Is it a coincidence the Philadelphia Eagles traded for a running back on the heels of the recent news All-Pro LeSean McCoy is battling a toe injury? After head coach Chip Kelly critiqued his superstar’s practice habits?
Yes, it is totally, 100 percent a coincidence. The Eagles sent a conditional seventh-round pick to the Carolina Panthers on Tuesday night to acquire running back Kenjon Barner, but the key word here is “conditional.” The Panthers presumably only get that pick if Barner makes the team, which is far from assured. In fact, it seems unlikely.
Barner could fill two possible needs for Philadelphia.
Number one, running back depth has been an issue this summer. Chris Polk is currently dealing with a torn hamstring, and when Matthew Tucker and David Fluellen joined him on the inactive list last week, the Eagles were reduced to handing off to Damaris Johnson, a wide receiver by trade.
Having played for Kelly at Oregon, Barner can probably assimilate to the playbook relatively quickly. He still has to be considered a long shot to make the roster in that capacity, though. For one, the 2013 sixth-round pick wasn’t very good in Carolina, carrying just six times for seven yards his rookie year. This preseason, Barner has 15 attempts for 25 yards, while the Eagles have enjoyed strong rushing performances from the likes of Tucker, Fluellen and Henry Josey this summer.
More likely, Barner is here to ensure they have an actual running back to feed the ball to in the fourth quarter of next Thursday’s final preseason game.
Where Barner probably has his best shot at carving out a niche is as a return specialist given the news kick returner Josh Huff will miss an undetermined amount of time with an AC sprain.
Then again, it should probably be noted Barner hasn’t been utilized all that much as a kick or punt returner since 2010, his sophomore year of college. While he certainly adds depth in that phase of the game, the idea he’s a better option than what the Eagles already have behind Huff—Brad Smith, Darren Sproles, Brandon Boykin, Damaris to name a few—seems like a bit of a stretch.
Plus, while it’s possible the team isn’t being entirely forthcoming with information of Huff’s injury, it doesn’t sound as if he’s expected to be out for the season. Would the Eagles really pay Carolina the pick to keep Barner active for a matter of weeks? Doubtful.
So why bring Barner in at all? Well, there are two preseason games remaining, and the Eagles have endured plenty of nagging injuries to skill position players already. Plain and simple, they needed another body.
In a corresponding move earlier Friday, the Eagles released interior linebacker at Jason Phillips. Phillips missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL after joining Philadelphia as a free agent.
Having said all of that, I wouldn’t write off Barner completely, either. He did amass 4,214 yards from scrimmage and 48 touchdowns in Kelly’s offense at Oregon. Barner is only 25 years old, is well built at 5’9”, 196 pounds and clocked a 4.52 in the 40-yard dash—good athlete.
The NFL also altered their rules for practice squad eligibility, so Barner could be a name to watch there as well.
But realistically, the 53-man roster seems a remote possibility. There’s a reason Barner was made available for what might amount to nothing at this late date in August, and based on that body of work, I don’t see how he can prove to be a better option than what they have at running back and kick returner, let alone in a matter of two weeks.