Eagle or Albatross: Should the Eagles Keep Miles Sanders?

By Ha Kung Wong

Twitter: @FBGarbageTime

Now that the Philadelphia Eagles have had time to mull over the wild Super Bowl LVII loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, have have big issues to consider in free agency.  We discussed generally on the podcast which of the unrestricted free agents the Eagle should prioritize, but one of the tougher ones to gage is running back Miles Sanders.

The Eagles drafted Sanders with a second-round draft pick in 2019.  Sanders was paid a base salary of $1.2 million in 2022, the final year on his rookie contract (four years, $5.35 million), and some have estimated he’ll draw upwards of $7 million per year as an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

The 25-year-old rebounded from a down 2021 season marred by injury by setting new personal bests in rush yards (1,269) and touchdowns (11), ranking fifth and fourth in the NFL, respectively, and getting his first Pro Bowl selection.

That being said, Sanders underperformed in the postseason, being either outplayed by Kenneth Gainwell or just a complete non-factor.  In the NFC Divisional Playoffs against the NY Giants, Sanders had 17 carries for 90 yards and no receptions, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.  Not a bad showing, but Gainwell outperformed him with 112 yards on just 12 carries and a TD, averaging 9.3 yards per carry, adding a reception for 9 yards.  In the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sanders had 11 carries for 42 yards for 3.8 yards per carry and 2 TDs plus a reception for 3 yards.  Gainwell again paced him in terms of productivity with 14 carries for 48 yards plus two receptions for 26 yards.  And finally, in Super Bowl LVII, Sanders had a great disappearing act with just 7 carries for a measly 16 yards for 2.3 yards per carry and no receptions.  Gainwell was again more efficient with his touches with 7 carries for 21 yards and 4 receptions for 20 yards.

Bottom line is that Gainwell was a perfectly serviceable back who remains under contract next year.  Boston Scott, who was a fine RB3 throughout the season, is also an unrestricted free agent but perhaps more importantly is good friends with Jalen Hurts. Hurts doesn’t have a fifth year option because he wasn’t a first round pick, so there is extra urgency to get a deal done to extend Hurts so the Eagles can focus on their other key free agents. And although Hurts is very likely to get a nice pay increase to keep him locked in as the Eagles franchise QB, keeping his friends around as an incentive isn’t necessarily a bad idea, particularly when it shouldn’t cost much to do so.

The Eagles also have to think about maintaining their defense with top defensive options Javon Hargrave, James Bradberry, Chauncey Garder-Johnson and Fletcher Cox all unrestricted free agents this offseason.  If the Eagles do what they should do and prioritize Hurts’ extension and maintaining the defense, there doesn’t seem likely to be enough money to go around to keep Sanders.

And honestly, although I have all the respect in the world for Sanders, there’s really no reason to pay up to keep him if it means sacrificing Hurts or any of the defense.  The Eagles will have Trey Sermon along with Gainwell under contract and could look to draft another RB now that they no longer have to spend any draft picks on QB as they thought they would at the beginning of the season.  The Eagles have 6 draft picks, 2 of which in the 1st round and 4 of which in the first 2 days of the draft, plenty of opportunity to grab a top tier RB prospect.  Also weighing against Sanders is his lack of usage in the pass game, with only 1 reception over his last 5 games.  By contrast, Gainwell had 10 receptions over that same stretch for 79 yards.

And this might be best for Sanders as well as there’s a decent market for RBs around the league and his Pro Bowl year is likely to net him close, if not more, than the estimated $7 million per year.  There’s already talk of new Broncos head coach Sean Peyton looking to sign Sanders to join Javonte Williams in a one-two punch similar to what he had in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram while in New Orleans.  And although the Eagles could spend money to keep Sanders, they’d struggle to meet the $7 million asking price while other teams, like the Broncos could pay much more and for a much longer term.

Chances are that Sanders has played his last game in Eagles green, but he should still take solace in getting plenty of green in his new contract elsewhere.