When he’s healthy and motivated, Jay Ajayi is one of the best running backs in football. The Eagles are going to be challenged to keep him happy this year.
Jay Ajayi will absolutely get more carries than any other Philadelphia Eagles running back this year if he stays healthy. But that may not be enough to keep him happy. Ajayi is making it very clear that he wants to get the lion’s share of carries as he enters the last year of his rookie contract.
That fact is going to put the Eagles in a tough spot. The best thing for their team is to make sure that Ajayi doesn’t get overworked during the regular season. Doug Pederson might elect to ride him hard during the playoffs, but he has to make it there first.
Ajayi isn’t going to want much rest. He’s already telling any reporter that will listen that he’s ready to be “the guy” again. He’s going to want a significant increase on the 208 carries he received last year from the Eagles and Dolphins.
On the surface, that doesn’t seem like much of a problem. Ajayi is built to carry the ball frequently. His 6-foot, 223-pound frame makes him really hard for opponents to hit with any real impact. Oftentimes it’s Ajayi who is delivering the blow at the point of impact. It’s not unreasonable to think he has the body to handle somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 carries.
The problem is that giving him such a heavy workload would expose the Eagles to a lot of negative outcomes. Ajayi could get hurt or simply be too worn down at the end of the season to push Philadelphia to another Super Bowl. The team has already taken precautions to make sure they don’t need to tax Ajayi.
The presence of Corey Clement and Darren Sproles on the roster gives Pederson and his staff solid backup options in the offensive backfield. Neither player is going to replace Ajayi as the team’s feature back, but both are talented enough to take away plenty of touches. Sproles, in particular, figures to get a lot of work on third down in place of Ajayi.
The presence of other talented running backs on the roster is going to naturally push down Ajayi’s regular season production. Expect that to be used against him in contract negotiations in the offseason. Philadelphia will probably want to re-sign him, but they’ll use his lack of carries, and subsequently yards, against him in negotiations.
Ajayi almost certainly understands this. That’s why he’s already making noise about wanting to be the guy. He understands that every yard he produces this season could help him get paid in 2019 and beyond.
At the very least, this is an issue to keep an eye on moving forward. If Ajayi doesn’t get the carries he wants early in the season it could drive a wedge between he and the organization. A conflict like that could prevent the Eagles from winning another Super Bowl.