Thursday was highlighted by a morning trade that saw the Eagles acquire a dynamic running back to pair with LeSean McCoy and the Panthers releasing a 13-year veteran former No. 74 overall pick that had become the face of the franchise and the heart and soul of the football team. Other than that, day three of the 2014 league year was steady, yet very manageable.
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Eagles Acquire Space Back Sproles
The league's No. 2 offense added another game-breaking talent to its arsenal. After holding Darren Sproles hostage for the better part of a week, the Saints finally made a decision and dealt him to the Eagles for a fifth-round draft pick. (As a result of a trade with the Patriots last season, Philadelphia had a fifth-rounder to spare.) Sproles had been growing antsy, but he couldn't have ended up in a better situation. Coach Chip Kelly has worked wonders with similar skill sets to Sproles in the past. There aren't many football coaches that possess the creativity of Kelly. Sproles will turn 31 this summer, but he's no ordinary "running back." This is a guy that has just 437 career carries under his belt through nine seasons. It's not like he's been battering and ramming into defensive linemen for years. Sproles still has top-notch speed, elusiveness, and jukes. He's a space back who does his damage in the open field, and Kelly can find that room for him. Sproles touched the ball 124 times for the Saints in 2013. McCoy is coming off a 366-touch season, while his backups -- Bryce Brown and Chris Polk -- combined for 98 touches. The Eagles don't want McCoy to get overworked, but there's no reason to believe his workload will be scaled back all that much. Sproles should hover in the 110-130 touch range and have RB2/FLEX appeal in fantasy, while McCoy remains a top-three pick.
Panthers Say Goodbye to Face of the Franchise
The Steve Smith-Panthers saga came to a close Thursday. Unable to find a trade partner, Carolina granted the soon-to-be 35-year-old Smith his release. Smith, a 13-year veteran and 74th overall pick in the 2001 draft, spent his entire career in Charlotte and had developed into the heart, soul, and leader of that football team for the better part of a decade. He's seen it all. Smith went through a 1-15 season as a rookie, posted his first career 1,000-yard season and made it to the Super Bowl as a third-year pro, experienced a dreadful 2-14 season in 2010, and then took Cam Newton under his wing and helped get the Panthers back on top with a division crown in 2013. Smith's skills have undoubtedly declined. He failed to post a single 100-yard game for just the second season of his career, which excludes his rookie campaign and an injury-ruined 2004, but his toughness and on-field ferocity will be missed. He was a reliable pair of hands in an offense that didn't have many of them. Outside of Greg Olsen, there's nothing left in Carolina. Brandon LaFell is a free agent. Ted Ginn signed with the Cardinals. And Domenik Hixon latched on with the Bears. Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt currently sit atop the receiver depth chart. We can't fault you if you don't know those names. Smith has a visit scheduled with the Ravens on Friday and reportedly plans to make other trips. Wherever he lands, Smith isn't a No. 1 receiver anymore. He's a chain mover with a strong pair of third-down mitts. Smitty said if his next team happens to play on the road at Carolina, "put your goggles on because there is going to be blood and guts everywhere.” That's the Steve Smith we know. You either love or hate the guy.
Nicks, Edelman Start to Get Some Play
After Golden Tate and Eric Decker set the receiver market into gear Wednesday, we saw more free-agent receivers seeing some action Thursday. Hakeem Nicks and Julian Edelman are easily the top two wideouts available. The Charlotte Observer reported Thursday morning that the Panthers had zeroed in on Nicks, and he had become the team's top option to replace Steve Smith. Later in the day, Profootballtalk reported the two sides had yet to talk. Two other suitors emerged for Nicks, however. The Colts are hosting the 26-year-old for a visit on Friday, while the 49ers are said to be sniffing around on Nicks. The better destination for Nicks to rehab his value would without question be Indianapolis. The Colts have Andrew Luck and figure to air it out more in 2014, while the 49ers are a run-first offense that can't feed more than two -- maybe three -- mouths in the passing game. With the Colts, Nicks could be a playmaker on the outside while Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton move around the formation. For what it's worth, Nicks mentioned the Colts as a team he'd prefer to sign with. Stay tuned.
Edelman is still trying to gauge his market. The soon-to-be 28-year-old is coming off a career-year in which he finally stayed healthy. And he did it with Tom Brady throwing him the football. Potentially interested teams are obviously aware of this, and it's led to a quiet first three days of free agency for Edelman. But with the free-agent crop already thin at receiver and all of the big names at other positions finding new homes, Edelman is starting to get some pokes. The Browns have been loosely linked to Edelman for a few weeks, and they're reportedly making a "strong push." However, with Cleveland signing restricted free agent Andrew Hawkins to an offer sheet that the Bengals aren't expected to match, it very well could take them out of the running for Edelman. Late Thursday, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Edelman will visit the 49ers on Friday. He'd give San Francisco a reliable slot option and movable chess piece who can also hold his own on the outside. If Edelman ended up with the Niners, it would obviously be a bit of a buzzkill for his fantasy stock. As mentioned above, OC Greg Roman likes to run the ball and play smash-mouth football. The Patriots are still in the hunt for Edelman. We'd ideally like to see Edelman back in New England.
Free Agency Quick Slants
There's a report from NFL Network's Ian Rapoport that says free agent CB Brandon Browner will sign a two-year deal with the Patriots. Browner's agent has vehemently denied that a deal is in place and "just wants to play hockey." If/once Browner signs on with the Patriots, he and Darrelle Revis would be an upgrade on Aqib Talib-Alfonzo Dennard from 2013. Dennard would become the No. 3 corner in 2014, while talented second-year CB Logan Ryan would be a stellar No. 4. … Vince Wilfork has reportedly requested his release from the Patriots. New England wants Wilfork to slash his $7.5 million salary, and the 32-year-old wants no part of it. Wilfork missed all but four games in 2013 with a torn Achilles', and the Patriots still made it to the AFC Championship game. They clearly feel Wilfork isn't worth the money he's currently due. … James Jones is drawing interest from the Jets, while the Panthers are "keeping tabs" on the free agent receiver. His market should begin to heat up soon. … Emmanuel Sanders visited the Bucs on Thursday, one day after meeting with the Jaguars. He'll fly to Kansas City to meet with the Chiefs on Friday. The Jets are also believed to have strong interest in the former Steeler. … Ben Tate's free-agent visit with the Browns was delayed one day due to weather. He arrived Thursday night in Cleveland and will hang out through Friday. Many expect the Browns to land Tate as their new No. 1 running back. He'd be a tremendous fit in OC Kyle Shanahan's offense, providing Tate can stay healthy. … The Texans re-signed TE Garrett Graham to a three-year deal. Ryan Griffin's dynasty owners shed some tears. Graham is as pedestrian as they come at the tight end position. He's undersized, lacks athleticism, and can't block a lick. Griffin should run circles around Graham this summer.