Roseman doesn't foresee extreme roster overhaul for Eagles

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Roseman doesn't foresee extreme roster overhaul for Eagles

INDIANAPOLIS -- A popular pastime when your football team goes 4-12, fires its head coach and his staff, hires a new vice president of player personnel and brings in a new head coach with a novel offensive system is to try and figure out just exactly how dramatically the roster will change.

Will the Eagles bring back 20 players from Andy Reid’s last team? Thirty? Six?

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, one of Eagles general manager Howie Roseman’s closest friends, replaced 42 out of 53 players on the Colts’ opening-day 2011 roster when he went to Indy, and the Colts went from a two-win, last-place team to an 11-win playoff team.

But Roseman said he doesn’t foresee the Eagles having that extreme a turnover this offseason.

“I don’t,” he said. “Obviously, the relationship with Ryan, we talked throughout when he took the job and what his mind set was and you understood it.

“He felt like that was needed for his particular team. There will be change here, but to talk about the overhaul at that level, that’s monumental.”

So how much change?

As Roseman, Chip Kelly and the Eagles’ scouting and coaching staffs descend on Indianapolis for the NFL’s scouting combine, it’s a pivotal question facing the Eagles.

Certainly there will be dramatic change, but Roseman said the Eagles won’t gut the roster just for the sake of gutting the roster or changing the proverbial “culture of the team.”

He doesn’t believe in that.

“You’re still a 4-12 team, so you’re talking about a situation where we want to compete every year and have a chance to be in the tournament and that gives you a chance to win a Super Bowl, and for us, that means make sure we have the best possible team around the schemes that we’re putting together,” Roseman said.

“Because we are changing our scheme and changing our coaching staff, there’s going to be change. There’s natural change even when you keep your coaching staff together, so there’s naturally going to be change, but there are players in place here that we think can be here for the foreseeable future.”

Who stays?

There aren’t many locks on defense. Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Brandon Boykin. Most likely Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Trent Cole, although figuring out how these linebackers and linemen project in a 3-4 will certainly be a crucial aspect of who the Eagles keep.

On offense, there’s some talent. LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, Bryce Brown, Brent Celek. Michael Vick stays, to everybody’s surprise. The Eagles return some talented offensive linemen, but how many can run what Kelly runs? That remains to be seen.

Add in Alex Henery, and, really, there aren’t more than a dozen absolute locks on the roster.

“It’s not about the number we bring back,” Roseman said. “It’s about bringing the right players back and guys who fit into the scheme and fit into the program and what we ask them to do, and what we’re doing defensively fits the guys that we’re bringing back.

“It’s so important that the players fit into the culture and the scheme of what you’re doing on both sides of the ball. That’s really important.

“There may be a really good player that’s out there, but he might not fit what we’re trying to do offensively or defensively and it may not make sense to put resources into that player, even though that’s a really good player, and I think that’s the important thing as we go through this offseason, that who may be a fit for us may not be a fit for other teams.”

Then there’s the notion of fixing the culture of the franchise, a vague concept that essentially means weeding out guys who aren’t committed to being Eagles. Cutting ties with guys who might be talented but don’t really mind losing and whose negative mentality can spread throughout a locker room, thereby creating a losing “culture.”

There was certainly an element of this in 2011, when the Eagles lost eight of their first 12 games, and last year, when they lost 11 of their last 12.

But Roseman said some of that can be eliminated simply with a coaching change.

“When you change coaches, you’re changing the culture,” he said. “When you bring a whole new coaching staff into the building and a coaching staff that does things differently than not only the large majority of National Football League but college football, he is a culture changer.

“We felt that when we interviewed [Kelly]. It wasn’t about just the scheme, and I think that was the biggest difference between what maybe the perception was and what we found out about him. It wasn’t just whether his offensive scheme would work, it was about him building a program and changing the culture, and so for us, that’s where it starts.

"We have a lot of core players who are here and under contract that the dynamic with them will change because they’re used in a different way, they talk to different coaches, so I think when you’re around the building and around the coaching staff, you see that it’s different,” Roseman said.

