The Eagles have the best record in football, and they’re trying to make it even better. Tuesday morning, Philly bolstered its backfield by acquiring running back Jay Ajayi from Miami for a fourth-round draft pick ahead of the NFL’s trade deadline—and, according to The Ringer’s Michael Lombardi, they likely aren’t finished dealing.
The Eagles are 7-1 in a league where every team seems to be mediocre. They have the second-ranked scoring offense in the league, and quarterback Carson Wentz is getting MVP consideration. Philly sees that it has a path to the title, and it’s going all in to ensure a cruise to the finish. Ajayi joins LeGarrette Blount in the team’s running-back rotation, giving Philadelphia the players who finished fourth and eighth, respectively, in the NFL in rushing last season. Right now, Pro Football Focus ranks Blount as the most elusive running back in football; Ajayi was third in that category last season.
It’s somewhat surprising that the Eagles would choose to focus on improving their running game at the trade deadline. Blount has been good: He has the second-highest yards-per-attempt mark among running backs who have had 100 carries or more this season. The Eagles did need a third-down back after an injury to Darren Sproles, but that’s not what Ajayi is; he’s had virtually every carry for the Dolphins this season. Presumably we’ll see the spry Ajayi take the majority of snaps for the Eagles, with Blount getting the ball on short-yardage and goal-line situations.
It’s tough to tell how good Ajayi is, as his three-year NFL career has been a roller coaster. He was a fifth-round draft pick in 2015, primarily because of major concerns about the long-term health of his knees. (Bill Belichick compared his draft fall to Tom Brady’s.) The London-born back began last season as Arian Foster’s backup but ended with a Pro Bowl appearance after hitting 200 yards in three separate games. He’s regressed significantly this year, as the Dolphins have become the worst offense in football with Jay Cutler and Matt Moore filling in for injured first-string quarterback Ryan Tannehill. With the Miami passing game in low gear, defenses have been able to cue in on Ajayi and silence the Dolphins, who have been shut out twice this season. Ajayi is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry, one of the worst figures for any back getting consistent snaps, and the Dolphins are currently the only team in football without a rushing touchdown.
At best, Ajayi is an unnecessary addition to a team that’s doing fine; at worst he’s a struggling player with an odd situational fit whose knees remain an injury concern. But it’s hard to find fault with the Eagles’ side of this deal. They added a 24-year-old who’s produced several spectacular NFL performances within the past calendar year to one of the best offenses in football, and all they gave up was a fourth-round draft pick. Before adding Ajayi, it was possible for Philadelphia to be the best team in football. If the Eagles don’t end up atop the league, it certainly won’t be for lack of trying.