Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers' Off-Season: #1. What About Andrew?

Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers' Off-Season: #1. What About Andrew?

This guy. After holding the Sixers hostage for the entirety of the 2012-13 season--maybe his fault, probably not totally--Bynum will continue to have the team in his grasp until at least July 1st, when free agency begins and Sam Hinkie and company can figure out whether or not the Funny Looking Kid With the Big Hair is gonna be a part of this team's future. In the meantime, every major decision this team has to make--from what to do about Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young, to who to draft or attempt to trade for, even to who is gonna be our coach next season--depends on whether or not Bynum sees his fro's shadow at the beginning of next month.

Andrew is not only the biggest wildcard of the Sixers' off-season, but the biggest unknown in all free agency. In his list of the 20 best available big man free agents, SI's Rob Mahoney decided not to even rank Bynum, saying "it’s impossible to know where he fits into the free agent landscape or to predict what an interested franchise might offer." Too true--there's little precedent on the open market for a proven, talented, still-pretty-young big man with degenerative knee issues who didn't play a single game the year before. He's the ultimate risk/reward gambit, a guy who could very feasibly be the steal of the off-season or a franchise-crippling disaster. I could see him signing an incentive-laden deal somewhere for three years and $40 million, and I could see him landing a five-year, $85 million deal from a team desperate for a shot at relevance. The only thing certain with Andrew is that he's going to cause some team a whole lot of regret this summer--possibly because they had the chance to sign him and didn't, and possibly because they had the chance to sign him and did.

Where do the Sixers fit in with all this? Well, as Hinkie stated in his introductory press conference, the Sixers do have two advantages when it comes to dealing with Bynum--they can negotiate with him before any other team, and they have more information about his current and ongoing health status than any other team. (They can also offer him a larger max contract than any other team, in the somewhat unlikely situation that it comes to that). But otherwise, they're just one of many suitors Bynum will likely have this off-season, a spate of partially or totally rebuilding teams with room for improvement in the middle, a list which may also include the Rockets, Mavericks, Cavaliers, and who knows who else. There's no reason to believe he'll be naturally inclined to lean towards signing with the Sixers, and the idea that he might give Philly a break out of some feeling that he "owes" us for not playing at all last year is, uh...well, we wouldn't bank on it, anyway.

Of course, there's probably some residual feeling among certain pockets of the Sixers faithful that we shouldn't even try to re-sign the controversial big man. Drew didn't exactly do a ton to ingratiate himself to the fanbase while riding the pine last year, and the more ridiculous stories and videos that leaked regarding Bynum over the course of the season--bowling, flamenco dancing, lawsuits involving the song "Currency" by Trina--the more a lot of fans wished the guy would just go away already. Even when healthy, Bynum has a reputation as an eccentric, to say the least, and there would be concerns about how his attitude would clash with the fanbase. Combine that with all the injury concerns, and news that TFLKWTBH had signed for big money elsewhere would probably be cheered by many in the City of Brotherly Love.

But as I've cautioned for the entire season, and will continue to do so now, be careful to cut bait too quickly with Andrew. There aren't a lot of quality big men available throughout the league, and arguably none who have Bynum's upside when healthy. The alternative to re-signing Bynum is to sign, trade for or draft a big who gives you at best, maybe 2/3 of what you get with a healthy Bynum--the scoring ability and fit but not the youth (Al Jefferson), the youth and the offensive talent but not the right fit (Josh Smith), or the youth and the upside but not the proven track record (Alex Len, Nerlens Noel or any number of other draft prospects). The Sixers have some good players, but they're still badly starved for elite talent, which you really need to be a factor in this league. To discard a player like Bynum, an All-NBA performer when right, just because he's a headache to deal with...it's pretty short-sighted.

So does that mean we should do what it takes to re-sign him, potentially at any cost? Well, not necessarily, and a lot of that depends on Hinkie's long-term plan for the team, and the Sixers' inside knowledge of his knee(s) situation. The fact that we haven't heard anything about Bynum or whatever progress he is or isn't making these last few months would lead me to believe he's not exactly right as rain, yet, but that doesn't mean he's dead to the world exactly either. More importantly, Hinkie might conclude that even with a healthy Bynum, the Sixers would be too far away from real contention, leading him to conclude that stripping the team down and rebuilding through the draft would be a likelier path to relevance than investing in a huge question mark like Andrew.

Personally, I'd say that if they can convince him to sign a short-term deal--something for just two or three years--then they should probably sign him, almost regardless of his health concerns or the possible price tag. If he's healthy, then maybe he, Jrue, Thad and (in a super-perfect world) Evan can grow together as a young core of a team that can be competitive in the east for years to follow. If not, then we're probably not going to be competitive for the next three years anyway, and we can just strip away loose parts, pile up losses and draft picks over the duration of his contract, and reset in the Summer of 2016. It's far from a foolproof strategy, but it might be the highest-percentage play, and that's probably what Hinkie is looking for this off-season.

