Inside Voices: How the Eagles Landed Sproles

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Darren Sproles found out about his impending release from the Saints via Twitter.

Three seasons. Over 5,500 yards. Twenty-one touchdowns. No heads up.

“They didn’t call me and tell me nothing,” said Sproles following Thursday’s practice. “I just felt that it was disrespectful, you know what I’m saying? Y’all could have told me first.”

Instead he learned of his fate on social media and quickly contacted his agent. Word was spreading throughout the league as well. The Eagles found out about it much in the same way that the Sproles did.

“There were a bunch of published reports and I think maybe even a Tweet from his family about how he was going to be let go in New Orleans, ” said Howie Roseman. “Obviously our coaching staff was very familiar with him because of the last game that we played and had studied him, and Coach [Chip Kelly] had followed him for a long time. So when we heard that it was easy for us to have a quick discussion and know that we were going to be interested in him.”

The interest in Sproles as an organization actually dates back pre-Chip.

While the initial plan was to release Sproles, the Saints quickly found out that there was a handful of teams open to trading for him before he had a chance to hit the market. There were five teams that were in pursuit, according to the running back, and three that were more serious than the rest. When he found out the Eagles were one, he told his agent, “Man, make that happen.”

In order for Sproles to get his wish, Roseman had to take care of business on his end.

“You’re kind of playing poker because you don’t really know what the other hand has and are you willing to risk it?” he said. “In all of those situations in the offseason, there’s a little bit of figuring out the value and sticking to it yourself because you really don’t know what the price is.”

The answer, turns out, was a fifth-round pick, and the Eagles won the bidding. Early returns suggest it was a steal. Sproles, the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week, has 350 all-purpose yards and a pair of touchdowns through two games and has sparked a pair of Eagles comebacks. Is he even better than the front-office anticipated?

“We have such an unbelievable, tremendous coaching staff, their ability to scheme players,” said Roseman. “The way Darren has worked since he got here is tremendous and it’s been an exciting start to the season.”

As for the way things ended in New Orleans, Sproles said that he never ended up getting so much as an explanation for why the Saints (currently 0-2) decided to move on.

“I just worry about the Eagles now,” said Sproles. “I don’t really care about it anymore. It all worked out for the best.”

The Chase For $2.5 Million

If you’re interested in the financial end of football and want a subplot to follow, here’s a good one for you: Brandon Graham has roughly $2.5 million riding on this season.

There is something called a one-time not likely to be earned incentive that was often included in rookie deals for high draft choices under the old collective bargaining agreement as a way for teams to free up money so they had enough to pay the remainder of their picks fairly.  If said player reaches agreed upon numbers in terms of playing time and production, the money is his.

“The intent is for him to earn it as soon as possible,” said former agent and cap expert Joel Corry, “but it just hasn’t worked out in Brandon Graham’s case, which is unusual.”

The player needs to see a certain percentage of snaps (35 percent his rookie season, 45 percent after that) and must hit another mark — whether it be a specific individual statistic (for Graham, it’s reaching 8.5 sacks), team improvement in an approved category or leading the club in an approved category — in a given year to trigger the pay day.

So far, it hasn’t happened for Graham. The injury late in his rookie year prevented him from checking the right boxes. In the years since he has fallen short of the 45 percent threshold.

This is his final chance to bring it home. Over the first two games he has played 34.4 percent of the defensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus. That number needs to go up if he has a shot at cashing a $2.5 million check.

“This is rare. If you’re a guy that’s not going to earn it, you’re usually not around by then,” said Corry. “This is a very rare instance and you won’t see it ever again because of the way the rookie deals have changed. These type of incentives aren’t permissible anymore [under the new CBA].”

“I would have hit it my rookie year if I didn’t get hurt,” said Graham. “Stuff happens for a reason. I feel like I’m going to hit it because I stay working, keeping my body right. One of these days I’m going to get in there a little more than I’m used to.”