Darren Sproles. A fourth-round pick in 2005. Great returner. Blazing fast, agile runner. The one piece of the Chargers' package that was not properly accounted for last year when fans worried about Michael Turner leaving L.T.'s shadow.
His contract runs out at the end of the year. Will the Bolts re-sign the little menace after his crazy, dominating performance in the past two games? The Chargers have a lot to think about.
The Bolts have right tackle Jeromey Clary and veteran guard Mike Goff as the only other possible priority signings this upcoming offseason. If the line play continues to succeed and take the team a couple games further in the postseason, we can look forward to Clary getting re-signed to a decent deal and Goff leaving to likely anchor a team that will be rebuilding.
That leaves the 5'6" Sproles as the wild card. Do they sign the man to a four or five-year deal worth more than a backup and keep the roster of backs they currently have, or do they plan for the future and go ahead and draft a good RB or two in the first couple rounds of '09?
The Charger's depth chart, just like last year, is pretty stacked, and the need to draft in skill positions isn't as high as many other teams. With LT under-performing and all of a sudden being injury-riddled, it's a good possibility that Sproles will be signed. The Chargers will likely have plenty of money over the cap this offseason, as they did last year, so why not spend it on Sproles?
But this leads to more questions about L.T., who DOES have plenty in the tank, it's just that he has assumed this every-down back title, and Sproles has not gotten the chance to show what he can do beyond the occasional third down or passing situation.
The little guy, in his few chances, has shown brilliance as a play-maker in these situations and has shown more flash than even Michael Turner did during his time in the Powder Blues.
Does Norv Turner decide to give up on L.T., like Mike Holmgren (justifiably) did with his previous MVP Shaun Alexander? No. That would be ill-advised, we won't go any farther on that subject. But what if Darren Sproles instead decided to try free agency? Who would sign him? Well, honestly, just about everyone would want a piece of him, but let me pick out a few teams I see possibly signing him:
Indianapolis Colts- Yep. The Colts have to think about this move, simply because the guy rips them a new one every time he steps foot near Bob Sanders and crew. And someone needs to properly back up Joseph Addai. Dominic Rhodes should be left on the street.
- Cincinnati Bengals- They're terrible, I really shouldn't have to say more, but I shall. Cedric Benson is listed as a free agent next year, but due to his "good" performance during the three-game winning streak the Cats finished the season with, he will likely be signed. Chris Perry is not worth keeping and Kenny Watson is decent, but Sproles would give the Bengals the lightning fast offensive player they haven't had . . . ever.
Arizona Cardinals- Depending on whether they trade or release Edgerrin James, the Cardinals are looking at a bad situation with their RBs no matter what. J.J. Arrington could be re-signed after the season, but if Sproles is on the market, the Cards could be seriously interested in Sproles as Arrington's more effective replacement. If Edge is gone, Sproles could certainly compete with Tim Hightower for the feature back job, despite league "experts" stating it is Hightower's job to lose in James' absence.
- Detroit Lions- (Obvious?) I really didn't want to even speak about these guys. No one does. Surprisingly, though, the Lions' running game was more effective than two of the previous teams on this list. Fewer TDs but more yardage and a better average. Management seems to have found the back of the future in Kevin Smith, but his mediocre receiving skills and the total lack of real play-makers on offense besides Calvin Johnson (not a Pro-Bowler simply because he's a Lion, what's wrong with you people?) makes Sproles' pure speed and quickness sorely needed on the worst team ever to play in the NFL.
- St. Louis Rams- I see this as the least likely in the bunch, as I would expect Sproles to look for the possibility of a starting gig, but the Rams' offense is more suited to Sproles than the Lions, Cardinals, or Bengals. The Rams need someone with more speed than Steven Jackson (whom I have much respect for), that can catch out of the backfield, and a returner to give Dante Hall a spell, possibly to replace him in his waning years. Sproles fits the system well, and looks good in blue. Good enough for me.
I hope my view of Darren Sproles' future was given clearly and succinctly, with little error and a little humor. I also hope to see Sproles on the field for the Chargers next season, but if it's not in the cards, I wish him good luck in his seasons to come. Have fun watching the rest of Wild-Card Weekend, I know I will. Later!