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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Darren Sproles Traded to Philadelphia

The New Orleans Saints traded veteran running back Darren Sproles to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 5th round draft pick. Sproles is entering the final year of his contract and would have counted more than $4 million against the Saints’ 2014 salary cap. On Friday, the Saints announced that there planned to release Sproles outright.


I often use the expression, “Oatmeal is better than no meal.” The harsh economic realities are that the Saints had virtually no chance of outbidding the other 31 NFL teams in free agency for Sproles continued services after 2014. There is always one contending team willing to overpay for a play-making veteran as a hired gun. The Saints needed to clear cap space now. Now, instead of receiving nothing in return, the Saints can draft a player who will take up about an eighth of the cap room as Sproles for the next four years. As long as this pick is not a bust, and the Sean Payton-era Saints have hit the jackpot in the draft over the years (especially in the late rounds), the Saints come out far ahead financially.

Sproles is 31 years old. Had he been released outright, he would have been guaranteed nothing in terms of salary. He would have been signed, without a doubt. But there is no guarantee Sproles would have netted several million dollars on the free agent market. Part of what the Eagles are paying for by picking up Sproles 2014 salary is the certainty that Sproles will be with the them and not another free agency suitor.

Finally, the Eagles win because they are a contending team picking up an explosive playmaker. Should Sproles remain healthy, he will raise the Eagles already fast, big play offense up a few degrees. Hired guns are often the difference between reaching a Super Bowl and an early round exit (as the same Eagles suffered at the hands of the Saints last season).


The Saints received a bit of a public relations black eye after the trade was announced. Sproles’ wife took to Instagram and launched a profanity-laced tirade in response to the Saints reneging on their decision to release Sproles outright (instead trading him). Given Sproles’ contributions to the team and well-known service in the community, Sproles certainly would have preferred to have some choice in his next destination if he had to be released. Judging by Mrs. Sproles reaction, I don’t think Philadelphia was their first choice.

The Eagles are paying a hefty price and taking a substantial risk in acquiring Sproles. Without a doubt, this could work out well for them. Sproles is a game breaker when healthy. There is no assurance the diminutive 31-year-old will make it through the entire season without injuries. It appears improbably, certainly less than 50/50, that the Eagles will resign Sproles after 2014, meaning they will have exchanged a fifth round pick for one year of service.  Finally, a $4 million cap hit is steep. There are only so many splashes a team can make in free agency in one offseason. The Eagles need this gamble to pay off.


The NFL is an unforgiving, hyper-competitive (cutthroat) business. Players’ destinies can change in a flash. It is a high stakes business in which tough decisions and often undesirable results for involved parties are routine. Sproles was shipped off, but still gets the (higher) base salary at the back end of his contract. The Saints lose a beloved playmaker but get some compensation and salary cap relief that allowed them to sign the top safety available on the market in Jarius Byrd, resign the best tight end in football in Jimmy Graham, and (reportedly) pursue physical cornerback and Louisiana native Brandon Browner, who was with the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks last season. Always business…never personal.    

Payton will miss the high fives that Sproles made possible.
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