By any measure, running back and return specialist Darren Sproles has had one heck of a career.
The former Kansas State and Olathe North High star has spent 13 seasons in the NFL. And despite his size — 5 foot 6, 190 pounds — he has amassed an impressive 19,155 total yards, eighth-most all-time, and made approximately $42 million.
At age 34 (make that 35 once the 2018 season begins), no one would blame him for retiring after what Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson called a “double whammy” — a broken arm and torn ACL on the same play — during a Week 3 game last fall against the New York Giants.
But you don’t make it in the NFL as long as Sproles has without loving the game and taking great pride in what you do, and by the sound of it, there’s a very good chance Sproles will return for a 14th NFL season in 2018. His contract with Philadelphia expires after this season, but he’s not sure he’s done just yet.
“I’ve been miserable the whole football season, aside from the winning,” said Sproles, who has also starred in San Diego and New Orleans during his NFL career. “I want to be out there with (my teammates) ... I feel like I left a lot out there.
“I want to end on my own terms. I don’t want to end because of injury. I’m doing all this rehab for a reason, you know?”
For Sproles, there’s simply more to accomplish. He’s just 528 yards away from passing Raiders great Tim Brown for the fifth-most all-purpose yards of all time, and it’s worth noting that of the top six career all-purpose leaders, only one — Brian Mitchell, who ranks second behind Jerry Rice, with 23,330 yards — is not in the Hall of Fame.
“I’m almost No. 5,” Sproles said. “Hopefully I get a (Hall of Fame) case. Hopefully.”
It also hasn’t been lost on Sproles that he’s already surpassed his childhood idol, Barry Sanders, in all-purpose yards (Sanders is 10th, with 18,308).
“Just to be with all the greats, the people I grew up watching, the people I looked up to, that would mean a lot to me,” Sproles said.
In the meantime, Sproles has been spending four to five hours each day rehabbing from his injuries.
“If I feel good cutting, then I’ll come back,” Sproles said. “I’m close.”
He has also spent time mentoring a number of the Eagles’ younger running backs, specifically Kenjon Barner, who assumed Sproles’ punt-return duties after Sproles got hurt this season.
Shortly after the injury, Sproles said, he called Barner in the wee hours of the morning to let him know it was time to step up.
“Sproles has been huge for me since I’ve gotten here to Philadelphia,” said Barner, a fourth-year pro out of Oregon. “That dude has taught me so much about the game. How to be a true professional, how to be professional within the building, within the organization, what I need to do when I get home, recovery.
“That dude has been huge for me, man, especially this year. Having him there on that sideline with me to talk about what he saw, it’s great dialogue. I can pick his brain.”
Barner said he wouldn’t be in the NFL without Sproles’ guidance.
“Nevermind that man’s size, nevermind the amount of games he’s played in, it’s how he plays, it’s how he goes about his business, it’s how he carries himself — that’s what gets him his respect,” Barner said. “Each and every play, that dude goes out to be great.”
Barner hopes Sproles gets a legitimate look at the Hall of Fame one day.
“I don’t think there’s ever been an all-purpose back like Sproles, in my opinion,” Barner said. “It’s a no-brainer.”
For now, Barner understands the best thing he can do for his friend is contribute to helping the Eagles win the Super Bowl, one of the few honors Sproles hasn’t earned in his career.
“That would be the icing right there; that would be the icing on the cake,” Sproles said.
Win or lose on Sunday, it’s possible that Sproles will be looking for a new team next season. He said his hometown Chiefs have never pursued him in the past, probably because they already had players like Dante Hall and Dexter McCluster to return the ball. But perhaps that can change this offseason if he doesn’t return to Philadelphia.
“I come back (to KC) probably three times a year,” Sproles said. “My dad still lives there.”
If not in Philly, or in Kansas City, he hopes to keep his career going someplace — at least for one more season.
“I’ve got some unfinished business, man,” Sproles said.