Didinger: Eagles up the ante with Vicks big deal

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Didinger: Eagles up the ante with Vicks big deal

The Eagles took one leap of faith when they signed Michael Vick in 2009. They took another one Monday when they signed him to the largest contract in franchise history -- six years and 100 million.

It seems so long ago now: the shock of his signing, the firestorm of criticism that came with it, the animal rights protestors outside the Nova Care Complex, the skepticism of those who felt he could never recapture his football skills. (I confess, I was among the skeptics).

Vick has left all that behind along with the Wildcat experiment, which never made much sense, and the perception he would never fit into the Eagles offense. I was one of those who said that, too. His career completion percentage was barely over 50 percent, hardly the stuff of the West Coast offense.

But Vick has shed all that. He has resurrected his career in a way that would have been unimaginable one year ago. This time last year he was Kevin Kolbs backup. Then along came Clay Matthews and, suddenly, everything changed. Vick got his chance to play and the Eagles world spun wildly in a new direction.

Now Kevin Kolb is in Arizona and Michael Vick is, well, everywhere. On the cover of ESPN the Magazine. In the pages of GQ. On Capitol Hill addressing Congress. On book shelves with his autobiography. He is the Eagles quarterback and at 31, he is bigger than he has ever been.

With his new contract, Vick is the third highest paid quarterback in the NFL -- but he is the highest paid quarterback without a Super Bowl ring. That is the great unanswered question: Can Vick do what Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the top dollar players at his position, have done? Can he lead a team to the championship?

Well find out because Vick is now under contract with the Eagles through 2016. That means if he is going to win a Super Bowl, he will win it here. One hundred million will buy you a lot of things, but it cant buy a Super Bowl ring. That you have to earn on the field.

It was a foregone conclusion the Eagles would sign Vick. They wanted to remove the franchise tag and work out something long term which would allow them to spread the money over more years and free up cap space to sign DeSean Jackson. We knew it was coming but when it was announced it still was a stunner. Even in a week of earthquakes and hurricanes, this contract made us say, Whoa.

The Eagles are taking a double risk. They are betting Vick can stay healthy and play at the same MVP level he played for most of last season. Thats hardly a sure thing. He has only played a full 16-game schedule once in his career. The team is also betting he wont self-destruct off the field the way he did after signing his last 100 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons.

Vick is older now and you would hope he learned enough during his 18-month prison stretch that he will make better decisions. With the exception of the birthday-party-gone-wrong last summer, Vick has stayed out of trouble since coming to Philadelphia. But now that he is back on top and the money is pouring in again, you wonder if he will change back into the same reckless diva that crashed and burned in Atlanta.

Of the two risks, the second is easier to control. It is simply a matter of choices. If Vick screws up and gets in trouble again, it is his own fault. The Eagles dont believe he will and if you are a fan, you hope they are right. But, really, its up to Vick himself.

The first part is the tricky one. Can Vick, at his age and with his style of play, avoid injury? And can he put his game back on the fast track it was on last season and keep it there? That is harder to predict because other teams have a lot to say about it and they arent in the business of insuring happy endings for Vick or anyone else.

They want to hit him, frustrate him and force him into mistakes. They want to turn him into the guy who fell short in Atlanta. They started to do that late last season with new defensive schemes and blitzes that Vick was slow to recognize. It caused him to throw seven interceptions in his last six starts after throwing none in the first seven games.

That is where the Eagles wanted to pick up with Vick this off-season. He made great strides working under Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg, but defenses had a book on Vick by the end of the season. He needed to spend this off-season with the coaches on solving that book, but he couldnt do it because of the lockout. That was a real setback.

So far Vicks preseason has been erratic. He looked sharp at training camp and in a cameo appearance against Baltimore, but he was awful in Pittsburgh and hit-and-miss against Cleveland. Still, he says he is confident and 100 million says the Eagles share that confidence. Theyd better be right.

The Eagles figure they won one huge bet on Vick already, now they are upping the ante. But they cant stop there. The next order of business should be plugging the leaks in the offensive line and making DeSean Jackson happy. That will make Vicks life easier and safer.

E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net

Flyers 2015-16 Redux: Defensemen - Part 1

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Flyers 2015-16 Redux: Defensemen - Part 1

Too many bodies and not enough room at the inn.

That pretty much describes the dilemma the Flyers will face this offseason in addressing their defense, which dramatically improved once Shayne Gostisbehere arrived in November.
 
If there is one thing the Calder Trophy finalist showed, it's you can't have enough quick, young feet with the ability to create offense on the back end.

Gostisbehere gave Flyers fans a glimpse into the defense's future — it's loaded with young talent. The line behind Gostisbehere is long — the deepest pool of young defensive talent in club history.
 
All eyes will be watching this fall to see whether Ivan Provorov can catapult himself ahead of Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin and Robert Hagg and win a roster spot, which means at least one blueliner must go from the 2015-16 roster.
 
“We're not going to change philosophically in terms of young players,” general manager Ron Hextall said April 27, the day after the players cleared out their dressing room stalls following the playoff loss the Washington Capitals.
 
