On Tuesday the Eagles completed a blockbuster trade to acquire 24-year old Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi. There is no denying Ajayi's talent, but what is in question is Ajayi's ability to fit in with very tight-knit Eagles locker room.
The Dolphin's decision to trade Ajayi comes after head coach Adam Gase challenged his locker room following poor play from the team, which included comments pointed directly at Ajayi.
"We've got to stop trying to hit home runs all the time," said Gase following a blowout loss to the Baltimore Ravens. "It's on the running back. Do your job, It's not that hard to do."
Gase claimed that his players were not putting in the work required to become a better team on and off the field. Gase publicly ripped his team, and Ajayi is considered to be one of the players that the criticism is pointed at:
“I don’t think it’s a retaining information thing. It’s we’re not putting the work in. That’s what it comes down to. If you can’t remember it you shouldn’t be in the NFL. At the end of the day, guys have got to actually take this stuff home and study it. 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.”
Gase is believed to have made an example of Ajayi to send a message to his locker room. Evidently it was the Dolphins who contacted the Eagles about moving the young star:
Interesting, from @EliotShorrParks: VP Howie Roseman intimated Eagles didn't pursue Ajayi. Dolphins made the initial contact with Philly.
— Hal Habib (@gunnerhal) October 31, 2017
It has also been reported that Ajayi grew frustrated with his number of touches even in victories. Ajayi will not receive the bulk of the work in Philadelphia right away and Howie Roseman has stated that LeGarrette Blount remains the team's starter following the trade. Head coach Doug Pederson echoed the same sentiment saying the Blount's workload will be no different than it currently is.
The feeling this season is that this is one of the closest locker rooms that the Eagles have had in a long time, so should the team be worried about Ajayi's past transgressions that seem to have ended his tenure in Miami?
One could look to the experiment with Dorial Green-Beckham last season, who also was criticized for not putting the work in and learning his assignments. In that trade the Eagles gave up guard Dennis Kelly, who went on to play some good football for the Tennessee Titans and Green-Beckham did not survive cuts this preseason and remains unsigned through week eight.
The worry is the same here, that the Eagles acquired a player with an insanely high ceiling but questions about his ability to reach that potential. The difference is that the Eagles got a player this time who has already produced and his exponentially closer to that ceiling than Green-Beckham ever was.
In Miami it is clear that Ajayi was in a tense situation, with some of the onus on him. Gase has been disgruntled with his locker room's character since arriving in Miami, which means that Ajayi has never experienced a room filled with strong leaders. For the first time in his career Ajayi will be presented with a locker room that is overflowing with strong leadership.
From Jason Peters to Malcolm Jenkins to Carson Wentz, there is a player ready to hold you accountable at every turn in the Nova Care Complex. Head coach Doug Pederson has been heralded for his ability to manage the personalities in the locker room and get them to co-exist.
Pederson has placed a premium on the attitudes inside of his locker room, saying prior to the trade deadline that he did not want to disrupt the chemistry in his locker room. Pederson spoke more on Ajayi's past reputation following the trade.
"I trust the guys on this team," Said Pederson in his Wednesday morning press conference. "I was in a situation where we brought in a player, and there were reports of character issues and all kinds of things. You know what? The guys rallied around him and there was not one issue whatsoever with this player, and we went on to win a Super Bowl. That's where it lies, it lies with the trust of the team."
One player has already answered Pederson's call. Cornerback Jalen Mills was on the Chris Carlin and Ike Reese show on 94.1 WIP Tuesday evening and had a message regarding Ajayi and his reported selfishness.
"As soon as you step on the field and you see the type of players we have, we're not selfish," said Mills. "We are a true brotherhood. When you see that, and you feel that…it makes you open yourself up to not be that selfish guy. Once he sees that, his guard's going to go down. He's going to see that we're a team and we're going to keep rolling."
Ajayi will learn quickly that he is a cog in the machine and not the key to it. The Eagles' have built perhaps the most well-oiled machine in the NFL from top to bottom, and they will not let their new running back ruin it. The team has made it clear that they are happy to have him, but the message has been sent loud and clear. The Eagles are bigger than one player and Ajayi will either have to accept it or learn it that hard way.