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There will be considerable fantasy football impact.
This after the Eagles acquired Darren Sproles in a trade with the Saints; the Jaguars added Vikings backup Toby Gerhart (likely to serve as their lead back); the Giants signed former Raider Rashad Jennings to a four-year deal; Donald Brown joined the Chargers; and in rather unexpected developments, the Raiders retained Darren McFadden and New Orleans re-signed Pierre Thomas.
We'll start in Philadelphia, where the Eagles sent one of their two 2014 fifth-round picks to the Saints to secure Sproles' services. The Eagles take on the final year and $3.5 million remaining on Sproles' deal.
In Sproles, the Eagles believe they've landed one of the most versatile and dynamic players in the league. In eight seasons split between the Saints and the San Diego Chargers, Sproles has 2,221 rushing yards (5.1 yards per carry), 3,381 receiving yards (8.9 yards per catch), 1,606 punt return yards (8.2 yards per return) and 8,296 kick return yards (25.3 yards per return).
According to the Eagles official web site, Sproles will no doubt serve as an ideal complement to LeSean McCoy, the league's leading rusher in 2013.
In his three seasons in New Orleans, Sproles was a dangerous threat as a receiver out of the backfield, catching 86, 75 and 71 passes in consecutive years. That accounts for, by far, the most receptions by a running back in the NFL over that time. He now joins another dynamic offense in Philadelphia, where his skill-set as a pass-catcher out of the backfield should make him a perfect fit for Chip Kelly.
As NFL.com notes, the move ends nearly two weeks of speculation about the future of Sproles, who has spent the last three seasons with in New Orleans.
Sproles, 30, finished last season with 43 carries for 220 yards and 71 receptions for 604 yards. He had four total touchdowns. In addition to a prominent role on offense, Sproles will likely become the Eagles' return man -- a position that's been a trouble spot for the team in recent years.
The acquisition also allows Kelly to ease the workload of McCoy, the reigning NFL rushing champion who was second in the league with 890 snaps. It remains to be seen what the move means for Bryce Brown and Chris Polk, although both are more powerful complement to the smaller, shiftier McCoy and Sproles. ...
In a semi-related item. ... While the Saints deemed Sproles to be expendable, it turned out Thomas wasn't. The veteran was expected become a salary cap casualty, as his cap number for 2014 would have been $2.9 million, or trade bait.
But the team signed him to a new, two-year contract that as New Orleans Times-Picayune staffer Larry Holders suggests, undoubtedly dropped Thomas' cap number for 2014.
Thomas' return means the Saints weren't comfortable trimming down their running back depth chart to only Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. It's been Saints coach Sean Payton's philosophy to keep a stable of running backs the last few seasons after injuries decimated the position group in 2010.
Appearing on the Mar. 8 edition of the FootballDiehards on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio, WWL-TV's Juan Kincaid expressed his hope this would be the outcome. Kincaid simply isn't sold on the notion that Ingram and Robinson are ready to assume leading roles. He also stressed that Thomas' receiving skills -- especially on screen plays -- is often overlooked.
Indeed, Thomas ranked second in receptions on the team with 77 catches along with 513 yards and three scores last seasons. The seven-year veteran also led the Saints in rushing yards with 549 yards, but he only averaged 3.7 yards per carry with two TDs.
Thomas sustained a chest injury leading up to the playoffs as Ingram and Robinson provided the Saints with a potent rushing attack against Philadelphia and Seattle.
With Thomas' return, the Saints could easily revert back to their typical running back by committee mantra with Thomas, Ingram and Robinson splitting carries, or the Saints go with the hot hand of the day.
In other words, fantasy owners should expect more of the same from Payton and the Saints' backfield going forward. ...
In Jacksonville. ... The Jaguars agreed to terms with Gerhart on Tuesday, a move that pretty much ensures the end of the Maurice Jones-Drew Era in Jacksonville.
Gerhart's deal is worth $10.5 million over three years, with $4.5 million guaranteed.
Gerhart turns 27 later this month and has spent his entire four-year career with the Vikings as the back-up to Adrian Peterson. He has 276 carries for 1,305 yards and five touchdowns and is expected to be part of a running back group that currently includes Jordan Todman and Denard Robinson.
But look for the newcomer to be the chairman of the committee after head coach Gus Bradley told reporters that Gerhart could regularly see between 15-20 touches a game.
"He seems like a guy that the more he handles the ball the Ber he gets," Bradley told the Florida Times-Union. The coach went on to say he likes Gerhart's toughness and that it was great Gerhart is an experienced pro with limited career carries.
"He'll pop one," Bradley added. "He can make people miss. He has a toughness you can count on, can catch the ball and he's great on third downs. He's going to have a great opportunity. ..."
And that's because the coach views him as the Jags lead back this coming season.
For what it's worth, if Gerhart's signing alone wasn't a B enough indication of Jones-Drew's future in J-Ville, Bradley also said on Mar. 12 that he hasn't talked to GM Dave Caldwell about MJD in nearly a week. "I haven't had really much conversation with Dave about Mojo," Bradley said. "I know before this, we talked and he knows how I feel about him. I really appreciate MoJo and what he brought, but I haven't had any conversation about MoJo for the last four-or-five days, six days. ..."
It's safe to say Jones-Drew should be looking at his options (like the Jets) very carefully right about now. ...
