Danny Watkins Headlines Cuts as Eagles Get Down to 53 Players

Danny Watkins Headlines Cuts as Eagles Get Down to 53 Players

Nothing cements a player’s bust status quite like the moment he’s released. The time came for Danny Watkins on Saturday as the Eagles trimmed their roster to 53 players in preparation for the regular season.

We knew going in to training camp that Watkins had virtually no opportunity to start. Birds head coach Chip Kelly kept nine offensive linemen on the roster altogether though, which means the 23rd-overall pick of the 2011 draft was beaten out by four others – all far less heralded players.

What’s probably most telling is the fact that Watkins’ base salary for this season – just north of $1 million – was fully guaranteed. In addition to paying him for nothing, the Eagles also have to pay the guy who’s taking his place.

Watkins showed signs of struggling almost immediately as a 26-year-old rookie. The Baylor product wasn’t ready to start until five games into his first professional season. Last year he lost his job at right guard around seven games into the campaign, though Andy Reid claimed Watkins’ absence in the lineup was due to a mysterious injury.

Just to give you an indication of the kind of company Watkins is in, Reuben Frank tells us the Baylor product became the first Eagles’ first-round pick to be released after just two seasons since defensive lineman Jon Harris in 1997.

With Watkins gone, that leaves Curtis Marsh, Casey Matthews, Alex Henery, Julian Vandervelde, and Jason Kelce on the roster from the ’11 draft – the Eagles made 11 picks that year. The only remaining players who have made meaningful contributions during their time in Philly are Henery and Kelce.

The Birds’ second-round pick in ‘11 was Jaiquawn Jarrett, who was cut after one week last season. Epic draft that was.

Of course, the subtraction of Watkins takes us one step further from the Reid era, while the Eagles getting down to 53 players puts us one step closer to the beginning of Chip’s time, which is a great thing. Cut-down day always feels like an unofficial starting point for the regular season, as the teams are finally getting close to their finished form.

Here’s a rundown of Kelly’s roster, but be warned: the Eagles likely aren’t finished making moves yet. Howie Roseman will scour the waiver wire after cut-down day for any upgrades to the back end of the roster. Other than that, this is pretty close to a final product.

Quarterback: Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Matt Barkley (3)

No surprises here, unless you thought the Eagles were going to trade Foles. Given Vick’s extensive medical history and typically erratic performance from week-to-week, it makes sense to have a capable backup, and Barkley didn’t look ready. Dennis Dixon or G.J. Kinne could make for decent scout team quarterbacks.

Running back: LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk (3)

Again, nothing earth-shattering. Matthew Tucker was one of the last to get the axe, and the undrafted rookie out of TCU had a good summer, so he could land on the practice squad should he clear waivers.

Wide receiver: DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson, Jeff Maehl (5)

Most of the spotlight was on Greg Salas and Russell Shepard competing for the fifth spot, but Maehl pulled out the upset. Or did he? The 24 year old seemed like an afterthought given he was signed two weeks into camp – not to mention lacks great size or athleticism – but coming from Oregon he does know Chip’s system. That said, the position could be a candidate for an immediate upgrade once teams are finished with their cuts. As for Salas, Shepard, and Ifeanyi Momah, all possibilities for the practice squad.

Tight end: Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey, Emil Igwenagu (4)

Can’t believe Igwenagu made the team, beating out Clay Harbor at that. The converted fullback does contribute on special teams though, which may have given him the edge.

Offensive line: Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson, Allen Barbre, Julian Vandervelde, Dennis Kelly, Matt Tobin (9)

Barbre acquitted himself okay at left tackle while Peters was nursing a hamstring, and he can play guard, too. Vandervelde is the backup center almost by default. Tobin is the guy to keep an eye on here. The 6’6”-303 lb. rookie tackle out of Iowa drew the praise of his head coach after the fourth preseason game, and in carrying him the Eagles risk Michael Bamiro not clearing waivers so they can stash him on the scout team. They must really like Tobin a lot.

Defensive line: Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan, Clifton Geathers, Damion Square, Vinny Curry (7)

Very solid bunch with a lot of interchangeable parts. Didn’t have to cut anybody loose, which is nice. Next thing here that will be interesting is how long Sopoaga can hold on to his job. He’s been invisible in games so far.

Outside linebacker: Trent Cole, Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham (3)

Chris McCoy didn’t make the cut (possible practice squad material?), which is surprising given two of these guys aren’t really linebackers. Can’t see the Eagles being able to get by with just three, and that’s with Cole’s and Graham’s limitations in mind, so expect another move to come.

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Mychael Kendricks, Casey Matthews, Emmanuel Acho, Jake Knott (5)

Acho and Knott played too well during the preseason to let go, and Matthews was fine while also pitching in on special teams. Could be a very deep group.

Cornerback: Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Brandon Hughes, Curtis Marsh, Jordan Poyer (6)

Hughes and Marsh stuck despite the both of them being out with a fractured hand, not to mention demonstrating little to be confident about – wouldn’t be surprised if one gets their walking papers once an outside linebacker becomes available. At least the top three are healthy and seem reasonably reliable.

Safety: Patrick Chung, Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Earl Wolff, Colt Anderson (5)

David Sims was the odd man out here. Would feel a lot more comfortable if Kenny Phillips had been able to beat the injury bug, but looks like the Birds will have to make do with Allen, Coleman, and Wolff opposite Chung. Anderson is still a tremendous special teamer.

