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.

Phils owner John Middleton, who still wants his trophy back, reflects on the Ryan Howard era

Phils owner John Middleton, who still wants his trophy back, reflects on the Ryan Howard era

The end of an era has arrived for the Phillies.

Ryan Howard burst on the scene like a comet ablaze and powered his way to becoming the National League Rookie of the Year in just a half-season in 2005. A year later, he had one of the greatest seasons in franchise history when he clubbed a team-record 58 homers and added 149 RBIs in winning the 2006 National League Most Valuable Player award. He was the big bat — or Big Piece, as Charlie Manuel so aptly dubbed him — in the middle of the lineup for a club that won five NL East titles, two NL pennants and a World Series over a five-year run of success that ended on that October night in 2011 when Howard himself fell to the ground in pain and clutched his left ankle as his Achilles tendon exploded on the final swing of the season.

From his seat at Citizens Bank Park, John Middleton watched Howard go down that night and he knew.

Middleton had joined the Phillies ownership group in 1994 and seen his stake in the team rise to nearly 48 percent as the club was rising to the level of baseball elite. He felt elation on the night the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, disappointment on the night they lost the World Series in 2009 and frustration when the team suffered postseason failures in 2010 and 2011.

Howard’s crumbling to the ground on that October night in 2011 came to symbolize the end of the Phillies’ great run. A mighty man had been felled by injury. A mighty team had been brought down.

“They all gnaw at me,” Middleton said of the postseason failures that followed 2008 in a recent interview with CSN Philadelphia. “The opportunity to do something extraordinarily special is rare. And when it presents itself, you need to be able to take advantage of it as much as you possibly can.

“That said, I think '11 was the hardest for me.”

The Phillies won a club-record 102 games that year, but did not make it out of the first round of the playoffs and haven’t been back since.

Middleton, still in ass-kickin’ physical condition at 61, was a wrestler in college. He’d seen injuries. He’d had injuries. As soon as he saw Howard go down, he knew it was an Achilles injury and he knew it was bad. Deep down inside, he just knew that great Phillies team would never be the same, that the run was over.

“When Ryan went down with the Achilles injury at the end of that game, I knew he was going to be out for 2012 and you didn't really know when he was going to be back and how well he would come back,” Middleton said.

Howard’s injury coincided with injuries to Chase Utley and Roy Halladay.

“That was just too many people to lose,” Middleton said.

Middleton has stepped out of the background and taken a more up-front role with the club over the past two years. He was a leader in making the decision to move away from past glory and commit to a full rebuild two years ago, and he remains committed to it today.

The reconstruction of the Phillies has coincided with the deconstruction of the club that won all those games and titles from 2007-2011. Hamels, Rollins, Utley, Ruiz, Werth, Halladay, Lee and others are gone. All that remains is Howard and his time in red pinstripes will come to an end after this final weekend series against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

While the failure to do something “extraordinarily special” — i.e., win multiple World Series — still gnaws at Middleton, he will remember the good times that Howard provided.

There were lots of them.

“This wasn't just a guy who was good or very good, this was an elite player,” Middleton said.

Howard has not been an elite player since the Achilles injury. There were times in recent seasons when his union with the club became uncomfortable. He was mentioned in trade rumors, but the fact is there wasn’t much interest in him from other teams. He went from being a full-time player and a star to being a part-time player.

Middleton appreciates the way Howard handled things as his role diminished.

“I think he’s a wonderful human being,” Middleton said. “He's been a terrific player and an even better person. I really will miss him when he's gone.

“Ryan made it easy because he was the consummate teammate. And not only for the other 24, 25 guys on the roster, but for his coaches, for the front office, for the owners. This guy has just been fabulous about it.”

In April 2010, a year and a half before Howard would have been a free agent, the Phillies gave him a five-year, $125 million contract extension. The idea was to lock up a key, productive player and gain some cost certainty. Critics said the Phillies acted too early and they were proven right when Howard blew out his Achilles before the extension even officially kicked in.

Middleton was not the architect of that extension. Former club president David Montgomery and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. were at the helm then. Both have stood by the decision and pointed to Howard’s productivity — he averaged 44 homers and 133 RBIs from 2006 to through 2011 — as a reason the deal made sense. Both have acknowledged that injuries can change everything in a blink of an eye and, in this case, one did.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Middleton said. “Had you asked a question and had a crystal ball and knew Ryan was going to have an Achilles injury in October of ‘11 and that would probably limit his effectiveness going forward … that's one question.”

Middleton rattled off some of Howard’s accomplishments: The top 10 finishes in the MVP voting, including the win, the fastest player to 100 and 250 home runs in baseball history …

“This guy was a truly terrific player,” he said. “Over the past 10 years, there's been a strategic move on the part of teams to identify young talent and lock it up early. Ryan's contract was just that. We were trying to identify young talent and lock it up before it hit free agency. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. And in large part, it didn't work out because he had that crippling injury in 2011.”

