Not Head Over Heels




GORDONVILLE — America’s voyeuristic pop culture world went into shock during the final episode of “The Bachelor” Monday.

Juan Pablo, who had all the bachelorettes smitten at hello and lost them all before goodbye, spurned Clare and picked her archrival, Nikki.

But he did not propose to Nikki. He kept the ring in his pocket, even though she had already professed her love for him.

After giving her the final rose, which she accepted (probably thinking the visibility will launch her modeling career), they did an on-camera smooch.

And he said, to the groans of the live studio audience and millions watching from their sofas, “I like you … I like you a lot.”

What else would you expect from a playboy ex-jock named Juan Pablo?

Love at first sight – particularly with the willowy Nikki – would come from the likes of guys named Byron.

A day later, when NFL free agency kicked off, I was feeling a bit like Juan Pablo myself.

The Eagles were decisive, busting some moves – signing a B-list safety in Malcolm Jenkins, special teamers Chris Maragos and Bryan “Don’t Call Me Norman” Braman and cornerback Nolan Carroll.

Like Nikki, they would likely want me – as a season ticket holder and perpetual naysayer –to fall in love.

But like Juan Pablo, I can’t fully commit.

I like it, though.

I like it a lot.

The book on Jenkins, a converted corner, is that his strength is a lack of obvious weaknesses.

That is certainly an upgrade after watching safeties in the post-Brian Dawkins era whose weakness was their lack of any discernable strength.

He is not Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward — or even Antoine Bethea or Donte Whitner – but signing Jenkins is better than sitting on their hands or worse (bringing back Nate Allen and/or Kurt Coleman, although Allen’s return is not a dead issue).

But as long as they add another safety early in the draft to compete with second-year man Earl Wolff for the role of Robin to Jenkins’ Batman, I’m good with it.

Maragos played behind one of the best safety tandems in the league in Seattle, so he might have some upside as a fourth safety (which is why bringing back Allen would be an unnecessary move). Braman adds wedge-buster size (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) and reckless abandon (the Yiddish word “mashugana” comes to mind) to the special teams, and Carroll, a physical corner with starts under his belt, could push for playing time this season and could be a starter by the following season (when cornerback Cary Williams’ contract balloons).

The Eagles also made a trade, sending a fifth-rounder to New Orleans for utility back Darren Sproles.

If you went to a factory and asked them to custom build the quintessential third-down back, the 10th-year man out of Kansas State would be it. Sproles is dangerous on draws and screens and returns both kicks and punts. In fact, his kickoff return in the playoffs last season sealed the Eagles’ fate, as it set up the game-winning field goal as time expired in a 26-24 Saints’ win.

Still, when the trade was announced, you would have thought it was Christmas in March around the Delaware Valley.

Seems like premature adulation.

Not to get all Juan Pablo on you, people, but I don’t love it.

I like it. I like it a lot.

But I’m not giving out the ring – in this case, Super Bowl rings.

Sproles, who will be 31 years old by training camp, never carried the ball more than 93 times in a season. And this coming season, 2014, will put him three beyond his peak season of 2011, when he set a benchmark for all-purpose yards with 2,696.

Despite his back-breaking return in the playoffs –more the combination of a feeble kickoff, subsequent coverage breakdown and an experienced return man taking advantage – Sproles is not as explosive in that area as he was in the past.

He has not taken a kickoff all the way to the house since 2008 or a punt since 2011. Last season, he had career lows in kick return (21.3) and punt return (6.7) average. That is almost identical to what the Eagles averaged last season – 21.4 on kick returns and 6.6 on punt returns.

And for around the same monetary investment, the Eagles could have gotten a similar player in his prime, Dexter McCluster, 25, who was the AFC’s Pro Bowl selection as a return specialist last season. The former Kansas City Chief, who was also a second-team All-Pro return man last year, signed for a fairly modest $12 million over four years. If the Eagles snapped him, it would have had the added benefit of sticking it to Reid.

Sproles comes from a good team, and good teams don’t let good players walk without good reason.

The fact that he was available should keep you from falling head over heels in love, like the Eagles brass apparently has already.

Despite throwing nickels around like manhole covers, they already gave him a two-year extension with guaranteed money.

The most troubling part of the deal is that Joe DiFannio, fueled by the irresponsible and Tweeter-happy media – from talk radio to television to print – is already concocting trades for backup running back Bryce Brown.

And this, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, really has my Irish up.

The Eagles committed highway robbery in 2012 when they drafted Brown in the seventh round. A blue-chip high school recruit, he had only played one full year of college ball at Tennessee (463 yards, three touchdowns as a true freshman) before transferring to be with his brother, Arthur (now with the Baltimore Ravens), at Kansas State and then leaving that program.

The pick of a 220-pound back with sub-4.4 speed was a stroke of genius, and his play as a rookie was one of the few bright lights in the darkness of Andy Reid’s final year of steering the ship aground.

He fumbled a lot, though.

This past season, with Kelly deploying a new offense and blocking scheme, Brown seemed tentative running, but hit his stride as the season wore on, scoring touchdowns in the final two regular-season games (including the game-winner against Dallas to seal the NFC East).

It was widely questioned – by many of the same closet GMs trying to ship him out of town now for a bag of deflated footballs – why Kelly didn’t ride Brown’s fresh legs a bit in the aforementioned playoff loss to Sproles & Co.

The Eagles have no reason to unload Brown – or fellow promising third-year back Chris Polk, for that matter. They were empty milk containers on trash night, and both are still playing on their rookie deals at bargain salaries (Polk was an undrafted free agent).

Comparing Sproles to Brown – or Polk – is not apples to apples. They don’t really play the same position.

Expect Sproles, still a prolific receiver, to be on the field a lot at the same time as LeSean McCoy, lining up a lot in the slot. Brown and Polk, who is not as talented as Brown but is a better blocker and a special-teams contributor, are there to spell McCoy from the tailback spot.

And consider the worst-case scenario, one the Eagles artfully dodged during last year’s typical charmed life under a first-year coach ‑- a substantive injury to McCoy.

When Reid stupidly left McCoy in the game late in a blowout loss against Washington in 2012, leading to a concussion, it gave Brown the chance to play – and run regularly, as opposed to a carry here or there – and he responded with big numbers (247 yards in his first two starts, along with four touchdowns … and three fumbles).

If McCoy went down this season, even for a game or two, would you entrust that workload to the 5-foot-6 Sproles?

The best chance they would have of still functioning, and frightening other teams, would be a combination of Brown (13-15 carries) and Polk (8-10 carries) with Sproles still lining up all over the field.

Just because Sproles is listed as a running back, like Brown and Polk, doesn’t mean he takes away one of their spots on the roster. That would only be if his arrival put them up against the cap, which it clearly doesn’t.

Just as it seemed obvious the Eagles could re-sign Jeremy Maclin and add him to the receiving corps without also bringing back Riley Cooper after a breakout season, they are not in either/or mode here.

They are not an import-export business, not when it comes to stockpiling offensive weapons.

Sproles’ greatest value to the team is that he fills a lot of needs and they have some roster flexibility, no longer having to carry as many receivers on their active roster as they have in the past.

Sproles almost becomes your de facto fourth or fifth receiver, depending on if one is drafted, while tight end Zach Ertz is also likely to line up outside or in the slot, creating mismatches with linebackers and slower safeties.

Sproles is a nice addition, another piece to the puzzle intended to end the championship drought.

It is not a cause for subsequent subtraction of an ascending player with age on their side.

And you have to like that.

You have to like it a lot.

The column originally appeared at

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