But if I had to guess, I don't think that's what's going to happen. I think ultimately, Drew will want the years, and he'll get them from someone, but not from Hinkie, who'll just see the injury risk as too great for a four or five-year commitment. Bynum will officially leave Philadelphia without having played a single game for us, and without us getting any kind of assets in return to replace those (Iguodala, Harkless, Vucevic, future 1sts) that we gave up for him. That would be an incredibly sad state of affairs, obviously, but throwing bad money after good just to "get something out of the deal" would be a gross miscalculation that our Smart Guy GM is probably too smart to make.

Still, I'd like to see Bynum in a Sixers jersey next season if at all possible. C'mon, Andrew. Think about how much fun you'll have going to wrestling events with Spence and Evan. Plus, if you're not too traumatized to get back into rolling, Wynnewood Lanes is really the shit.

Jordan Matthews eager to return after missing first-ever game

Jordan Matthews eager to return after missing first-ever game

Jordan Matthews experienced something new on Sunday. Something he hoped he’d never have to experience. 

He was relegated to spectator.  

After never missing a game dating back to little league – through high school, college, and into his third season in the NFL – a right ankle injury kept him out of Sunday’s 32-14 loss in Cincinnati. 

“It’s definitely not fun,” Matthews said. “But it’s one of those things where I try not to dwell on it or be like ‘woe is me.’ There’s people going through way worse things in America than me missing a football game.”

The Eagles certainly could have used Matthews on Sunday. But they should get him back this weekend when the Birds host Washington for a 1 p.m. kickoff at the Linc. Along with Ryan Mathews and Dorial Green-Beckham, Matthews is listed as questionable. 

But he seems confident he’ll be good to go. 

“I think one game is definitely going to be enough for me,” Matthews said. “I’m definitely going to try to get back out there Sunday.” 

On Friday, during his first media availability in two weeks, Matthews said he chose to find the positives in his absence from Sunday’s game. Namely that Paul Turner and Trey Burton got some extra reps. 

Burton had five catches for 53 yards and Turner, in just his second NFL game, had six catches for 80 yards. 

“I try to see the positives,” Matthews said. “I liked seeing what PT was able to go out there and do. I was happy for him and his first live-game action, being able to go out there and make plays. I was also proud of Trey. His role got to expand with me being out and I think he played extremely well. He got to show what he can do and show how he can help this team. We just have to continue to utilize him moving forward. There’s always a positive in it. 

“We might not see it now, in a loss, but just think, some of those guys are going to be weapons for us in the future. And we saw they can go out and perform well without me in there, so I think it’s going to end up being a positive. But I definitely can’t wait to get back out there.”

Earlier in the week, head coach Doug Pederson said that even with Matthews’ returning, the team would still try to get Turner involved. Since the team sees Turner primarily as a slot receiver, that means Matthews could see time outside this weekend. There’s an even better chance when taking Green-Beckham’s injury into account. 

Before the season, Pederson talked a lot about wanting to play Matthews both inside and outside, but this season, Matthews has been in the slot for 74 percent of his snaps. Forty-four of his 57 catches have come from the slot too. 

On the play where Matthews hurt his ankle against the Packers, he was actually lined up outside and caught a back-shoulder throw from Wentz. 

“I was actually joking with Carson,” Matthews said, “I was like ‘bro, the reason I got hurt was because our back shoulder was better than Jordy [Nelson] and Aaron [Rodgers’]. So it didn’t mesh well with the universe. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way on Monday night for everybody to see, so the football gods took my ankle. So it’s all good. … That’s a joke.”

Matthews, despite being in his third season, is clearly one of the Eagles’ leaders on offense, especially in a very young receivers room. He’s looking forward to playing Washington after he thinks they were the first team that “actually came out and beat” them earlier in the year. 

With four games left in the regular season, the Eagles’ playoff chances are extremely slim. But Matthews thinks it’s important for the team to finish strong, especially with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. 

With Wentz, Matthews thinks the Eagles have already taken the first step toward building something special. 

“He’s the guy,” Matthews said. “He looks like the guy, he walks like the guy, he talks like it. And he goes out there and plays like it. It’s more we have to continue to ride around him and coach Pederson and be positive and go out there and produce.”

Eagles-Redskins scouting report: Secondary must stand up vs. Kirk Cousins

Eagles-Redskins scouting report: Secondary must stand up vs. Kirk Cousins

Eagles (5-7) vs. Redskins (6-5-1)
Sunday, 1 p.m. on Fox
Redskins favored by 2; over/under 47

When the Eagles went into FedEx Field in Week 6, they had an opportunity to leave 4-1 and in great position in the NFC East. Instead, what ensued was a stretch of three divisional losses in four weeks by a combined 18 points.

Two months later, the Eagles are out of the race at 5-7 while the 6-5-1 Redskins are still battling for an NFC wild-card spot. The 'Skins would be out of the playoffs if the season ended today — they currently hold the seventh spot in the NFC, behind the Bucs (7-5) but ahead of the Vikings and Packers (6-6).

