If Jay Ajayi winds up being the MVP of Super Bowl LII, that’s fine.
Adam Gase isn’t the kind to worry about people second-guessing his decisions. He’s as salty at 6-10 as he was at 10-6. He’s the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, to say it plainly, and you’re not.
While the story of Ajayi’s midseason trade from Miami to Philadelphia is being retold during Super Sunday’s all-day talkathon, however, here is one fact that will be consistently omitted.
Ajayi, the running back who believed he was underutilized and unappreciated by the Dolphins, isn’t getting the ball more now. He’s getting it less. If the results are better, it’s because the team he’s playing on is better, and everybody knew that when the trade was made.
The Eagles were 7-1 when the shocking transaction came on Halloween. They were averaging nearly 30 points per game. They were absolutely rolling on offense with Carson Wentz at quarterback, and kept right on rolling after he was lost for the season and replaced by Nick Foles.
The Dolphins, on the other hand, had just been skunked 40-0 by the Baltimore Ravens, their second shutout loss of the young season, and Gase apparently decided that no change, not even dumping the franchise’s first Pro Bowl running back since Ronnie Brown, would make his offense worse.
It seemed a desperate move at the time, an angry message sent to an underperforming team, and it surely didn’t turn the season around. Miami went 4-3 with Ajayi and 2-7 without him.
Let’s get back, though, to the notion that Ajayi was put on the shelf at Miami and didn’t get a chance to show what he could do. An even split of seven regular-season games with each team makes this one easy.
Ajayi averaged 19.7 carries per game with the Dolphins this season and had a couple days with 120-plus yards. With the Eagles, who also lean on LaGarrette Blount and rookie Corey Clement, Ajayi averaged 10 carries during the regular season and still hasn’t topped 100 yards in a single game, playoffs included.
As for his usefulness as a receiver, Ajayi was targeted just 20 times in Miami and 14 by Philadelphia during the regular season. Eagles coach Doug Pederson, a cagier play-caller than Gase has proven to be, did get a vital 32-yard gain on a screen pass to Ajayi in the playoff win over Atlanta, but even that took a little stubbornness. Pederson called the same play twice in a row and eventually got the blocking required to spring his guy.
So the 15-3 Eagles are good and the Ajayi trade made them better. The question is what, if anything, this did for Miami?
We’ll have to see what comes out of the fourth-round draft pick that Philadelphia gave up in the deal, but will you allow me to make a prediction here? It won’t be much.
Defensive tackle Paul Soliai is the only Dolphins’ fourth-rounder ever to play in the Pro Bowl. Some good players have come out of that round, guys like Lamar Miller and Troy Stradford and Randy McMichael and Larry Ball, but none that tore up the league.
Of course anything is possible. Ajayi was a fifth-rounder in the 2015 draft and that worked out, poutiness and all.
What the Dolphins are hoping now is that they’ll use the pick they got for Ajayi to find a player who contributes as much or more than he did to the team. Whether Gase was thinking about any of that when he made the deal, however, is debatable. Probably he just didn’t want the guy around anymore.
All of this brings us back to Super Sunday. Can’t say that Ajayi won’t be the game’s MVP, not with surprise names like Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith and Tampa Bay safety Dexter Jackson taking that award in the past. It just doesn’t feel like much of a threat when Ajayi has only two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving, in his time with the Eagles, and with New England favored to win again.
Truth is, the J-Train already got the gift of a lifetime when Gase sent him packing. If that was supposed to be punishment, every player in the NFL could use some of that.