“Obviously, we had a tremendous amount of success with Coach Reid and a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Reid and his coaching staff, but when you do bring in a new coaching staff, it is a culture change.”

The case for the Sixers going nuts in free agency

The case for the Sixers going nuts in free agency

If they have their way, the Philadelphia 76ers are going to spend an absolutely absurd amount of money this off-season. 

Watching Twitter this post-draft week, the Sixers have been a reported suitor of enough free agent-wings to host their own reality show. Every couple hours, it's been someone new: Harrison BarnesDion WaitersAllen CrabbeCourtney LeeGeorge Lynch. Where in prior summers, we'd need to solicit a report from Sam Hinkie's cell phone company to prove that he had, in fact, made a call at some point in the summer, now the Colangelos are basically leaving out their wishlists with milk and cookies for the NBA's top rumormongers. It'll take some getting used to.

Needless to remind, it's been a Furkan minute since the last (and really only) notable free-agency contract handed out by the Hinkie-era Sixers. That seems certain to change: The Sixers aren't going to get every last chocolate microscope they want rubber-stamped, but they appear determined to get at least one, if for no other reason to prove that they can and will. Sounds sporting, but there's a dilemma of sorts at the heart of this pursuit: 

1. All of these players are going to be very expensive.
2. None of them are actually that good.

Let's consider these players by the standard of Player Efficiency Rating, one of the closest things we have to a useful all-in-one stat for player-evaluation in the NBA. Not a perfect statistic by any means, and one that tends to be particularly unkind to wings who don't offer much in the ways of rebounding, playmaking, or getting to the free-throw line. But generally speaking, a star-level PER in the NBA is around 20, whereas an average player is around 15. Any idea how many seasons of 15.0-or-higher PER those above players have posted, combined? 

Ze-ro. 

That's right: Not a one of 'em have ever even managed a league-average PER. They've also never made an All-Star team, averaged 15 points a game, or threatened to lead the league in any meaningful statistical category besides Games Played or Turnover Percentage. (Barnes did win a championship ring in '15 with the Golden State Warriors, but after his 5-32 shooting slump to end this year's finals, he may have been asked to give it back.) These are not stars. Calling them character actors might be generous. 

Yet in this upcoming offseason, some (if not all) of them will be paid sums of money that would make Joe Johnson blush. The reason for this is simple: There's too much money to go around, and not enough players to give it to. The salary cap spike — forecasted on the NBA horizon for as long as a Game of Thrones winter — that hits this off-season will raise the cap from $70 million to somewhere in the 90s, which means a team like the Sixers (whose most expensive player is barely making 1/15th of that amount) can basically afford to hand out fat multi-year contracts this summer like tips at a casino. 

Optimally, they'd give one of those to Kevin Durant, the former MVP still in his prime hitting unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career. But there's only one Durant, he ain't coming to a ten-win team, and it's a steep drop-off in the caliber of available players after him. A lot of those dudes are big men, and tempting as it may be to sign Dwight Howard to be our emergency center in case Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel get in foul trouble, it's probably not the best expenditure of resources. Not nearly enough of those dudes are point guards, which the Sixers desperately need, but which — unless Mike Conley is a much bigger Hall & Oates fan than we realize — they'll probably have better luck filling through the draft or in trade. 

So that leaves the non-Durant wings. There's a decent amount of those, and the Sixers could certainly use a couple, but so could at least half the other NBA teams, a lot of whom can offer markets, teammates, and cultures that currently hold a lot more sway league-wide than our Ballers. To get one or more of them, the Sixers will have to offer the one thing they do have in superior supply to the rest of the league, and that's money. So when a player who you'd expect to sign a four-year, $30-40-million contract a couple offseasons ago gets offered a deal by the Colangelos more in the range of four years, $70-$80 million... don't be surprised. 

This, of course, seems like a bad idea. Why would you pay $70-$80 million for a player that's not even that good? It seems intuitively, overwhelmingly stupid. And certainly, it's not without its stupidity. But it's not without its logic, either. 

