In October 2016, the Dolphins abandoned their running-back-by-committee approach and handed the featured role to Jay Ajayi, who transformed into one of the league’s best backs, kick-started the offense, and helped Miami make the playoffs for the first time in eight years. This morning, Miami shipped Ajayi to the Eagles in exchange for a fourth-round pick in next year’s draft. Why? What’s in this for either team?
The Dolphins, who make no sense, reportedly had run out of patience with Ajayi. Per Pro Football Focus, Ajayi led the league last season in forced missed tackles (58) and yards after contact (3.46). This year, through seven games, he’s forced 23 missed tackles and averages 2.77 yards after contact. But the issues Miami had with him went much deeper. Here’s the Miami Herald:
The reason Ajayi was traded has to do with team culture and locker room chemistry and player buy-in.
And the Dolphins weren’t liking what Ajayi was doing on those fronts. Yes, he was missing holes and assignments on occasions, too. He was among the players coach Adam Gase was referencing when he said players don’t take work home with them.
“At the end of the day, guys have got to actually take this stuff home and study it,” Gase said a few days ago. “They’re not going to just learn it all in meetings. We’ve got to find guys that will actually put forth effort to actually remember this stuff and really, it starts with our best players.”
Also, per the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Gase said his running backs had to stop “trying to hit home runs” and instead hit the holes that were available—another public dig at Ajayi. As ESPN’s Bill Barnwell noted, that kind of big-play mindset was present in Ajayi’s game last year, when he tallied six runs of 25 yards or more but ranked 32nd in the league in success rate, a Football Outsiders metric that measures consistency. This year, Ajayi has no 25-yard runs and he’s averaging just 3.4 yards per attempt. He’d also been yanked of late on third downs for Damien Williams. The Dolphins will now turn to Kenyan Drake, with Williams continuing to sub in on third down.
Then there’s this:
What about the Eagles? They’re 7-1 and averaging 29 points per game, with quarterback Carson Wentz finding his groove now that he’s been given a full complement of weapons to work with. Philadelphia has also achieved something of a pass-run balance, with 48 percent of its offensive plays coming on the ground. The Eagles also lead the league in rush yards per game, and the power-running LeGarrette Blount has handled the bulk of the load: He’s taken 41 percent of the carries, with the slashing Wendell Smallwood spelling him. The addition of Ajayi gives Philly a third option (and another slasher); Eagles GM Howie Roseman told reporters Ajayi’s ability as a pass-catcher and a pass-blocker ought to come in handy. (The latter is an especially important attribute for a team that lost Jason Peters, one of the league’s best left tackles, to a season-ending knee injury.) That kind of well-rounded skillset should allow Ajayi to play on any down, if and when necessary. The always-aggressive Roseman saw an opportunity to add another playmaker, in a year in which the Eagles already appear to be built for a deep playoff run.