The Philadelphia Eagles received phone calls inquiring about a trade for running back Darren Sproles in the middle of the 2016 NFL Draft, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. This begs the question: were the New England Patriots the team interested in acquiring Sproles?
The 5'6, 187 lbs Sproles will turn 33 this summer and would come with a $3.5 million salary cap hit (the Eagles would eat an additional $1 million in cap space from his signing bonus), which is more than Dion Lewis, LeGarrette Blount, and Brandon Bolden combined ($3.34 million). These facts alone would deter the Patriots from ever picking up the phone.
But beyond contracts, which are always malleable, Sproles' fit as a player on the field makes a lot of sense.
Sproles was underutilized by the Eagles as they had to field their big offseason acquisitions in the unhappy DeMarco Murray and back-up Ryan Mathews. In January, Sproles questioned whether or not he'd be back with the Eagles, but that was before the Eagles traded Murray to the Titans. Sproles also wound up playing more snaps than Mathews in 2015, but the presence of Mathews impacted the opportunities for Sproles.
Probably not coincidentally, Sproles was most utilized when the Patriots faced the Eagles last season, and it was Sproles that broke the game open. Sproles set his season high in snap percentage at 57.4% (he didn't crack 50% the rest of the season), he led all rushers in the game with 66 yards, and tacked on 34 receiving yards- the second highest total on his team. He also returned a punt for a touchdown, which changed the entire landscape of the game.
We all know how much Patriots head coach Bill Belichick loves to acquire players that dominated the Patriots.
And this versatility makes him an ideal player in the Patriots roster, as probably the most ideal back-up for Dion Lewis; Sproles could even see more time as Lewis recovers from his torn ACL.
As a runner between the tackles, Sproles is not fantastic, but he's far superior to James White. He's more similar to Shane Vereen in his productivity, especially if you account for the Eagles superior run blocking.
Since Sproles is a superior rusher to White, and just as capable of a receiver, it would make sense as an improvement for the 2016 season (age difference notwithstanding).
It also makes sense because Sproles is a phenomenal special teams player, which is always a tiebreaker for Belichick. Sproles was an All Pro caliber return man in 2014 and played at the same high level in 2015. He's returned four punts for touchdowns over the past two seasons and would be a nice way for the Patriots to rest Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
White doesn't play special teams, and it could be argued that Sproles' special teams value could outweigh the impact of Brandon Bolden and the potential special teams ability of Donald Brown.
Regardless, Sproles would be a nice asset to help groom 2nd round cornerback Cyrus Jones as a top tier returnman.
Looking at his overall ability, it wouldn't be difficult to place Sproles as the Patriots 3rd running back in 2016, behind the recovering Lewis and the power running of Blount. The big hitch comes with his age and contract.
The Patriots will not pay a running back the type of salary that Sproles has, unless the player is a top notch proven performer as an every-down back. And adding a 33-year-old running back to replace the 24-year-old White would be out of place for Belichick, unless he believed that Sproles had two or three more good years and could get a team-friendly contract restructure.
When it comes to compensation for the Eagles, it makes sense that trade inquiries came in the middle of the draft. The Eagles acquired Sproles for a 5th round pick in 2014 and that price has probably just gone down after factoring in his age and salary.
The Patriots probably weren't interested in trading a 6th round pick for Sproles since the team packaged up their tradeable 6th round picks to move into the 5th round with a player in mind, before ultimately flipping the selection for a future 4th round pick.
I could have seen the Patriots interested in grabbing Sproles for their 7th round pick, in a Blount-like move. Since 7th round picks have terrible odds of panning out in the NFL, it would make sense to obtain a known entity. The Patriots instead drafted wide receiver Devin Lucien.
Ultimately, the Patriots passed on acquiring Sproles and instead added running back D.J. Foster after the draft and gave him a nice signing bonus to show their interest. It seems likely that New England is willing to have Foster compete with White and Brown to show that his rushing ability makes him more deserving of a roster spot.
Sproles would have been a fun addition to the Patriots offense, but the mix of his age, contract, and the fact that he doesn't want to leave the Eagles likely would have ended the discussion before it ever became serious.
Calling to ask about Sproles would be a total Belichick move in order to test the waters, but actually trading for him goes against everything we know about how the Patriots build their roster.