Updated: 11:20 a.m.
The Eagles have acquired yet another versatile offensive weapon, trading for New Orleans Saints running back/return specialist Darren Sproles.
The Eagles are giving up the second of their two fifth-round picks for the eight-year veteran who spent his last three seasons in New Orleans.
"Darren is a player that we have admired for many years -- he’s a proven performer at a high level," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said in a statement. "He’s such a dangerous back and he’s a great piece to add to our offense and to our special teams. We spent a considerable time in order to try to make this happen and we were very happy to get a deal done with New Orleans."
The deal brings Chip Kelly another playmaker who has a track record of hurting opponents on the ground, through the air and as a return specialist.
"Darren Sproles is an unbelievable offensive weapon," Kelly said in a statement. "He can do it all, run, catch, plus he’s a proven winner. And on top of that, he can bring all of those dynamic skills to the return game as well. There is no question we were all excited once we found out we were going to be able to trade for him."
The Eagles acquired a fifth-rounder from New England last season at the trade deadline in the deal that sent defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga to the Patriots, so they basically swapped Sopoaga for Sproles.
It’s unclear at the moment what role the Eagles envision for the 30-year-old veteran who comes off the most unproductive season of his career. At very least, Sproles is likely to upgrade kick and punt units that ranked among the NFL’s worst last season.
For his career, Sproles has 2,221 rushing yards, 3,831 receiving yards and 38 offensive touchdowns. He also has five touchdown returns on special teams, with a career kick return average of 25.3 yards (14th among active NFL players) and punt return average of 8.2 yards.
His 9,902 combined kick and punt return yards are second-most among active players and eighth-most all time.
His presence could spell the end of Damaris Johnson’s short tenure with the Eagles. Johnson, who signed as a rookie free agent from Tulsa in 2012, struggled as a kick returner in his first two seasons and lost his job last year to street free-agent signing Brad Smith. The 5-foot-8 Johnson had just two catches last season and has just 21 over his two-year career.
Last year, the Eagles ranked 27th in punt return average and 26th on kick return average despite Kelly’s constant emphasis on special teams.
With the addition of Sproles, the Eagles are carrying five running backs with NFL experience: Sproles, LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk and Matthew Tucker. If they plan to get Sproles involved on offense, it’s feasible to think either Brown or Polk could be dealt.
Sproles, a fourth-round pick in 2005 by the Chargers, has the fifth-highest career yards-per-carry average (5.1) among running backs with at least 400 carries, behind Jamaal Charles (5.6), Bo Jackson (5.4) and Mercury Morris (5.2). He’s tied with C.J. Spiller (5.1).
But he had just 824 offensive yards last year for New Orleans and entered the final year of a four-year deal worth $14 million. He's due $3.4 million in base salary this year with a $100,000 workout bonus.
As a specialist, Sproles ranked 24th of 27 punt returners last year (6.7 yards per return) and 29th of 31 kick returners (21.3).
Reports last week indicated that the Saints were on the verge of releasing Sproles, but they retained him because of high trade interest.
Sproles hasn’t totaled 1,000 offensive yards since the 2011 season, when he rushed for 603 yards and caught 86 passes for 710 yards. That year, he led the NFL with 2,696 all-purpose yards.