The most important distinction to make here is between a player that isn't that good, and a player that hasn't been that good. With the exception of the 30-year-old Lee (and, uh, Lynch), all the players mentioned above are still very early in their developmental curves, each 25 and under — Crabbe only has one season of regular rotation minutes under his belt. When you shell out big money for a player at the end of their first contract, you do so in the hopes of purchasing their breakout years, a smart bet that the Raptors made with DeMar DeRozan, the Grizzlies made with Mike Conley, and the Sixers made with Jrue Holiday — all contracts that were controversial at the time, but look like tremendous bargains today, as the players involved blossomed into All-Star-caliber talents. 

Which leads to the next-most-important point to consider here: $15-20 million a year in 2016 will not look the same as $15-20 million a year in 2019. As high as the cap is this year, it's reported to climb even higher next season, to over triple digits: It may recede some from there, but yeah, big contracts are gonna get even bigger in the days to come. What seems to be an impossibly bloated contract now may look like a steal by the time it's over — especially since the Sixers are targeting younger players, whose production is less likely to fall off a cliff and represent a total sunk cost, as is a risk with older players. 

Then, there's the significantly less quantifiable factor of simply needing guys to get other guys. Marquee free agents and trade targets may eventually love Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but they're not going to want to come to a team with a bunch of green big men and no reliable perimeter players. Dion Waiters and Harrison Barnes may not tip the balances there in any meaningful way, but they're veteran players with good pedigrees and recognizable names. You need at least a couple of those guys before someone like Durant will even think of coming to the table with you. (Not to mention that there's a salary floor that the Sixers, at $33 million in contracts for next year not counting this year's draft picks, are about $50 million below, though the actual importance of hitting that floor is overstated and in fact relatively minimal.) 

Finally, there's the matter that the NBA is all contextual, and a lot of what these wings provide doesn't necessarily show up in a stat like PER. Even if their only NBA-level skills are to sink open three-pointers and not give up any at the other end — the prototypical 3-and-D wing — that can prove invaluable for a team in terms of offensive spacing and defensive scheming. A player like Crabbe or Lee may never become a star, but he can allow the stars your team does have to reach something close to their full potential. That's nearly as important. 

Which isn't to say that all these swingmen the Sixers are thirsting for are of equal merit. Personally, of the bunch mentioned, I'd be most excited for Barnes (who's never really shown what he can do as a first or second option) and Crabbe (who offers decent consistency and seems like he can only get better), while I'd only sign Lee if the contract was kept short, and only Waiters if Brett Brown just really needed the belly laughs. I'd also like to see the Sixers at least try for the Magic's Evan Fournier and the Hawks' Kent Bazemore, who are a little further along in their games than a couple of those dudes, but who might — somehow — already be out of the Sixers' league. 

And of course, this also isn't to say that the Sixers in any way need to spend big this off-season. They'd probably be just as well off going the Hinkie route, waiting to land a disgruntled superstar or be a third team and/or dumping ground for interesting trades, maintaining flexibility for future extensions (and free-agent signings that actually, definitely matter), and letting the guys they have grow together at their own pace. But there is justification to doing it this way, and since the Colangelos are tripping over each other to get one of these deals done, it's best made peace with now. We're gonna pay someone a lot more money than it seems like they deserve, and it's probably going to be fine.

Next in line? For Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin's promotion an 'extra boost'

Next in line? For Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin's promotion an 'extra boost'

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The starting rotation at Triple A Lehigh Valley looks a lot different than it did just five weeks ago. For nearly two months, the IronPigs' staff was led by Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson and Mark Appel, a trio of right-handers who spent time in big-league spring training and looked close to debuting in The Show.

Eflin graduated to the majors, where he's made four starts. Appel is out for the season after undergoing elbow surgery Wednesday. Thompson is the last one left.

But if Thompson, one of five prospects acquired from the Rangers in last summer's Cole Hamels trade, keeps pitching the way he has lately, his promotion could be next.

"I was extremely happy for him," Thompson said Wednesday when asked if Eflin's call-up made him realize he might be next in line. 

"For me, seeing the Phillies are actually — especially this early in the season — willing to go get a young guy that's not on the 40-man roster and give him a chance ... not that I need any more incentive to go out and work harder, but seeing that, it gives you a little extra boost."