“They have to come in and be better than someone else that's here and, if that happens, we proved last year that we'll make room in our roster for a young player that proves to us that he's ready to play at this level and make our team better.
 
“I'm not putting a player on the team so we can say we're a young team. They're going to come in here and earn a spot.”
 
Here is a deeper look back on this year’s defense:
 
Michael Del Zotto

Age: Turns 26 on June 25
Stats:52 GP; 4G, 9A, 13 PTS, -8, 23:24 MIN
Cap hit: $3.875 million.

Missed the final 28 games of the regular season following surgery to repair a broken left wrist that had been bothering him since being injured initially on Dec. 21 against St. Louis. No doubt the injury played a pivotal role in limiting Del Zotto's offensive effectiveness just one year after rejuvenating his career with the Flyers with 10 goals and 32 points and earning a two-year contract extension. Del Zotto's best years are still ahead of him. He hit his 400th career game in November. He seemed to get it this year, as to when not to join the attack. Just imagine a lineup with Del Zotto, Gostisbehere and Provorov. The 2016-17 season will see what kind of contract he can earn as an unrestricted free agent.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere

Age: 23
Stats: 64 GP, 17G, 29A, 46 PTS, +8, 20:05 MIN
Cap hit: $925,000.

What can you saw about the most dynamic and impactful Flyers rookie since Mikael Renberg, who was the franchise's last Calder finalist back in 1993-94. With bonuses, Gostisbehere earned over $1 million this season. If Mark Streit never gets injured, chances are we don't see Gostisbehere until late in the season. Yet, the way things turned out, he became a Calder finalist.

His offense from the back-end includes things fans have been yearning for: speed, agility, youth and a great shot, as well. He quickly began to quarterback the power play in Streit's absence. "Ghost" led all NHL rookie defensemen in points while setting a couple franchise records, including goals by a rookie blueliner (17).

His rawness on the defensive end was evident all the way through, yet that was expected. It's a fair tradeoff for what Gostisbehere produces at the other end. He had strong chemistry with defensive partner Andrew MacDonald. Offseason hip/abdominal surgery should not be a concern.

The sky's the limit with this kid.
 
Radko Gudas
Age: Turns 26 this June 5
Stats: 76 GP, 5G, 9A  14 PTS, -3; 19:50 MIN.
Cap hit: RFA who earned $991,666 last season.

In the beginning, there seemed to be no middle ground with Gudas. You either loved him or you hated him depending upon whether he threw a questionable hit and was faced a suspension or used his physical edge to the Flyers' advantage. By season's end, however, Gudas seemed to settle in as a consistent defensive presence.

Still, you worry about his questionable hits. His 304 hits were second in the NHL this season. He's the only defenseman the Flyers have who scares people on the back end.

His 157 blocks were second only to Nick Schultz's 174. Gudas is surprisingly mobile given his girth. He played his 200th career game in April and pent much of of the season paired first with Del Zotto and then Brandon Manning. He was effective in the playoffs against the Caps.
 
Andrew MacDonald
Age: Turns 30 on Sept. 7
Stats: 28GP, 1G, 7A, 8 PTS, +10; 20:07 MIN
Cap hit: $5 million

The Flyers didn't want to pay Matt Carle $5 million per year in 2012. The fans never appreciated him and when Carle left for Tampa as a free agent, it took a while for the organization to realize Carle gave them what they wanted on the back end, which is why the Flyers overpaid in trading for and then re-signing MacDonald.

The problem was MacDonald lacked on the defensive side and quickly got caught up in a numbers game, which resulted in him starting the season with Phantoms.

Del Zotto's injury allowed MacDonald's re-entry to the Flyers and he played very well as Gostisbehere's partner right into the playoffs. He was among the team's best players in postseason. MacDonald's time spent in the AHL also saw him improve his defensive play.

MacDonald is deserving on chance to remain a Flyer, but again, numbers and cap hit will again stand in his way.

NBA draft profile: Oklahoma G Buddy Hield

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NBA draft profile: Oklahoma G Buddy Hield

Buddy Hield

Position: Guard

Height: 6-foot-4

Weight: 214 pounds

School: Oklahoma

It seems rare these days for juniors considering the NBA draft to return to school. It's even more unique for those players to take a leap from likely draft picks to lottery locks.

But that's exactly what Buddy Hield did during his dazzling senior season at Oklahoma. The guard demanded the country's attention as he shot his way to 25.0 points per game (second in the nation) and helped the Sooners reach the Final Four as he racked up both the prestigious Wooden and Naismith Awards in the process.

While the scoring was certainly worthy of praise, Hield's efficiency was even more impressive. Despite attempting career highs in field goals (16.2), three-pointers (8.7) and free throws per game (5.4), the sharpshooter increased his percentages across the board. Hield connected on 50.1 percent from the field, 45.7 percent from three-point range and 88.0 percent from the line.

