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Run, Eagles, Run: Philadelphia Is Getting the Absolute Most From its RB Investment

The Eagles are using just 2.56% of their cap on running backs this year — and it’s been worth every penny.

On their way to the Super Bowl last year, the Philadelphia Eagles ranked third in the NFL in points per game, third in rushing attempts, fifth in rushing yards, and first in rushing touchdowns. After three games in 2023, the Eagles’ ground game somehow looks even better than last year’s potent attack, despite them paying their running backs relative peanuts.

Instead of re-signing Miles Sanders, who rushed for 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, he inked a four-year, $25.4 million contract with Carolina that included $13 million guaranteed. Philadelphia replaced that production with Taylor Swift‘s non-biological cousin D’Andre — acquired on April 29 from Detroit with a 2023 seventh-round pick for a 2025 fourth-rounder and a 2023 seventh — and former Seattle ‘backer Rashaad Penny. Swift is in the final year of his four-year rookie contract paying him $1.77 million this year, while Penny signed a bargain basement one-year, $1.35 million free agent deal.

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While this doesn’t take into account the rushing abilities of quarterback Jalen Hurts, who ran for 760 yards and 13 TDs in 2022 and already has three scores this season, the Eagles are spending just $6 million total this season on running backs and fullbacks. That’s the 10th-lowest total in the league. After spending 2.34% of the salary cap on running backs last year, that number is up slightly to 2.56% this year.

For better or worse for the league and running back wages as a whole, Philadelphia successfully embodies the trend of not paying running backs, and it’s working better for them than any team in the NFL. With Hurts, Swift, Penny, and appropriately named returning rusher Kenneth Gainwell, the 3-0 Eagles lead the league in total rushing attempts, are second in total yards, fifth in yards per carry, and fourth in rush TDs. Philly — whether through conventional means or by tush push — has gained a first down on 32.7% of its rushing attempts. That’s second in the league to Washington despite the Eagles’ 113 total attempts to the Commanders’ 64.

The 25-11 win Monday over Tampa Bay — an NFL scorigami if you’re into that — featured Swift being on his vigilante shit after being cast off by the Lions back in April. The 35th overall pick of the 2020 draft out of Georgia, Swift carried 99 times for 542 yards last season for Detroit. That carries split with Jamaal Williams ranked 11th in rush yards and second in rushing TDs. Curiously, the Lions decided to keep neither player, with Williams leaving for a three-year, $12 million contract in New Orleans.

Swift carried just once for three yards in Philly’s opening day win over New England, before Gainwell missed week two against Minnesota with a rib injury. Handed a starting opportunity on Thursday Night Football, the 24-year-old Swift ran 28 times for 175 yards and a TD in a 34-28 shootout win, following that up for 16 totes and 130 yards against the Buccaneers. Gainwell returned to the lineup Monday but had just 14 attempts, earning Swift an equal split of the carries for now.

In three games, Swift already has nearly half the attempts given all of last season, rewarding the Eagles by ranking second in the NFL in rushing yards to Christian McCaffrey. Should it come as no surprise that the league’s three lone undefeated teams, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Miami, are also the top three teams in rush yards? None of those teams are spending more than 3.33% of the salary cap on running backs, with the Eagles utilizing ‘backing on a budget better than any team in the league as they once again contend for a Super Bowl.

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Media November 28, 2023

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