Thompson has needed no extra boost lately. He's had a terrific month of June, going 3-0 with a 0.76 ERA and .211 opponents' batting average. He's allowed three earned runs in his last 35⅓ innings to lower his season ERA from 4.23 to 2.88.

Like teammate Nick Williams, also a part of the Hamels trade, Thompson got off to a slow start this season after dominating last summer at Double A Reading. Thompson blamed it on poor mechanics that led to misses over the plate.

"I was putting my body into bad positions to try to make pitches, and against some of these veteran, experienced hitters, they were taking advantage of 2-0, poorly located fastballs or hanging breaking balls late in counts," Thompson said. "That doesn't play here and that definitely doesn't play in Philly either."

Now, Thompson is locked in and locating all of his pitches, mostly utilizing his sinker and slider. Both look like major-league ready pitches. Thompson also has a four-seam fastball and curveball, but it's the sinker-slider combo that has generated so many groundballs lately.

Thompson has induced 49 groundballs in last four starts. That's the pitcher he's become. In 22 starts in the Phillies' system, Thompson's groundball rate is just a hair under 50 percent. 

It's natural when looking at Thompson's stats to wonder where the strikeouts have gone. When the Phillies acquired Thompson, he had 330 strikeouts in 329 minor-league innings. But in 135⅔ innings with Reading and Lehigh Valley, he's struck out just 97 batters, or 6.4 per nine innings.

"More than anything, I think I'm executing some pitches early in counts, which might be taking away from the strikeouts a little bit but I'm getting more double plays, more groundball heavy, which is good," Thompson said. "I think as the season goes on, hopefully with a little bit better execution later in counts the strikeouts will come. But I'm extremely happy with how many groundballs I'm getting.

"Very rarely do I like go out and try to get a groundball. Usually you're talking about generating weak contact, not necessarily a groundball. I think it's just me being good mechanically and being able to locate down in the zone."

Thompson says he can still alter his approach in clear strikeout situations. That's important, and it's something the Phillies wanted to see Eflin improve upon in the minors this season after Eflin struck out just 4.7 batters per nine innings last year. 

"Sometimes in strikeout counts, maybe go four-seam heavy and the velocity is gonna go up a little bit," Thompson said. "I think the mindset (in strikeout situations) is just be a little bit more aggressive with all your pitches, every pitch you're trying to make a swing-and-miss pitch or really trying to dot a hard four-seamer away. So the mindset kind of changes a little bit, and I think that spills into the velocity and everything goes up with it."

Thompson was billed as a hard thrower when the Phillies acquired him from the Rangers. He was billed as a hard thrower when the Rangers acquired him from the Tigers the year before for reliever Joakim Soria. But these days, you'll see more 90-92 mph pitches from Thompson than 94. 

Throwing 90 to 92 might not get Thompson national attention or praise from outlets that rank minor-leaguers, but it's made him more effective. You can't argue with results. You can't argue with the 2.52 ERA Thompson has since joining the Phils' system.

"One of the big things is, (earlier in my career), I tried to go out and throw harder, faster, better, stronger," Thompson said. "But I think my game is more suited to every now and then easing off the gas pedal and let the ball sink, use my breaking ball. I got too wrapped up in trying to be a big velocity guy."

Nick Williams on benchings, hot streak, success vs. lefties and walks

Nick Williams on benchings, hot streak, success vs. lefties and walks

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — With how much interest there is in the Phillies' minor-league system these days, every multi-hit game, every scoreless pitching performance, every transgression by a top prospect is exaggerated.

Triple A outfielder Nick Williams was benched again this week, the third time in the last two months Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage sat him down as a disciplinary measure. The last two times have been for a lack of hustle — two weeks ago Williams didn't run out a fly ball that was dropped, and earlier this week he didn't bust it down the line on a grounder back to the pitcher.

It doesn't matter what anyone who covers or watches the Phillies thinks — clearly, Brundage and the organization as a whole feels it's necessary to teach Williams these lessons now so they don't pop up again in the future. Williams said the right things when he was benched in mid-June and said them again this week. On Wednesday, he returned to the IronPigs' lineup and went 2 for 4 with two RBIs, a welcome sight for his teammates because Williams has played a significant role in Lehigh Valley's June surge.