Even though Hield capped off his decorated career with a dud in Oklahoma's Final Four loss to eventual national champion Villanova (nine points on 4 of 12 shooting), he proved throughout the course of the season that his ceiling is higher than expected and that he belongs among the top tier of this year's draft class.

Strengths
All of those days practicing on a milk crate back in the Bahamas paid off because Hield can flat-out shoot the ball. His 147 threes led the nation last season and were tied for the most by any college player since some guy named Stephen Curry drained 162 in 2008.

But Hield isn't just a standstill shooter by any means. Yes, he can catch and shoot, but he also has the ability to fire off screens, pull up off the dribble and get to the rim at times.

Hield also showed he wasn't afraid to stick his nose into the trees by pulling down 5.7 rebounds per game a season ago and 4.9 a night during his time at Oklahoma.

Weaknesses
There is some concern about whether Hield will be able to get that silky shot off the way he wants to at the next level. His jumper does have a lower release point than usual, and at 6-foot-4, he won't be able to just rise up to shoot over smaller defenders in the NBA. That means to get open he will have to rely more on his ball handling, which could use some work and helped lend itself to Hield's 3.1 turnovers per game as a senior. Hield will also have to improve his defense, which has never been a strong suit.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
Seamlessly. In case you haven't heard, the Sixers can use all of the outside shooting help they can get. With so many big bodies doing their work down in the paint, Hield would be able to spot up for one open jumper after another.

However, with the two perceived transcendent talents at the top of the draft, the only way we would be able to see how Hield looks in a Sixers jersey would be if Bryan Colangelo pulls the trigger on a trade to acquire another high draft pick.

NBA comparison
Sure, Hield's game has some similarities to Curry and he received a co-sign from Kobe Bryant during the NCAA Tournament, but let's not get too carried away. A more accurate comparison would be Portland guard and Lehigh product C.J. McCollum. Like McCollum, Hield is a natural shooter who can score from just about anywhere on the floor. Hield also has the drive to get even better, just like McCollum, who walked away with the NBA's Most Improved Player Award this season.

Draft projection
Hield is an early- to mid-lottery selection. Look for him to go somewhere between the fifth and ninth picks.

Flyers legend Rick MacLeish dies at 66

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Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers legend Rick MacLeish dies at 66

Rick MacLeish, the smooth-skating centerman with a potent wrist shot whose goal lifted the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup, died late Monday night.

MacLeish was 66.
 
The center from Lindsay, Ontario, had been hospitalized in Philadelphia since mid-May while suffering from multiple medical issues, according to his daughter Brianna.

“With the passing of Rick MacLeish, the Flyers have lost one of their legends,” Flyers president Paul Holmgren said. “A good father, grandfather, teammate and friend, Rick will be missed by all who were fortunate to come and know him over the years.
 
“His happy and friendly demeanor was front and center everywhere Rick went. Today, our thoughts and prayers are with Rick’s wife, Charlene, his daughters, Danielle and Brianna along with his grandchildren. May he rest in peace.”
 
MacLeish was the Flyers’ first 50-goal scorer and second 100-point player behind Bobby Clarke, with both milestones achieved in 1972-73. A three-time NHL All-Star, he won two Cups with the Flyers.
 
He will forever be known for his power-play-tip goal in front of Boston goalie Gilles Gilbert in the first period of Game 6 of the 1974 Cup Final. Bernie Parent made the goal stand the remainder of the game.
 
MacLeish played 16 seasons, including 12 as a Flyer. He was an integral member of the Flyers’ 1974 and 1975 Cup squads.
 
MacLeish's 697 points are second only to Clarke (1,210) in club history among centers, and he ranks fourth in all-time points (697), fifth in assists (369) and sixth in goal-scoring (328).
 
His 741 games in orange and black are tied for sixth overall, and his 12 hat tricks are second only to Tim Kerr (17). MacLeish scored 54 goals with 53 assists (107 points) in 114 playoff games.
 
After leaving the Flyers, he also played in Pittsburgh, Hartford and Detroit, amassing 759 career points in 846 games.
 
Drafted fourth overall by Boston in 1970, MacLeish became a Flyer as part of three-team trade involving the Bruins and Toronto that same year.
 
Known for his effortless motion and blazing speed on the ice, MacLeish had a reputation as an unmotivated player early in his career until his breakout season in 1972-73.
 
“You can’t motivate someone who doesn’t want to play, and the Flyers didn’t keep you if you weren’t committed to winning,” teammate Gary Dornhoefer once said.
 
“It might have taken MacLeish a few years to mature as a hockey player, but he earned his keep as a member of the team.”
 
MacLeish was the Flyers’ first legitimate sniper, often wristing his deadly shot from the circles.
 
During the 1974 playoffs, he led the Flyers in both goals (13) and points (22) and finished second to Parent in the Conn Smythe Trophy voting for playoff MVP.
 
After his retirement, MacLeish dabbled in owning race horses and worked with the Flyers' alumni.
 
Among his last major public appearances with Cup teammates in Philadelphia was at the closing of the Spectrum party on Jan. 16, 2010, hosted by Flyers chairman Ed Snider, who died in April.