Howard was still healthy in 2009. In fact, he hit 45 homers and led the NL with 141 RBIs that year. He was the MVP of the NLCS but struggled badly in the World Series against the Yankees, going 4 for 23 with 13 strikeouts.

The performance crushed Howard.

After the Phillies lost Game 6 in Yankee Stadium, Middleton stood outside the clubhouse and wondered if he should go in and comfort the disappointed players.

He finally did and a story that will forever link him and Ryan Howard was born.

Yes, the “I want my (bleeping) trophy back” story is true.

“Completely true,” Middleton said with a laugh.

“We have to go back to that night. Losing the World Series is excruciatingly painful. As great as they have to be to get to the World Series, when you lose, it's just crushing. It really is. I don't know any other word for it.

“So I went into the locker room, obviously very emotional, and there's tons of media around, and I'm trying to talk to each player quietly and privately. I'm trying to thank them for their contribution to the year. I'm trying to get them focused for the offseason and 2010 because I thought we had a great opportunity in 2010. And I look around, and I see Ryan kind of sitting in front of his locker, slumped over with his head in his hands.

“This is my opportunity to go up to Ryan and talk to him without anyone around so I did that. I knelt down beside him and we were talking about the season, the postseason, just a very emotional moment for the two of us and it became more emotional as we talked.

“And at the end, I said, ‘Ryan, I want my … trophy back.’"

The Phillies are still looking to get that trophy back.

Ryan Howard will not be on the team when they finally do.

But he was a big reason they got one in the first place and in a town that loves winners, well, that should not be forgotten as he heads out the door.

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule. 

Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Jeremy Hellickson made his final start of the season for the Phillies on Thursday night.

Now he becomes the team’s first big offseason decision.

Hellickson had long left the game with a sore right knee by the time struggling reliever Jeanmar Gomez was tagged for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning in what ended up as a 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves (see Instant Replay). The Phillies were swept in their final trip to Turner Field — the Braves will move into a new ballpark in April — and have lost six of their last seven games heading into the final weekend of the season and a three-game series against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

“It’s a bad time to be in a rut and we’re in a rut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “We’ve got to go home and snap out of it.”

Besides supporting his rotation mates, Hellickson won’t make any contributions this weekend. The 29-year-old right-hander, acquired in a November trade with Arizona, finished his season 12-10 in a career-high 32 starts. He tied a career high with 189 innings. His final ERA of 3.71 was his best since he recorded a 3.10 ERA in 31 starts for Tampa Bay in 2012.

Though he left the game in the fourth inning after tweaking his knee while running the bases (see story), Hellickson achieved his season goal.

“This isn’t anything that’s going to linger,” he said, looking down at his knee. “So I came out healthy. That was my main thing, try to throw 200 innings — I fell just short of that — and stay healthy. So as far as those two goals go, it was good.”

By staying healthy and pitching well, Hellickson built himself a nice free-agent platform. But before Hellickson heads out on the open market, the Phillies must make a decision: Do they offer him $17 million to retain him in 2017 or simply let him go. As a rebuilding team, the Phils would love to get a draft pick as compensation for Hellickson’s leaving. But to get that pick, they must make Hellickson that one-year qualifying offer and he must reject it and sign elsewhere. 

It seems likely that the Phils will make the offer to Hellickson. If he takes it, he will return in 2017 and fill the same veteran stabilizer role he did this season. If he rejects, the team will get a pick between the first and second rounds of next year’s draft. The value of that draft pick is significant and was seen as a reason the Phillies did not trade Hellickson in July.

Qualifying offers go out in early November, but general manager Matt Klentak isn’t ready to tip his hand on what he’ll do.

“Both are valuable,” he said, weighing Hellickson's returning on a one-year deal versus picking up a draft selection between the first and second rounds. “For the same reason Jeremy Hellickson was valuable to us this year, Jeremy Hellickson or a player like that could be valuable to us again next year. The draft pick at the end of the first round has a real, measurable, tangible value.”

After Thursday night’s game, Hellickson was asked if he believed he’d made his final start with the Phillies.

“I hope not,” he said. “But I don’t really know how to answer that. I would love to be back here next year. I think everyone knows how much I’ve enjoyed my time here and I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

The pitcher was pressed as to whether he could envision himself accepting the qualifying offer if the Phillies made one.

“Yeah, I mean I definitely could see it,” he said. “But …"

Hellickson paused. Then a reporter broke the silence by suggesting the pitcher would rather get a multi-year deal on the open market.

“Yeah, I would love that actually a little bit more,” he said.

The Phillies could look to strike a multi-year deal with Hellickson before he hits the open market five days after the World Series, but that does not appear to be in the club’s plans. The Phils seem to be interested mostly in short-term deals for veterans as they let their kids develop.

In time, this thing will play out.

But for now, the Phillies head home looking to stop a losing streak and scuttle the Mets’ postseason hopes.

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule.