As Darren Sproles walked through the Eagles’ indoor practice bubble early Friday morning, shortly after signing a one-year contract extension, head coach Doug Pederson met the Pro Bowler with a big hug and a bigger smile.
Then, Sproles took a few steps farther and began to return faux punts, flashing the same quickness and ability he's shown the NFL for over a decade.
As training camp is well underway, this will be Sproles’ 11th NFL season. In a sport and position where 30 is the wrong side of the hill, the 33-year-old running back found another payday, in an extension that is reportedly worth $4.5 million. Despite a limited role in the Eagles’ offense last year, he’s gone to back-to-back Pro Bowls as a returner and doesn’t appear finished yet.
How many good years does he have left?
“Two,” Sproles answered. “This year and next year.”
Does that mean he’s going to retire after the 2017 season?
“We gonna see,” he said. “We gonna see.”
Sproles was drafted in the fourth round in 2005 by San Diego, where he spent the first six years of his career. From there, he had three electrifying years in New Orleans before joining the Eagles and Chip Kelly before the 2014 season.
The dynamic weapon wants Philly to be his final stop. It’s important for him to finish his career with the Eagles because he loves his teammates, he said. His new deal might make that possible.
“A lot. A lot,” Sproles said when asked what the extension meant to him. “When I’m done playing I’m gonna be an Eagle.”
Sproles, you might remember, skipped the voluntary portion of the Eagles’ offseason this spring for what was termed a family matter. On Friday, he said his absence had nothing to do with his contract, although the two sides had been working on it for a while.
What does it say, that the Eagles gave him this much money, at this point in his career?
“I got some tread on the tires,” Sproles said.
“When you talk about leadership, work ethic, character and then production, he’s made the last two Pro Bowls, he exemplifies everything we want to be,” vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said. “As we look at it, he’s so important to this team on and off the field, it was a no-brainer from our prospective.”
Last season, Sproles was frustrated by his role in Kelly’s offense. He was still productive as a returner – taking two more punts back to the house, four in two seasons – but on offense, wasn’t as dynamic. As a rusher his yards-per-attempt dropped drastically from 5.8 to 3.8 from his first to second year as an Eagle.
Aside from that, he just wasn’t involved as much in the gameplan. In 2016, he had 26 fewer rushing attempts than 2015 and 15 fewer receptions.
Sproles thinks his role will be different under a new coaching staff headed by Pederson.
“We got a couple of things up our sleeve,” Sproles said.
With two more seasons in Philly, Sproles can continue to climb up some all-time lists. His 17,903 all-purpose yards rank 11th in NFL history. His 10,889 kick and punt return yards rank seventh in NFL history. And his nine career return touchdowns rank sixth in NFL history.
Two more good years, he said.
“I tell you what, anytime, in my opinion, that you can have a playmaker like Darren Sproles and you can keep him locked up for a couple years, it makes you feel good,” Pederson said. “I’m just so happy for him and his family and the work that Howie put it to make sure this thing got done. Just so excited to have him here and look forward to working with him in this training camp and obviously during the season.”
And one more season after that.