Counting Down the Eagles’ Offseason Needs: No. 10, Running Back

Counting Down the Eagles’ Offseason Needs: No. 10, Running Back

Free agency is right around the corner, and the draft will be here before you know it. With the Philadelphia Eagles' offseason in full swing, we're examining where the roster stands at each position, counting down based on team need. Up first: running back.

 

How does it feel, Eagles fans? How does it feel to have the NFL’s rushing champion in the prime of his career and locked into a contract through the year 2017?

Few running backs were even in a class with LeSean McCoy this season. Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson is probably still the best pure ball-carrier in the league, while Jamaal Charles for Kansas City and Matt Forte for Chicago rival Shady for the distinction of top do-it-all back. Then there’s everybody else.

If you go strictly by the numbers, McCoy stood alone in 2013. His 1,607 yards on the ground were 268 more than the runner-up, and but for one week, he was the wall-to-wall leader in rushing. His 2,146 yards from scrimmage also led the league, not to mention was the 33rd-highest total in NFL history.

McCoy now owns the Eagles single-season records for rushing yards and touchdowns. The two-time All-Pro is only 1,065 yards shy of becoming the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. What took Wilbert Montgomery eight seasons to do, Shady could conceivably accomplish in just six.

McCoy turns 26 in July. Needless to say, running back will not be high on the list of the Eagles’ priorities this offseason.

 

Who’s No. 2?

One of the more interesting developments on the depth chart toward the end of 2013 was who Chip Kelly began calling on to spell McCoy. Bryce Brown had served as the definitive No. 2 behind Shady for the first three months of the season, but at most, he shared those duties down the stretch.

After appearing in all of 14 offensive snaps through 12 games, Chris Polk actually registered 33 to Brown’s 30 over the final four weeks. Brown still carried the ball significantly more during that period though (17 to 6), while Polk was utilized more as a receiver (also 17 to 6).

Now, the sample sizes are probably too small to claim those run/pass splits were by design, and Chip would tell us he doesn’t look at it in terms of who’s two, who’s three. However, there was a clear shift in the way both backs were deployed. We can only say one of two things definitively.

Either there was something the offense wasn’t getting from Brown, or the coaching staff really likes Polk.

The head coach was asked about the distribution following the Eagles’ win over the Lions—the first instance there was a measurable difference.

“One thing I know about Chris is in the last couple of weeks specifically, he has really, really practiced very well, and I think, like we said at every position, it's an open competition, and you keep showing us that you deserve time on the field, then that's what it's all about.”

Brown’s final numbers didn’t look too bad (75 CAR, 314 YDS, 4.2 AVG, 2 TD), but he was a bit of a disappointment for much of the season. His 65-yard touchdown against the Bears in Week 16 was a huge lift. Otherwise, he averaged less than three yards per carry in nine games.

Polk only had 11 carries, but made the most of them, averaging 8.9 yards per attempt and finding the end zone three times. He also averaged 15.3 yards on four receptions. That level of production, though not sustainable, is insane.

Could Polk overtake Brown completely for the No. 2 job? It seems plausible. Polk will be a restricted free agent next offseason, so it might be time to have a look anyway while Brown is under contract through 2015.

Then again, all of this sort of a moot point anyway. In the playoff loss to New Orleans, both Brown and Polk were on the field for just one snap each. It’s Shady’s backfield when it matters most.

 

Is Bryce Brown Trade-Bait?

It’s a question fans been asking ever since the 2012 seventh-round pick burst on to the scene with 347 yards and four touchdowns in back-to-back games last year. It’s readily apparent to anybody that Brown—who’s been compared to Bo Jackson—is a gifted runner. What could the Eagles get in a trade?

Perhaps less than you think. There were five trades involving running backs in the last calendar year, two of which could be templates for a deal involving Brown.

The first of the two looks good for the Birds, as the New Orleans sent Chris Ivory to the Jets in exchange for a fourth-round pick in a draft-day deal. Ivory never flashed explosiveness like Brown, but demonstrated he could be a consistently solid NFL back in three seasons with the Saints.

On the other hand, the Bucs could only garner a seventh-round pick and an undrafted back with no NFL experience (Jeff Demps) in return for LeGarrette Blount, who was once considered a first-round talent and has since revived his career in New England. Blount had other issues, but Brown too is something of a question mark.

At this stage, Brown has had more bad games than good. He still has a tendency to bounce every play to the outside. And while he did not fumble at all in ’13, he’s not that far removed from a rookie season in which he put the ball on the carpet at a rate of roughly once per game.

