That much is clear after their blockbuster trade on Tuesday to acquire running back Jay Ajayi from the Miami Dolphins for a 2018 fourth-round pick, a stunning trade that adds a player to their roster with a ton of upside.
At 24 years old, Ajayi is coming off of a season in which he totaled 1,272 yards and eight touchdowns, while also topping 200-yards in three games, an amazing accomplishment for a player who at that point was in just his second season.
On the Eagles, Ajayi will give the team a legitimate threat out of the backfield, and should give opposing defensive coordinators extra work to do as they prepare for the Eagles. Prior to adding Ajayi, defensive coordinators didn’t have to worry about the Eagles’ running backs. Now, they do.
The move also, however, does come with some risks.
One of the Eagles’ biggest issues at running back was their need for an improved pass blocker and catcher, as LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement were all struggling in those departments.
The initial reports on Ajayi are not good when it comes to his ability to stay in the pocket and protect quarterback Carson Wentz, or to catch passes from him.
In fact, the report card on Ajayi overall is not that positive coming out of Miami, according to a reporter who covers the team closely. Miami Dolphins’ reporter Omar Kelly writes for the Sun Sentinel:
(Dolphins head coach Adam) Gase said his best tailbacks needs to stop “trying to hit home runs” and take the yards that are blocked for. That seemed to be a criticism of Ajayi, who was also struggling as a pass catcher and pass protector this season.
That is not exactly a description of a player that screams “difference maker” for the Eagles, and you have to wonder if those are the exact reasons the Dolphins decided to move on from such a talented young running back in just his third season.
For the Eagles, making this trade the home run it has the potential to be will be, as is usually the case with trades, up to the coaches. Ajayi has the talent to be one of the best running backs in the league, but it will now be up to head coach Doug Pederson and running backs coach Duce Staley to make sure he reaches that potential in midnight green, and isn’t the player the Dolphins were willing to trade away.
There is also the question of how the Eagles’ locker room will react to adding a high-profile player like Ajayi.
On one hand, the players have to be excited that the team is investing in this season and not the future. On the other, you have to wonder how a running back room that has totaled the fourth-most running yards in the NFL will feel about the trade — and how a 7-1 locker room will feel about adding a player that figures to see the field a ton.
If Ajayi is the player he was in 2016, the Eagles have added a stud player to their offense and have increased their chances of making a run at the Super Bowl.
The Eagles are likely very confident they have added that player, and the risks that come with it — the flaws in Ajayi’s game, the potential off-the-field issues — won’t derail their 7-1 season.
It is clear this team thinks they can make a serious playoff run this year, and by adding Ajayi, they are sending that message loud and clear for everyone — from their fans to the players in the locker room — to hear.
With eight games remaining, we are about to find out if they were right.
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