When the Philadelphia Eagles acquired 30-year-old running back doubled return man, Darren Sproles, from the New Orleans Saints back in March of 2014 for a fifth-round pick, they were likely expecting a couple of solid seasons before he hung up the cleats.

Instead, they got six seasons of dominance, including three Pro Bowls, the first Super Bowl in team history, and every last ounce of what he had left in him before he ultimately retired.

While Sproles was more defined by what he did before he joined the Eagles, his time in Philadelphia was integral to his NFL story. Let’s revisit what the borderline Hall-of-Famer did for them and what made him so special.

Sproles’ Prime Years With the Eagles

Sproles was a player who excelled at everything he did, making him an attractive addition to the Eagles. It wasn’t forced — he truly was a jack of all trades.

In 2014, the 5-foot-6 running back started out with a bang. He proved his ability to be good at pretty much everything that season, starting with his 329 rushing yards on just 57 carries, coming out to 5.8 yards per attempt. He was immensely dangerous after the catch, shown by his 40 receptions for 387 receiving yards for 9.7 yards per catch — nearly a first-down average for a running back is fairly good. And, finally, he led the NFL in punt return yards with 506 and a league-leading average of 13.0 per return.

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With 1,230 all-purpose yards, with just 15 of those coming on kick returns, as well as two touchdowns rushing, receiving, and on punt returns, Sproles earned the first Pro Bowl nod of his career. As a punt returner, he was also a second-team All-Pro for his efforts.

If that was it for his time with the Eagles, it would have been a fantastic trade. Even though his team failed to make the playoffs despite their 9-3 start to the season, he helped lead the Eagles to the third-best offense in the NFL.

But that’s not where it ended. Sproles was right back at it in 2015, having a less efficient but still great season for the Birds. His 317 rushing yards on 83 attempts for 3.8 yards per attempt and three touchdowns would be a relatively positive outcome for a 32-year-old running back if they stood alone, but they didn’t. He had 55 receptions for 388 yards to — literally — one-up his yardage from the season prior, but he was most importantly exceptional on punt returns with 446 total yards and two touchdowns. He was no longer a prominent figure on kick returns like he was early in his career, notching 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons, but it kept his longevity intact.

Sproles wasn’t as great of an all-around player in terms of efficiencies, but he was still a Pro Bowler with his league-leading punt return yardage. With back-to-back Pro Bowls when he probably should have been exiting his prime, this was no longer a coincidence. Perhaps a vast decline was coming, but the Eagles had already won the trade six ways to Sunday.

That “vast decline” wasn’t coming yet, however. In 2016, he had the best-rushing yardage he posted as an Eagle to that point, with 438 on 94 carries and an improved 4.7 yards per attempt for two touchdowns. Sproles also had his highest total receiving-wise, posting 427 yards on 52 receptions. He was less involved return-wise, with just 224 yards on 17 attempts, but it was ironically the best return average of his career with 13.2 yards per return.

And for the third season in a row, Sproles was a Pro Bowler. He hadn’t had a single accolade during his career, but that changed once he got to the Eagles. At 33, age was not stopping him.

Injuries Pile Up, But So Do Accolades

By 2017, injuries were stopping Sproles more than his declining physical abilities. He tore his ACL and broke his forearm in Week 3 against the New York Giants, sidelining the 34-year-old for the rest of the season. At that age, it might have been tempting to retire right then and there, considering how devastating those injuries are. But he didn’t.

Sproles unfortunately had to watch his team from the sidelines after his cataclysmic series of injuries, but perhaps the Eagles were motivated by his absence. The veteran watched his team cruise to a 13-3 record after starting 1-1 when he was fully healthy, and we all know the story from there. Backup quarterback Nick Foles whom he was teammates with back in 2014, led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl. And Sproles got his ring.

Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Sproles only played in six games in 2018 but made his impact felt. He only had 365 all-purpose yards, but a handful of those came on a fourth-down catch in the Eagles’ Week 16 clash with the Houston Texans, a do-or-die contest that Philadelphia needed to keep their playoff hopes alive. He had a 37-yard touchdown in the 32-30 win, looking like someone in their prime and not a 35-year-old coming off an ACL tear. And yes, the Eagles made the playoffs.

Rounding out his career with six contests in 2019, Sproles had 176 all-purpose yards, but it was clear that his age made it so his time in the NFL was slim. He even meant to come back in 2020 for his age-37 season but couldn’t due to injury. It probably wasn’t the way he wanted to go, but it was the right call at that age.

Getting to a more positive note, Sproles was a part of the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2010s — a prestigious honor he shared with fellow Eagle running back LeSean McCoy and left tackle Jason Peters.

Since he had joined the Eagles, Sproles was awarded this on top of three Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl. It took a bit, but he finally brought in the accolades to give himself a legitimate shot at winning a gold jacket. He might have to wait it out for that to happen, but it’s certainly possible.

Take his diligence from Sproles himself, “I owe so much to the game of football, and I gave it all I had in return. I gave it everything I had on every play. I rode it until the wheels fell off.”
And Eagles fans wouldn’t have it any other way. He was everything Philadelphia hopes an athlete can become. Sproles was born to be an Eagle.

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