After the Lockout: Will Second Round of Moves Put Eagles Over the Top?

After the Lockout: Will Second Round of Moves Put Eagles Over the Top?

Whenever the NFL lockout ends, the
Eagles will be thrust into a bloated free agent market, while they
attempt to take care of unsettled situations for many of their own
players. In this two-part look, we predict what steps the front office
will take once it's time to get back to work.

See part one of what the Eagles could do once lockout ends here.

It was a busy first week for our hypothetical post-lockout Eagles, trading Kevin Kolb, extending DeSean Jackson, and signing two of the top unrestricted free agents. And if you thought all that sounded great, better news still to come: we don't think they're done. As you are about to see, the glut of free agents is going to create some unique opportunities for the Birds' decision makers, who with massive amounts of cap room and a roster that's almost ready to contend this season are all too eager to stay aggressive.

6. Eagles begin signing 2011 draft picks
After the initial storm ends, there should be a second wind of signings that has nothing to do with free agency. Not very long after a new CBA goes into effect, training camps will open, which it goes without saying is a critical period for the vast majority of rookies. In the Eagles' situation, where several of this year's picks are expected to start right away, it will be a serious priority.

In particular, Danny Watkins and Jaiquawn Jarrett are already penciled in at right guard and strong safety respectively. Watkins, often described as "NFL-ready," may not be setback too much should he miss a handful of those long summer days. Jarrett on the other hand may struggle to prepare for opening day without a full camp's instruction, possibly forcing Kurt Coleman into action. Fortunately, agents should have equally as much interest getting players on the field as quickly as possible, and the second round and later guys shouldn't miss much time. However, absent a rookie wage scale, it's difficult to gauge how the first round will shake out, which is often prone to multiple holdouts.

7. Stewart Bradley and Sav Rocca sign short term deals
As many franchises enter Phase Two of their off-season strategies—otherwise known as the, "Oh crap, we need to get our rookie quarterback into camp," stage—the second or third tier of free agents could take a backseat. In some cases where an outrageous offer is not on the way, it may benefit many of these players to sign one- or two-year contracts with their current club. I could see Stew Bradley falling into that gray area. In a normal off-season, he could've shopped around for a home where he would start automatically, but with his value limited after consecutive season ending injuries, it may make sense to come back and compete for a job where he's already familiar. If he has a good season, it could benefit him when he returns to the free agent marketplace a year or two down the road.

As for Rocca, it's not entirely clear what his plans are. His NFL experiment has been a mixed bag, and although he is coming off his best season yet, he'll be 38 in November and may have other plans. But even the Eagles wouldn't go without a punter, and since I can't see this being a high priority with everything else going on, their best bet may be to convince Rocca to come back for at least one more year.

8. Jason Babin rejoins on a short term deal
Babin's is an interesting case. He bounced around from place to place the last few years, including his '09 stint in Philly, after washing out of Houston a first round bust. Then suddenly the light came on last season, conveniently after he left town, and Babin went on to have a Pro Bowl season while notching 12.5 sacks for the Titans. A free agent once again, any other year somebody would be willing to take a shot and offer the defensive end a lucrative contract—if for no other reason because quality pass rushers are so hard to find. However, the swollen marketplace, his age, and the threat of his being a one-year wonder could push him out of the initial rush of signings.

Which could benefit the Eagles immensely. It's been well documented that Babin would be interested in returning, if for no other reason than to play for defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who he obviously thrived under last season. He also would see the team is gearing up to make a run, and might like to be a part of that. And similar to Bradley's situation, taking a one- or two-year deal would allow him to hit the market again quickly, at a time where he would have a greater opportunity to stand out. For the Eagles, this gives them another weapon at end while Brandon Graham recovers from his ACL tear, without a years or financial commitment that makes it hard for the second-year player to get back on the field once he's healthy.

9. Round out the roster with a veteran quarterback, safety
At this point, the Eagles need to prepare for the war of attrition that is an NFL season, and the only way to do that is through depth. They are very fortunate in that area at several positions, but every year you can identify a few spots that could be deeper, quarterback being the obvious one ahead. With Kolb out of the picture, that leaves Mike Kafka behind Michael Vick, and even if Kafka is ready to assume that role, they need an emergency option. Some undrafted free agent will certainly be brought into camp to eat up snaps, but if they're serious about going the distance, they'll need somebody established in the mix come September.

The list of free agent quarterbacks who have west coast offense experience isn't exactly distinguished, but there are a couple of names. After Matt Hasselbeck, who will probably wind up staying in Seattle, Seneca Wallace and Tarvaris Jackson jump out as two of the bigger names that fit the bill. As third quarterbacks, either would be adequate. Also, with Jarrett's situation tenuous, and the only other safety already on the roster who has more than one year NFL experience being the unreliable Marlin Jackson, it might make sense to add a veteran there as well.

10. Somehow acquire Albert Haynesworth
Okay, this... we have no idea how it will happen, and that's why it's last. We know the Redskins have no intention of keeping Haynesworth for another season, but they seem intent on getting some kind of return on another failed investment. Maybe they will eventually give up and release him, or maybe the Eagles will make a low ball offer that Washington accepts—perhaps straight up for Brodrick Bunkley?—because hey, it's something. All we can figure is the late-August arrival of Haynesworth to Philadelphia would be an exciting addition, and one that would potentially complete this team.