"It's just been a hard learning experience, and it doesn't feel good at all," Williams said Wednesday. "It's frustrating missing games and not helping your teammates win, that's the big thing."

A benefit of being at Triple A is sharing a clubhouse with veterans who have been through some of these issues. There are nearly as many veterans in the IronPigs' clubhouse as there are in the Phillies' clubhouse. Williams has leaned on Emmanuel Burriss in particular during these trying times.

"He's had experience with being benched, and he played with the Giants when they won the World Series," Williams said. "[The veterans] help me to understand, open my eyes a little bit. Sometimes you just push it behind, think something is foolish, but other people, they could see it differently."

Hustle and discipline aside, Williams is performing for the IronPigs. His bat has heated up with the weather, and after a slow start his numbers are aligning with his career averages.

Since May 26, Williams has hit .316 with a .904 OPS in 28 games. He has 11 doubles, two triples, three home runs and 17 RBIs in 127 plate appearances. He was hitting .262/.289/.409 through May 25 but is now up to .285/.329/.460. His 28 extra-base hits are tied with Taylor Featherston for the LHV lead.

"Well obviously I'm not playing in 40- or 30-degree weather," Williams said when asked what changed for him. "(In the Rangers' system) I played in Hickory (North Carolina), Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) and Frisco (Texas). This is my first experience ever with cold weather. I've seen snow one time my whole life and that was when I was seven. Had a couple occasions here during a game where it started coming down a little bit and I just thought, 'I'm a long way from home.'"

That he is. But the Galveston, Texas, native has performed all the same in 89 games in the Phillies' system since coming over in the Cole Hamels trade. He's even improved upon a few weaknesses.

As productive as the left-handed Williams was last season, he hit just .210 against lefties. This season, he's hit .264 and already has one more extra-base hit than he had in all of 2015 against lefties.

And even though his walk rate remains low — Williams has 17 walks and 73 strikeouts in 287 plate appearances this season after walking just three times in 100 PAs last summer at Reading — the numbers don't bear out that improvement as much as the eye test has.

"I've been seeing lefties a lot better lately," Williams said. "A lot of them kind of do the same thing to me and that helps. I just want to master, really figure out what I'm trying to do and what they're trying to do to me. I didn't like when [managers] thought I couldn't hit a lefty, and they would call a guy in from the bullpen just to pitch to me. It bothered me, I didn't like that, them thinking it could just take a lefty to get me out. I worked on it, worked on it, and I got better at it, being more patient.

"Breaking balls away, sometimes they try to come in, but usually if they throw me a breaking ball that's a strike, it's a good pitch to hit. There's a couple times you can tip your hat to them for hitting a certain spot, but really, when lefties throw me a breaking ball for a strike, it's a good pitch to hit. Just staying patient and the one that's an inch off, two inches off, just bite your lip and take."

Both the Rangers and Phillies have discussed with Williams the need to walk more. He thinks the free passes will come with time and better pitch recognition, but interestingly, taking more pitches has at times had an adverse affect.

"I know a lot of my strikeouts this year are from takes," Williams said. "I'm aggressive, but I don't feel like I'm too aggressive. I feel like I get runners over, move them in, do my job. I just feel like walks will come. I've always been an aggressive swinger. I do strike out a lot but I make contact a lot, too. It's not like I just go up there and strike out all the time. I work the count."

If Williams keeps his head down and truly learns from the incidents he's had this season, his bat could carry him to South Philly late this summer or in September. And when he gets there, he'll have a chance to wipe away whatever preconceived notions fans may have of him after hearing about the few times he didn't hustle.

"I love the fans, I'm always smiling, I sign autographs, I do whatever I can to interact with the fans, but I've never been — and this is something my dad taught me — I've never been one for people's opinions because everyone's gonna have them," Williams said. "I feel like you can never say the right or wrong thing because somebody's going to find something negative or misinterpret it. I try not to pay attention to it really. But I've got to learn from it."