RB Darren Sproles (Donald Miralle/Getty)
The Chargers are the using the time between now and training camp to lock up as many soon-to-be free agents as possible. A.J. Smith has placed a priority on re-upping players with one year left on their contracts, which is why Clinton Hart and David Binn recently received new deals. Team expert Michael Lombardo looks at another pending free agent who may be next in line.
Darren Sproles is entering the final year of his contract in 2008. He pulls up to the negotiating table at the best possible time, as he’s coming off a breakout year in '07.
Sproles enjoyed a monster season returning kicks last season, brining two back for scores. He set a career-high with a punt return average of 9.5 yards, good for No. 10 in the NFL amongst players with at least 15 returns. He was also one of only seven players in the NFL to top 1,000 yards in kickoff return yards (1,008).
While Sproles’ special-teams feats were impressive, his contributions on offense solidified his future with the team. Over the second half of the season, he logged more rushing attempts than Michael Turner (35-34). That’s due in large part to a monster game in Week 15, when he carried 25 times for 122 yards and two TDs.
Sproles also established himself as a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. He finished the regular season with a career-high 10 catches. He also authored one of the biggest plays of the season when he turned caught a screen pass against the Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional Round of the playoffs and turned it into a 56-yard touchdown.
“That play just came at the right time,” Sproles said. “We saw the backside safety had dropped down. It was off to the races after that.”
Sproles figures to get more opportunities to contribute on offense now that Turner has flown the coup for the Atlanta Falcons. Rookie Jacob Hester will replace Turner as the team’s power-running option, but Sproles figures to play a significant role as the third-down and change-of-pace back.
Bill Snyder, who coached Sproles at Kansas State, was always confident Sproles would carve out a prominent niche on offense.
“Darren Sproles can become a full-time back,” Snyder said. “I know you guys have a great back down there already with Tomlinson, and I don’t know whether or not Darren can beat him out for the starting job. If he had that opportunity, he would prove he can be a full-time back.”
Now that Sproles has established himself as a quadruple threat, the time has come for the Chargers to lock him in. He is one of the hardest working players on San Diego’s roster and – by extending is contract – the Chargers provide great incentive to all the other young players working to establish themselves with the team.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.