In New York. ... Newark Star-Ledger staffer Conor Orr reports that Jennings plans to be a member of the Giants for the next four seasons.
While players rarely see the full length of these contracts through, Jennings is technically under contract until 2018. The deal, a person briefed on the matter told Orr, is worth a maximum of $14 million, with roughly $3 million guaranteed.
Jennings, 28, has less mileage, though and could end up stabilizing the Giants running back corps for less guaranteed money than Shonn Greene, Gerhart or Brown.
According to ESPN.com's Dan Graziano, what the Giants like about Jennings is that he's versatile. He's had limited chances to show what he can do as a starter, as he played behind Jones-Drew in Jacksonville and McFadden in Oakland. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, which is a skill the Giants hope to use from their running backs more under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.
Jennings joins a backfield with some uncertainty because the Giants don't know what they can expect from David Wilson.
Even if Wilson fully recovers from neck surgery, as it's expected he will, Graziano notes the speedy youngster hasn't yet shown he can handle a starter's workload. He offers big-play ability out of the backfield, and the Giants like that a lot. But adding Jennings gives them a guy they can use as a starter in case Wilson can't answer the bell, or who can complement Wilson if both are healthy, the way they'd hoped Andre Brown would last year.
And in the news corresponding with Jennings' move, we'll move on to Oakland, where he Raiders made little effort to keep McFadden from hitting the open market -- until Tuesday.
Needless to say it was a bit of a surprise (although it's safe to assume it was Jennings-related). It' not as much of a surprise that McFadden didn't cash in on his return.
In fact, the former first-round pick signed a one-year deal worth $1.75 million with another $2.25 million in incentives and $100,000 guaranteed, and his agent Ian Greengross said that his client turned down bigger offers elsewhere. “We did have real interest from four or five other teams — one offered more money,” Greengross said. “Darren wanted to stay a Raider. He felt like he still had something to prove in silver and black.”
That seems a bit odd. As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio suggested at the time, it’s hard to imagine that there was a vast difference in offers if McFadden went back to Oakland and other situations might not offer the same chance to cash in on incentives.
That said, Jennings' departure leaves McFadden at the top of a depth chart that includes Latavius Murray, Jeremy Stewart and Kory Sheets. If he’s healthy, McFadden should get plenty of opportunities to earn that extra $2.25 million next season.
But is he still capable?
McFadden has struggled the last two seasons, missing 10 out of a possible 32 games. He averaged a meager 3.3 yards per carry in each of the last two seasons.
Because it's only a one-year deal, Oakland can move on in 2015 if McFadden continues to struggle -- which is entirely possible. That said, McFadden will only be 27 years old when the season starts. So there's still hope. ...
In San Diego. ... The Chargers signed Brown to a three-year, $10.5 million deal, which includes $4 million guaranteed money, according to the U-T San Diego.
Brown, 26, finished with 537 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 5.3 yards per carry for the Colts in 2013. Even with Indianapolis making a midseason trade with Cleveland for Trent Richardson, Brown was the more effective back.
According to ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams, Brown is a good fit for San Diego's zone running scheme, with his one-cut, downhill running style. Chargers general manager Tom Telesco has some familiarity with the Connecticut product, having worked in the personnel department for the Colts when Indianapolis selected him in the first round of the 2009 draft.
But the Chargers have both Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead under contract for another season. Together, they combined for nearly 2,500 yards from scrimmage last season, with Mathews playing a full 16-game schedule for the first time in his career. However, the run game hit the wall in the playoffs as Mathews dealt with a high-ankle sprain.
According to SI.com's Chris Burke, that struggle may have been enough to convince the Chargers to add another body in the backfield, as Woodhead is a better fit as a change-of-pace back (76 receptions last season) than an every-down force.
Brown has never accumulated more than 134 rushing attempts in any of his five NFL seasons to date, but he should be able to step in alongside Woodhead should Mathews revert to his injury-plagued ways. ...
A few other notes of interest. ...
In Cleveland. ... Tate was visiting the Browns on Thursday and they remain the favorite to secure his services. The question is, what's taking so long?
Cleveland's interest in Tate has been a topic since last year, when the Browns traded Trent Richardson to the Colts. Profootballtalk.com noted that some may point to the presence of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan as well, but Shanahan was gone from Houston before Tate arrived.
Tate’s running style should be a good fit for what Shanahan likes in the running game, though. Tate battled through broken ribs for much of last season before finally landing on injured reserve at the end of the year. He ran for 771 yards on 181 carries in the 14 games he was able to play. ...
In Arizona. ... After the retirement of Rashard Mendenhall, the Cardinals have picked up another former Steelers running back. Jonathan Dwyer, a 2010 sixth-round pick of the Steelers who has played his entire career in Pittsburgh, has signed with the Cardinals.
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was the Steelers’ offensive coordinator for Dwyer’s first two NFL seasons, so Dwyer already knows the offense. Dwyer provides some depth in the backfield behind Andre Ellington, who had a very promising rookie season in Arizona last year.
In 2013 Dwyer was largely phased out of the Steelers’ offense, carrying just 49 times for 197 yards. But in 2012 he showed that he can provide solid production, getting six starts and rushing 156 times for 623 yards.
Stay tuned. ... I'll continue to have breaking news on a continuing basis in the News & Views section of the site with more in-depth analysis and overviews coming here in the Headline News section as developments warrant.