.

It’s not like the Eagles have gotten poor play from the running back position. In fact, they have had back-to-back Pro Bowlers at running back with Miles Sanders in 2022 and D’Andre Swift in 2023. But they clearly think Barkley can be a big upgrade from both.

Barkley is a true do-it-all back. He can run between the tackles, he can bounce outside. He can avoid tacklers, he can run them over. He can catch balls out of the backfield, he can line up in the slot or out wide. He can pass protect, he can leak out and make teams pay.

While Swift has shown an ability to catch the ball, he was probably underutilized in that area with the Eagles in 2023. Swift’s role in the passing game just never really materialized the way many thought it would. Perhaps the influence of Moore will unlock Barkley’s potential as a receiver (as well as a running back) in this offense.

“To say, ‘Hey, he’s going to get 50 catches, 60 catches, 70 catches’ we’re way too early for that,” Sirianni said. “This offense looks different than Kellen’s offense in Dallas. It looks different as far as personnel, than our offenses in Indy or early on here in Philadelphia.”

Over the last three seasons, Barkley is fifth in the NFL, averaging 281 touches per season. Based on his contract alone, the Eagles are clearly banking on Barkley being a player who touches the ball around 300 times per season.

In order to get Barkley those touches and to keep Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert happy, it’s going to take some work from the coaching staff. Back in Philly, that work is already underway.

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