This is obviously a crucial game for Washington, but the Eagles are just as desperate after losing by 11, 14 and 18 points the last three weeks. Don't underestimate the role desperation and a few weeks of embarrassment can have on a team's ability to bounce back. It was partly why I cautioned in these scouting reports the last two weeks not to count out either Green Bay or Cincinnati, teams that had more talent and stability than a few weeks of midseason losses indicated.

Cousins and Reed
The next time the Eagles limit Kirk Cousins will be the first time. In four games against them, he's completed 63 percent of his passes, averaged 336 yards, thrown 10 TDs and two interceptions and rushed for another score. Washington has averaged 31 points and won three of the four contests.

The Eagles' margin of error on defense is extremely small in this game. To win, they'll need a better effort against a Redskins' ground game that gashed them for 230 yards last time, they'll need to generate consistent pressure on Cousins and they'll need Jordan Reed to not be himself.

Reed, the NFC's most dangerous tight end, is questionable with a Grade 3 AC joint separation suffered on Thanksgiving. Reed was a warrior on Turkey Day, leaving the game in the second quarter, standing on the sideline in a sling, probably receiving a little (ahem) help at halftime, and then dominating in the second half in Dallas. Reed finished that game with 12 catches for 95 yards and two TDs, but was hurt badly enough to miss last week's game.

The Eagles were fortunate to avoid Reed in the season's earlier matchup. Fortunate because he destroyed them last December, catching nine passes for 129 yards and two TDs in a 14-point win. Washington uses its tight ends more than any offense in the league, and Reed is a mismatch even for an Eagles team that has allowed the fewest catches (31) and receiving yards (327) to tight ends. 

With Reed out in October, backup Vernon Davis burned the Eagles for two catches, 50 yards and a TD. But it sounds like Reed will play Sunday after telling reporters that his range of motion is back.

The issue in stopping Washington is the Eagles just don't have enough defensive backs to defend everything. It's why they need Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham to get consistent pressure and keep Cousins out of a rhythm. They haven't been able to do that. They had no sacks in Washington in Week 6 and have failed to sack Cousins in two of the last three meetings.

Without forcing Cousins to get off his spot and get the ball out quickly, the Eagles' secondary hasn't shown anything to inspire confidence they can stop DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder, Pierre Garcon, Reed and Davis at the same time.

To make matters worse, this is the first week Washington's All-Pro left tackle, Trent Williams, is back from a four-game substance abuse suspension. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams has allowed just three sacks in his last eight games against the Eagles.

Which Wentz will show?
Last week was Carson Wentz's worst game as an NFL quarterback. He missed wide-open throws, threw three interceptions and could have thrown more and barely exceeded 300 yards despite throwing the ball 60 times. 

He didn't look like the guy we saw the first four games of the season, and quite frankly he hasn't looked like a top-20 QB since October. 

The lack of weapons and occasionally poor protection are major reasons why, but Wentz isn't void of blame — he's simply missed some makeable throws.

Against Washington back on Oct. 16, Wentz was just 11 of 22 for 179 yards as the Eagles lost the time of possession battle. The best days belonged to Ryan Mathews (9 carries, 60 yards) and Jordan Matthews (three catches, 75 yards). Both are questionable heading into this one. 

Wentz didn't throw a single pass at Josh Norman in the first meeting. At times, Norman has followed the opposing team's top receiver, but don't expect him to do so this Sunday. Norman has lined up on the left side 64 percent of the time this season and in the slot just nine percent. 

Slot matchup
Matthews has run 73 percent of his routes from the slot and should draw third-round pick Kendall Fuller. As long as Matthews is sufficiently recovered from his ankle injury, this should be a good matchup for the Eagles. 

Fuller has been beaten repeatedly this season, allowing 42 catches (on 53 targets) for 542 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterbacks have a 123.9 rating against him, third-worst among all slot corners. (Malcolm Jenkins is actually worst in this category with a 137.9 QB rating allowed in the slot.)

Fuller has also struggled to wrap receivers up after the catch, allowing an NFL-high 213 yards after the catch. Picking up yards after a reception is something the Eagles have struggled to do all year.

Run game
The Eagles were shutting running backs down until they played the Redskins in October. Since-demoted RB Matt Jones rushed for 135 yards, current starter Rob Kelley rushed for 59, and both had a run of 45-plus yards.

Cox, Barwin and LB Nigel Bradham had awful games that afternoon against the run. It also didn't help that the Eagles were credited with 12 missed tackles. 

Run-stuffer Bennie Logan left that game early with a groin injury and missed the next three weeks. Since returning, however, Logan hasn't been himself, struggling to rush the passer and stop the run.

The Kerrigan factor
The Eagles always have trouble containing Redskins pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan, who had three sacks in the first meeting. 

Kerrigan has been a force in 2016 with 44 QB hurries, which is three more than Kahlil Mack and second-most among outside linebackers to Von Miller.

Kerrigan has nine sacks in 11 career games against the Eagles, and Washington is 5-1 when he has at least one against them.

Prediction
Close game, better performance from Wentz and an awakening in the run game, but not enough defensive talent to shut down what Washington will try to do deep with Jackson and Crowder, over the middle with Reed and short with Garcon.

Redskins 31, Eagles 27