By far the biggest need on this team is to get some penetration from the interior of their defense. (Yes, a cornerback is a pretty serious need too, but in terms of where they need more of an impact player, defensive tackle is arguably more important.) Mike Patterson and Bunkley have been an above average tandem against the run for many years, with Antonio Dixon emerging as a strong contributor in that area as well, but they still aren't getting enough push in the faces of opposing q
uarterbacks. Haynesworth, who like Babin would be reunited with his old position coach, could solve that if he were motivated, and with Washburn riding him and the chance to stick it to the Skins, the Eagles seem like an ideal landing place.

----

We already know what you must be thinking. After all, we just predicted the frigging future! You mean to tell me the Eagles can or are even willing to do all of this? Sell. Because this is a lot.

Let's take the first challenge, whether they have room to take on four free agent contracts, and either re-sign or extend several of their own players. For starters, we have no idea what the salary cap will be, but with their current payroll estimated below $100 million, an educated guess would be they have somewhere around $40-45 million to play with this season. Because they've done such an excellent job staying out of cap prison, there's no question they could sign two big money free agents for the long haul, extend DJac, and still have the money to pay guys like Bradley and Babin over the short term. Haynesworth would conceivably be the tough pill to swallow here, but he has moderate base salaries of $5.4 and $7.2 mil over the next two seasons.

So then it may only be a matter of how far the Eagles are willing to go this season. Let's face it, this sounds like crazy talk, and many of you are probably thinking nobody in their right mind could possibly believe they are going to do all this. Maybe, maybe not; we are merely speculating, and this is just one of a million different scenarios that could unfold. If you think they won't be busy though, that this won't be an off-season full of surprises, our suggestion is you get your popcorn ready. As soon as the lockout ends, the NFL is gonna be fun again.

>> Check out part one here.

Photo of Jason Babin by Jim O'Connor-US Presswire. Photo of Albert Haynesworth by Mark J. Rebilas-US Presswire.

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

BOX SCORE

MIAMI -- For struggling pitchers, facing the Phillies has become like a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
 
Another rival pitcher searching for a cure got it Monday night when the Phillies suffered their 23rd loss in the last 29 games. This time it was Miami Marlins right-hander Edinson Volquez. He pitched six shutout innings and allowed just three hits in leading his club to a 4-1 win over the Phillies, who fell to 6-20 in May (see Instant Replay).

Volquez had gone 16 starts between wins.
 
"Every loss stings, I don’t care who's pitching," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're just in a rut. We've got to battle our way out of it. We have to show up tomorrow and get after it. We've got to get more than three or four hits in the game."
 
The Phillies had just four hits in the game. It was the fifth time in the last nine games that they've had four or fewer hits. Only one of the hits was for extra bases and one of the singles was an infield hit.
 
"Once again, we need more offense," Mackanin said.
 
Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson completed a difficult month of May by allowing six hits, including a two-run homer, and four runs over six innings.
 
Hellickson surrendered a two-run homer to Derek Dietrich with two outs in the sixth and that was basically the ball game. Dietrich hit a high changeup. Back in April, that pitch would have been at the knees. But Hellickson has misplaced the pitch command that he needs to succeed.
 
Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. In May, however, he went 1-3 with a 7.04 ERA in six starts. He was tagged for 35 hits, including nine homers, in 30 2/3 innings.
 
"Command in general," said Hellickson, describing his problem this month. "The biggest thing is not getting strike one, falling behind too much. I'm not getting the quick easy outs I was getting early in the season. I'm trying to get ahead, just missing."
 
Volquez signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the Marlins over the winter, but it wasn't until this game that he delivered his first win. He entered the game 0-7 with a 4.82 ERA in nine starts.
 
The win was Volquez's first since Aug. 25, 2016, when he was a member of the Kansas City Royals.

Volquez isn't the first struggling pitcher to shine against the Phils recently. Eight days earlier, Pittsburgh's Chad Kuhl took a 6.69 ERA into a start against the Phils and pitched five shutout innings. In the series against Colorado, the Phillies were dominated by a pair of rookies. In the only game they won (in a late rally), they were held to one run over six innings by Tyler Anderson, who had entered that game with an ERA of 6.00. On Friday night, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Tim Adleman pitched eight shutout innings against the Phils and gave up just one hit in the best start of his life. He had come into that game with an ERA of 6.19.
 
So Volquez had to be heartened when he saw the Phillies on the schedule.
 
They are the get-well team for pitchers in need of a pick-me-up.
 
It's actually kind of sad.
 
With Odubel Herrera locked in the throes of the worst slump of his life and on the bench and Maikel Franco mired in a 2 for 21 slump and hitting .209, Mackanin is trying to push things a little. He gave Aaron Altherr the green light to steal with one out and runners on the corners in a one-run game in the sixth inning. Altherr was out at second on a close play and Tommy Joseph struck out to leave the runner at third.
 
The Marlins salted the game away in the bottom of the inning on Dietrich's homer.
 
"With our offense, I have to take chances," Mackanin said. "I can't sit around and wait for three hits in a row. We haven't been doing that."
 
The Phils have the worst record in the majors at 17-32.
 
They have lost eight of their last 10 and scored just 15 runs in the losses.
 
"It sucks," catcher Cameron Rupp said. "There's really no other way to put it. It's frustrating. But the only people that are going to help us are ourselves. Nobody's going to go out there and play for us, swing the bats, pitch, play defense. That's on us and we have to do a better job all around.
 
"We all want to be successful and get the job done. We just haven't been hitting the ball. There's no other way to put it. But the good thing about baseball is we play every day so we turn the page and come back tomorrow and try to get it done."

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.