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April 23, 2023

Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, Austin Ekeler, Ezekiel Elliott, Kareem Hunt, or Leonard Fournette to the Eagles?

Eagles NFL
042323DalvinCook Matt Krohn/USA TODAY Sports

Vikings RB Dalvin Cook

Earlier this week, we reviewed 10 running back prospects who make sense for the Philadelphia Eagles on Days 2 and 3 of the 2023 NFL Draft if/when they do not select one in Round 1. But what if the draft comes and goes and the Birds don't select a back, at all? There are still plenty of big name veteran backs who are either available on the open market, or who soon could be. Let's review six big name backs, and categorize the Eagles' likelihood of acquiring them each.

I can see it

Dalvin Cook, Vikings (28 in August)

Cook is second in the NFL the last four years in yards from scrimmage, he's coming off a 1173-yard rushing season, and the Vikings might cut him to save $10.4 million because they can't find a trade partner for him. In case you need further proof how the NFL values running backs, well, there you go.

Player Yards from scrimmage, 2019-2022 
Derrick Henry, Titans 6914 
Dalvin Cook, Vikings 6423 
Nick Chubb, Browns 6186 
Josh Jacobs, Raiders 5892 
Alvin Kamara, Saints 5742 
Aaron Jones, Packers 5723 
Austin Ekeler, Chargers 5678 
Davante Adams, Packers/Raiders 5439 
Christian McCaffrey, Panthers/49ers 5431 
Stefon Diggs, Vikings/Bills 5378 

The Eagles were interested in selecting Cook in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but they were jumped by the Vikings, and ended up settling for an injured Sidney Jones. Cook has averaged 1256 rushing yards and 350 receiving yards per season over the last four seasons behind a sometimes shaky offensive line. If the Vikings were to release him, I would imagine that the Eagles would at least throw in a bid.

Only if the Eagles are willing to take a PR hit

Kareem Hunt, free agent (28 in August)

Hunt is a big back who is physical between the tackles, but who is also an accomplished receiver. 

In case you're unfamiliar with the Hunt timeline, he was a third-round pick of the Chiefs who immediately became a star player his rookie season in 2017, leading the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards. In Year 2, he was outstanding once again, racking up over 1,200 yards from scrimmage and 14 total TDs in 11 games before a video emerged of him assaulting a woman. He was quickly and rightfully released by the Chiefs, ending his 2018 season.

Hunt landed with the Browns in 2019 as a reclamation project, backing up another star running back in Nick Chubb. His opportunities have since been limited. In 2021, Hunt was productive in the opportunities he got, averaging a hair under five yards per carry, but his production took a sharp dive in 2022, when he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. 

Hunt's past will be an automatic "no" for some fans, which is perfectly understandable, but the on-field fit makes some sense and he can likely be had for something close to the veteran minimum.

Unlikely, but you can squint and find a fit

Derrick Henry, Titans (29)

It has been rumored for a while now that Henry is available for trade, which makes sense for the rebuilding Titans. A weird report (if that's what one would call it) emerged on Saturday that Henry will be traded to the Eagles, which was very quickly refuted by reporters covering the Titans, and the NFL nationally.

It's not hard to envision what prime Henry might look like in the Eagles' offense against light boxes alongside Jalen Hurts and behind the Eagles' offensive line. However, any team potentially acquiring Henry must be mindful of the extreme workload he has had the last four seasons, and signs of dropoff in play.

Over the last four seasons, Henry has had 1337 touches, or 334 per season, despite missing nine games in 2021.

 Derrick HenryGames Touches 
2019 15 321 
2020 16 397 
2021 237 
2022 16 382 
TOTAL 55 1337 

That would be 24.3 touches per game over a four-year stretch. In 2021, when Henry missed nine games, the Titans were downright reckless with his usage. He was averaging 29.6 touches per game, and was on pace for 504 touches on the season. That heavy usage has very likely affected Henry's production. From 2019-2020, he averaged 5.2 yards per carry. From 2021-2022, he averaged 4.4 yards per carry.

Any team that trades for Henry would be taking on his $10.5 million salary. They would have to be able to fit him in under the cap initially at $10.5 million, and could work out a restructure with him once he is aboard. 

$10.5 million is simply too much for a player who has had Henry's extreme workload the last four seasons. If he is released, which is very well where this could be headed, the Eagles could have interest in a lower number if Henry is interested in chasing a Super Bowl as more of a committee back.

Austin Ekeler, Chargers (28 in May)

Unhappy with his current contract, Ekeler and his representation reportedly sought permission from the Chargers to seek a trade in March. Ekeler has a $6,250,000 salary in 2023, and is scheduled to become a free agent in 2024.

It's not a picture-perfect fit, as Ekeler's game mirrors Kenny Gainwell's. Obviously, Ekeler is a significantly better player right now, but the Eagles like Gainwell, who is 4+ years younger and would perhaps become a redundant player with the addition of Ekeler. One reason an acquisition might make sense is that Nick Sirianni has often mentioned Ekeler in press conferences in a positive light from their time together with the Chargers.

There have been some recent suggestions that the Eagles should trade for Ekeler:

  1. CBS Sports suggested that the Eagles should give up the 30th overall pick for Ekeler and the 54th overall pick, which if you use the draft trade value chart Ekeler's value would be worth the 70th overall pick.
  2. A Chargers blog suggested Ekeler to the Eagles for a seventh-round pick in 2023 and one of the Eagles' second-round picks in 2024.

These people are high. Nobody is trading a high pick for a 28-year-old running back who is unhappy with his pay and only has one year left on his deal in a buyer's market. A trade for Ekeler might make sense at the deadline mid-season if Gainwell is hurt, the Chargers aren't looking like contenders, and the Eagles toss them, oh, saaayyy, a 4? But now? No.

Leonard Fournette, free agent (28)

Playing behind a very good Bucs offensive line in 2021, Fournette averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Behind a depleted line in 2022, he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. Fournette is big, at 6'0, 228, so you probably don't think of him as a pass-catching back, but he has made 142 (!) catches over the last two seasons. That is second among NFL running backs during that span:

Player RB receptions, 2021-2022 
Austin Ekeler, Chargers 177 
Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers 142 
Christian McCaffrey, Panthers/49ers 122 
Najee Harris, Steelers 115 
Aaron Jones, Packers 111 

It's perhaps worth noting that Fournette has been a solid performer for the Bucs in the playoffs, earning the nickname "Playoff Lenny." In six playoff games the last three seasons with the Bucs, Fournette carried 82 times for 362 yards (4.4 YPC) and 5 TDs. Still, 3.5 yards per carry in 2022 is, you know, bad. 


Ezekiel Elliott, free agent (28 in July)

He's a former Cowboy, and I think that what the Eagles have learned over time is that former Cowboys kind of wish they were still Cowboys and aren't really into their new surroundings. 

On top of that, Eagles players can view former Cowboys as outsiders, more so than former Giants or Commanders. Elliott's profile as a between-the-tackles power back in a committee actually makes sense on some level, and Elliott named the Eagles as a team he would like to play for, but ultimately the Eagles feel highly unlikely to want to add him to their locker room.

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