Ray's Replies: Dawkins will have his day

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Ray's Replies: Dawkins will have his day

Q. You wrote a piece recently citing five former Eagles that you felt deserved to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame but weren’t. I don’t disagree with any of your choices, although I must admit Al Wistert was before my time. But I was shocked you did not include Brian Dawkins on your list. Don’t you think he deserves to be in Canton?

--Sully
NE Philadelphia

A. I should have made it clear that I was writing about former Eagles who were eligible for the Hall of Fame but were passed over. Brian Dawkins is not yet eligible. The rules are that a player must be retired for five full seasons before he is eligible for election. Dawkins won’t be eligible until 2017.

But in answer to your question, I absolutely believe Dawkins deserves to be in Canton. I feel he deserves to be voted in on the first ballot. Whether he is or not remains to be seen -- the voting can be very unpredictable -- but he deserves it. He was a great player.

I don’t have to make the argument to an Eagles fan. Anyone who watched Dawkins play for 13 seasons with the Eagles knows his impact. He could play the run, he could blitz as well as any linebacker (he had 21 sacks), he could cover a receiver one-on-one or in a zone, his mere presence could discourage an opponent from going across the middle.

Jim Johnson, the late defensive coordinator, referred to Dawkins as a Swiss Army knife because he could do so many things. The Eagles had some talented defensive players in those years -- Hugh Douglas, Jeremiah Trotter and Troy Vincent all went to the Pro Bowl -- but Dawkins was the key. Each opponent started its game planning by asking: “What do we do with No. 20?”

Dawkins changed the perception of safeties as second-tier players. He showed what a versatile and talented athlete can do -- and how many ways he can impact a game -- from the safety position. He was the prototype for the current wave of big-play safeties like Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu and Earl Thomas. It is fair to say Dawkins pioneered a whole new approach to defense.

There are only 10 safeties in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and three of those spent part of their careers at cornerback: Ronnie Lott, Mel Renfro and Rod Woodson. There hasn’t been a pure safety voted into the Hall of Fame since Paul Krause in 1998. So Dawkins is not a slam-dunk in the same way, say, Reggie White was. But Dawk was so good for so long I have to believe he will have his day in Canton.

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

The Phillies made a couple quiet additions as the winter meetings ended, signing veteran outfielder Daniel Nava and lefty reliever Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts.

Nava, 34 in February, is a left-handed hitter who can play the outfield corners and first base. He came up with the Red Sox and became a fan favorite in Boston in 2010 as a 27-year-old rookie. Some Phillies fans will remember him for hitting a grand slam off Joe Blanton in his first major-league plate appearance.

Nava had a few decent years in Boston, the best of which was 2013, when he had 536 plate appearances and hit .303/.385/.445 with 29 doubles, 12 homers and 66 RBIs. 

Nava's numbers and opportunities have dropped every year since. He was designated for assignment by Boston in 2015, latched on with the Rays, signed the next year with the Angels and was traded late in the season to the Royals.

Over the last two seasons, Nava has hit just .208, albeit with an on-base percentage 99 points higher because of his 30 walks and 10 hit by pitches.

Burnett, 34, has spent five of the last seven seasons in the Nationals' bullpen. He had a 2.85 ERA in 283 appearances from 2009-12 and parlayed that success into a two-year, $7.25 million contract with the Angels. However, he barely pitched in 2013 and 2014 for the Halos because of an elbow tear. He returned to the Nats last season and allowed two runs in 5⅔ innings.

Burnett, perhaps more so than Nava, has a chance to fill a role with the Phillies if he can stay healthy. He's shown he can get outs at the highest level, posting a 2.38 ERA in 2012 with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.14 ERA with 8.9 K/9 in 2010. That was a long time ago now, and Burnett's fastball has dipped from averaging 90-91 mph to 88.

According to Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith, Burnett will receive a $1.25 million salary if he makes the team and can earn another $1.75 million in incentives based on his number of appearances.

Burnett has an opt-out date of March 26, meaning he can become a free agent a week before the regular season begins if it looks to him like he isn't in the Phils' plans.

Nava's chances at cracking the opening-day roster seem longer because the Phillies are expected to make more depth signings between now and the start of camp. They've prioritized finding some offense in the corner outfield and that could come in the form of more minor-league deals, a guaranteed contract or trade. One potential fit I examined last week was Mariners outfielder Seth Smith, a hitter more proven than Nava (see story).

These minor-league deals were commonplace for Phillies general manager Matt Klentak last offseason, when the only free agent he signed to a major-league deal was reliever David Hernandez. 

Last season, three players who were signed to minor-league deals with invites to spring training made the team on opening day: outfielder Cedric Hunter, utilityman Emmanuel Burriss and reliever James Russell.

Others, such as former closers Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri and Andrew Bailey, failed to make the team out of camp. Bailey eventually earned a call-up; the other two didn't.

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixers point guard and Meek Mill collaborator Lou Williams is enjoying quite the run off the bench for the Lakers recently.

Over Los Angeles' last four games, Williams has posted totals of 40, 38, 24, and 35 points. 

The six-man is averaging 34.5 points per game over the stretch, and his 137 points are the most off the bench in a four-game span by any player since 1970-71, when stats were first recorded, per Elias Sports Bureau, via ESPN. Williams is now averaging 19.3 points this season, which is 4.4 more than his highest average with the Sixers.

Williams isn’t the only player who used to play for the Sixers that is playing well for the Lakers this year. Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who also comes off the bench, is averaging 13.3 points per game. Just a few weeks ago, Swaggy P stole a pass intended for Lou Williams, and then proceeded to hit a game winner against the Thunder. Swaggy P, however, is currently sidelined with a right calf strain, but is getting closer to a return.

"Lou Will" was also talked about last April during Kobe Bryant’s final NBA game, when he was beefing on Twitter with another former Philadelphia athlete, LeSean McCoy.