At best, Brown’s trade value probably lies somewhere in between. A team could certainly take a chance on his potential, but for a late-round draft choice, he might be more valuable to Philadelphia right now as a cheap backup who’s under contract and has high upside.

 

Player to Watch: De’Anthony Thomas

With so much invested in McCoy and a pair of promising, young backups already in the fold, the Eagles certainly aren’t going to spend money bringing in any free agents. If Brown is expendable though, it’s not totally improbable the club would draft another back—especially somebody who’s a perfect fit for Kelly’s offense.

De’Anthony Thomas is a name you’re going to be hearing a lot between now and May because he is just that. After all, Thomas played for Chip at Oregon. Eliot Shorr-Parks looked at the possibility of a reunion last week for NJ.com.

It isn't clear how high Thomas will go, but if he falls out of the first round, there is a chance the Eagles could pounce on the 5-foot-9, 169-pound multi-threat back.

Sure, the Eagles aren't exactly thin at running back, with Chris Polk and Bryce Brown proving to be more than capable back ups. Thomas would be an upgrade over both, however, as he much better out of the backfield as a pass catcher than Brown, and is a better pure runner than Polk

Thomas did it at all for the Ducks, finishing third in school history in all-time yards behind LeMichael James and Kenjon Barner. He’s a running back, a wide receiver, a kick returner, punt returner and track star all rolled into one.

Is it a team need? Not exactly, but then again Thomas has tools that Brown and Polk and even McCoy do not possess. It would be difficult not to get excited about that type of versatile addition to the offense.

Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Jeremy Hellickson made his final start of the season for the Phillies on Thursday night.

Now he becomes the team’s first big offseason decision.

Hellickson had long left the game with a sore right knee by the time struggling reliever Jeanmar Gomez was tagged for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning in what ended up as a 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves (see Instant Replay). The Phillies were swept in their final trip to Turner Field — the Braves will move into a new ballpark in April — and have lost six of their last seven games heading into the final weekend of the season and a three-game series against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

“It’s a bad time to be in a rut and we’re in a rut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “We’ve got to go home and snap out of it.”

Besides supporting his rotation mates, Hellickson won’t make any contributions this weekend. The 29-year-old right-hander, acquired in a November trade with Arizona, finished his season 12-10 in a career-high 32 starts. He tied a career high with 189 innings. His final ERA of 3.71 was his best since he recorded a 3.10 ERA in 31 starts for Tampa Bay in 2012.

Though he left the game in the fourth inning after tweaking his knee while running the bases (see story), Hellickson achieved his season goal.

“This isn’t anything that’s going to linger,” he said, looking down at his knee. “So I came out healthy. That was my main thing, try to throw 200 innings — I fell just short of that — and stay healthy. So as far as those two goals go, it was good.”

By staying healthy and pitching well, Hellickson built himself a nice free-agent platform. But before Hellickson heads out on the open market, the Phillies must make a decision: Do they offer him $17 million to retain him in 2017 or simply let him go. As a rebuilding team, the Phils would love to get a draft pick as compensation for Hellickson’s leaving. But to get that pick, they must make Hellickson that one-year qualifying offer and he must reject it and sign elsewhere. 

It seems likely that the Phils will make the offer to Hellickson. If he takes it, he will return in 2017 and fill the same veteran stabilizer role he did this season. If he rejects, the team will get a pick between the first and second rounds of next year’s draft. The value of that draft pick is significant and was seen as a reason the Phillies did not trade Hellickson in July.

Qualifying offers go out in early November, but general manager Matt Klentak isn’t ready to tip his hand on what he’ll do.

“Both are valuable,” he said, weighing Hellickson's returning on a one-year deal versus picking up a draft selection between the first and second rounds. “For the same reason Jeremy Hellickson was valuable to us this year, Jeremy Hellickson or a player like that could be valuable to us again next year. The draft pick at the end of the first round has a real, measurable, tangible value.”

After Thursday night’s game, Hellickson was asked if he believed he’d made his final start with the Phillies.

“I hope not,” he said. “But I don’t really know how to answer that. I would love to be back here next year. I think everyone knows how much I’ve enjoyed my time here and I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

The pitcher was pressed as to whether he could envision himself accepting the qualifying offer if the Phillies made one.

“Yeah, I mean I definitely could see it,” he said. “But …"

Hellickson paused. Then a reporter broke the silence by suggesting the pitcher would rather get a multi-year deal on the open market.

“Yeah, I would love that actually a little bit more,” he said.

The Phillies could look to strike a multi-year deal with Hellickson before he hits the open market five days after the World Series, but that does not appear to be in the club’s plans. The Phils seem to be interested mostly in short-term deals for veterans as they let their kids develop.

In time, this thing will play out.

But for now, the Phillies head home looking to stop a losing streak and scuttle the Mets’ postseason hopes.

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule. 

Best of MLB: Cardinals top Reds on Molina's disputed double in 9th

Best of MLB: Cardinals top Reds on Molina's disputed double in 9th

ST. LOUIS -- Yadier Molina hit a disputed double that drove in the winning run with two outs in the ninth inning Thursday night, sending the St. Louis Cardinals over the Cincinnati Reds 4-3.

The Cardinals began the day one game behind San Francisco for the second NL wild-card spot.

Matt Carpenter drew a one-out walk from Blake Wood (6-5). With two outs, Molina's one-hop hit appeared to bounce off a sign above the left-field wall and carom back into play.

Carpenter kept running and scored from first. Reds manager Bryan Price ran after the umpires, who left the field as soon as Carpenter touched the plate.

Price later said umpire crew chief Bill Miller told him that teams have 10 seconds to appeal on a game-ending play, and that the complaint wasn't made in time.

"I'm not blaming the umpires. I'm blaming the system," Price said.

Molina and Jedd Gyorko hit solo homers for the Cardinals.

Seung Hwan Oh (6-3) wound up with the win (see full recap).

Jimenez delivers strong start, Orioles blank Blue Jays 4-0
TORONTO -- Ubaldo Jimenez and two relievers combined on a three-hitter and the Baltimore Orioles beat the Blue Jays 4-0 on Thursday night, moving into a tie with Toronto in the AL wild card race with three games remaining.

When he started at Toronto on June 12, Jimenez allowed five runs and six hits in 1/3 of an inning, the shortest start of his career.

The right-hander returned Thursday and carved up the Blue Jays. The only hit he allowed was Ezequiel Carrera's single to begin the first. Josh Donaldson followed with a walk but Jimenez retired the next six batters in order.

Devon Travis walked to open the third and advanced on Carrera's sacrifice, but that was the first of 11 consecutive outs for Jimenez, a streak that ended with Edwin Encarnacion's two-out walk in the sixth. Jose Bautista flied out to end the inning.

Jimenez (8-12) allowed one hit in 6 2/3 innings, improving to 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA in five September starts. He walked three and struck out five (see full recap).

Cubs, Pirates play to rare MLB tie
PITTSBURGH -- The Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates played a rare major league tie on Thursday night when their game was called off due to rain with scores level at 1-all in the sixth inning.

With the Cubs and Pirates not scheduled to play again this season, officials decided the game would not be made up, since its outcome will not affect postseason positioning. Chicago long ago clinched the National League Central, while Pittsburgh is out of playoff reckoning, sitting third in that division.

So instead of becoming a suspended game, the match was declared a tie -- the first since Houston and Cincinnati went seven innings on June 30, 2005, before rain halted them.

Willson Contreras had two hits and scored for the NL Central champion Cubs, who have already clinched the best record in the majors. Josh Bell hit a sacrifice fly for the Pirates.

The game was called in the top of the sixth after a delay of 1 hour, 23 minutes.

Tim Federowicz hit a sacrifice fly in the Cubs second. Pittsburgh tied it in the third.

Cubs rookie Rob Zastryzny gave up one unearned run in 3 2/3 innings in his first major league start after beginning his career with seven relief appearances (see full recap).

Buxton doubles, triples in Twins' 7-6 victory over Royals
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Byron Buxton tripled, doubled, drove in two runs and scored twice as the Minnesota Twins defeated the Kansas City Royals 7-6 on Thursday night.

After Salvador Perez's pinch-hit RBI single with two outs in the ninth pulled the Royals within a run, Terrance Gore ran for him. With Paulo Orlando, who had four hits to match his career high, hitting, Brandon Kintzler picked Gore off first base.

Gore was initially called safe, but after a 1 minute, 15 second review, the call was reversed to end the game.

Buxton's one-out double triggered a three-run ninth off Kelvin Herrera (2-6). Robbie Grossman, Miguel Sano and Max Kepler contributed run-scoring singles in the ninth.

The Twins won for the first time in 10 games this season at Kauffman Stadium (see full recap).