Cutting LeGarrette Blount Wouldn’t Be The End Of The World For The Eagles
Philadelphia fans are notoriously fickle, so when Eagles devotees began obsessing over the less than stellar preseason performance of running back, LeGarrette Blount, it was hardly shocking. However, when Sirius XM’s Adam Caplan went on Philly’s 97.5 The Fanatic and intimated that Blount might be in danger of not making the roster, it sent shockwaves through an already nervous populace.
Not only is Caplan as tied into NFL circles as anyone, but he also had praised the Eagles’ free agent signing back in the spring.
Blount will give #Eagles badly needed size at running back. Look for him to be primary 1st and 2nd down RB.
— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) May 17, 2017
Since the Caplan interview, head coach Doug Pederson has done his best to stamp out the ensuing fire.
“The guy is a beast of a runner,” said Doug, when asked if LeGarrette Blount’s spot on the roster is safe.
— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) August 22, 2017
Of course, Pederson also kept discussing Ryan Mathews, the running back whom Blount was brought in to replace, as though he would be on the team this year — right up until the Eagles cut him once he could pass a physical. He also acted as though wide receiver Jordan Matthews was a big part of the team’s plans right up until he was traded to Buffalo. What we’re saying is that the head coach doesn’t have a reputation for being forthcoming.
Even if the team does move on from one of its biggest free agent signings before he even takes a snap, is it really that big of a deal? Does a team really need a bell cow runner in today’s NFL?
Riding The Wentz Wagon
Last season, rookie quarterback Carson Wentz threw the ball 607 times. The offense, authored by Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich, passed more than 58-percent of the time. When they did run the ball, Mathews led the team with a scant 661 yards.
That wasn’t an aberration. Back in the 2014-15 season, while coaching with his mentor, Andy Reid, in Kansas City, Pederson was part of a staff that threw the ball 54-percent, despite not having a single wide receiver who caught a touchdown. With a young weapon like Wentz, it’s not as though the Eagles head coach is suddenly going to change his philosophy. The Eagles were a pass-first team last year, and they’ll remain a pass-first team for the foreseeable future.
Stuck In Committee
Pederson is far from alone, though. Last year, only two teams ran the ball more often than they threw it. Blount, then in New England, was one of only eight runners who rushed for more than 1,100 yards.
While everyone would gladly take players such as Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott, Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell and Arizona’s David Johnson, most teams are more democratic when it comes to allocating carries. The Falcons reached the Super Bowl with a 1,000-yard rusher in Devonta Freeman but also gave Tevin Coleman more than 100 rushing opportunities.
While the Eagles didn’t have anyone of that caliber running the ball last season, they did average a respectable 4.1 yards-per-carry. Mathews combined with the ageless Darren Sproles, who ran for 438 yards, and 2016 5th-Round draft pick Wendell Smallwood (312), to give Philadelphia the 11th ranked rushing attack.
This isn’t the ’70s or ’80s, or even ’90s when power running games were the norm. Having a top-notch passer is far more important to a team’s success. Having a great running back, these days, has become a luxury item.
The Blount Truth
Despite leading the league in rushing touchdowns, with 18, the signing of Blount by the Eagles didn’t come without some risk. The former undrafted free agent, who owns a pair of Super Bowl rings thanks to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, is 30-years-old and carried the ball a career-high 299 times last season. That kind of workload for an older back is normally a harbinger of bad things to come.
The conventional wisdom has been that Blount would help the Eagles get over the hump in short-yardage situations after the team struggled there last season. While he was largely effective in that capacity for New England, that was also against defenses that were more concerned with Brady than with Blount. Wentz might someday command that much respect, but he won’t in his second year.
The concern thus far has been that Blount has looked slow in the preseason, and frankly, unmotivated. Of course, if NFL teams started cutting every veteran who doesn’t care about the preseason, they’d have to start begging Keanu Reeves and the other Replacements to come out of retirement.
The NFC East Passes
Yes, the Dallas Cowboys have a stellar running game whenever Elliott is on the field. Philadelphia’s approach, though, is far closer to its other two division rivals, the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins.
Eli Manning and company managed an 11-5 record while throwing the ball more than 60-percent of the time. New York is hoping that rookie Wayne Gallman can combine with last year’s rookie, Paul Perkins, to form something that looks like a running game. No matter who the running back is, though, Manning will still be airing the ball out.
Similarly, the Redskins barely pretend that rushing the ball is even an option. The trio of Rob Kelley, Matt Jones, and Chris Thompson scared no one and landed Washington with New York in the bottom half of the league in rushing. Despite losing DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, and adding rookie running back Samaje Perine, Washington is still going to have an offense built around Kirk Cousins‘ arm.
Comparatively speaking, whether they have Blount or not, the Eagles’ rushing attack isn’t in any worse shape than most of their divisional brethren.
To Move On Or Not To Move On
It’s true that cutting Blount doesn’t affect Philadelphia’s salary cap very much. His contract is only for $1.25-million, only $400,000 of which is guaranteed. That’s actually what makes keeping him much more likely — he came to the Eagles on the cheap.
Still, if Philadelphia did decide to move on and leave the rushing duties to Sproles and Smallwood, who has had trouble staying healthy, the net effect would end up being negligible. Given Pederson’s Reid-inspired background, on 3rd down plays, no matter what the distance is, the running back is most likely going to end up pass-protecting for Wentz.
That doesn’t mean that the Eagles should cut Blount, who at 6-feet and 250 pounds is far and away the biggest back on their roster. Even if he can’t replicate last season’s production, the team really doesn’t need him to. Considering that there’s no real cap relief in getting rid of him and that the team’s preseason rushing leader, UDFA Corey Clement, should be able to clear waivers and take a spot on the practice squad, there’s really no benefit.
If Philadelphia did decide to move on, however, it also wouldn’t justify a mass hand-wringing by the Philly faithful. Like most of the NFL, running backs on the Eagles are only around to give the quarterback’s arm a rest every once and a while.