Specialists: Alex Henery, Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos (3)

Speaking of special teamers, there they are. Hey, look at these guys.

Injured reserve: WR Jeremy Maclin, WR Arrelious Benn, LB Jason Phillips, OLB Phillip Hunt, DE Joe Kruger (5)

The Eagles managed to slip Kruger, a seventh rounder, on their IR with a shoulder injury that he had previously played through. The big name here is Maclin obviously. He sure would make this squad look a lot better, wouldn’t he?

Phillies MVP Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

Phillies MVP Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

It feels appropriate with the season coming to an end and the recent struggles of the Phillies' entire pitching staff to again point out how consistent Jerad Eickhoff has been in 2016.

Tuesday's rain delay likely cost him a shot at reaching 200 innings — he's sitting on 191⅓ with one start left — but his season has obviously been a success whether or not he reaches that mark. 

Some may argue Odubel Herrera has been the Phillies' MVP this season, but I'd go Eickhoff. Maybe that's just based on the inconsistencies of his rotation mates, but there's real value in a guy who gives you six quality innings each time out. Eickhoff this season was basically John Lackey — a reliable mid-rotation workhorse with solid but unspectacular numbers.

ESPN's longtime prospect analyst Keith Law mentioned Eickhoff this week in an Insider post looking at players he judged incorrectly. Eickhoff and Cubs Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks were the first two pitchers mentioned.

In his assessment of what went wrong with his initial evaluation of Eickhoff, Law wrote:

"I hadn't seen Eickhoff in the minors and, based on what I'd heard about him, had him as a back-end starter, saying he had the repertoire to start but giving him a limited, back-end ceiling. Eickhoff had a good curveball with Texas. But the Phillies' staff has encouraged him to throw it more often, and it's been a difference-making pitch for him. His curve accounted for 40 percent of his swings and misses in 2016, and it's one of the most effective curveballs in MLB right now; that pitch alone has made him more than just a back-end starter, and he has been the Phillies' most valuable starter this year. He is probably a league-average, No. 3 starter going forward with the arsenal he has — average fastball, plus curveball, inconsistent slider that flashes plus but on which he makes too many mistakes — and with 4-WAR potential, given his durability."

Eickhoff's curveball was what made a lot of us take notice late last season. He used it to shut down some good lineups in September, and he finished 2015 with back-to-back seven-inning, 10-strikeout games against the Nationals and Mets.

This season, he grew up. He incorporated the slider more and that led him out of an early-season funk. Early in the year, hitters were laying off his curveball and swinging at any fastball near the zone because it's a hittable pitch. Once he started showing another breaking ball, the game plan for the opposition became more complicated.

There was nothing fluky about Eickhoff's 2016 season. He'll enter the final day of the season 11-14 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. 

It's pretty startling to compare Eickhoff's numbers since joining the Phillies to Cole Hamels' with the Rangers. Have a look.

• Hamels with the Rangers (44 starts): 3.42 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 2.8 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

• Eickhoff with the Phillies (40 starts): 3.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.9 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

It's not an apples to apples comparison because Hamels has pitched about 40 more innings than Eickhoff in a tougher league and in a tougher ballpark. It doesn't mean that going forward they will be equals. It just means that over the last season and a half, their production has been close to equal.

Nobody would have expected a year ago that Eickhoff would be the best piece in that trade. But until Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams graduate to the majors in full-time roles and produce, Eickhoff will be the unexpected centerpiece of that blockbuster deal with the Rangers.

He's a walking example of solid scouting and even better player development by the Phillies.

Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

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Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

CHESTER, Pa. — Union head coach Jim Curtin knows it may seem like a weird situation to some.

Early on Tuesday morning, as soccer fans around the area were just waking up, the Union issued a press release that stated that Tranquillo Barnetta would be leaving the team at the end of the 2016 season (see story)

There was no trade. No sale. No contract dispute. No off-the-field issues. 

It was simply a case of a player — a really good player — deciding before the end of the season that he wanted to say goodbye to MLS and finish his pro career with his hometown club in St. Gallen, Switzerland. 

“I think it’s unique maybe to the American public and fan bases that a guy announces it and there’s still [part of] a season left to play,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference. “I think it’s strange for everyone to hear it that way. But in Europe that’s kind of the norm. To get out ahead of it shows what kind of man and leader he is. He addressed the team and didn’t want it to be a situation where something leaked out. He’s a true pro. I’m honored to have coached him and I want to prolong it as long as I possibly can.”

In other American leagues, of course, a talented but aging player with Barnetta’s pedigree might drum up a bidding war to try to get one more good contract in free agency before he retires, perhaps using a strong playoff performance to do so. But, as Curtin alluded to, global soccer is a whole different animal. And Barnetta never planned to use his 2016 performance as a launching pad to a new deal with Philly or something bigger on a different MLS team.

His plan all along was to retire for the hometown club he cheered for as a kid — and he made sure he’d have the freedom to do so when he signed with the Union last summer.

“We offered several years but he was very content and adamant about taking an 18-month deal,” Curtin said. “A lot of people say they’re not about the money but Tranquillo truly means when he says it. He came here at a very big discount to what his value was in the European market. And he had a goal of playing for his hometown club, which I respect at the end of the day.”

If there’s any knock against Barnetta, it’s that he essentially treated MLS as a short-term project, a way to try something new after an illustrious career in Switzerland and Germany, to live in a different part of the world and see different cities throughout the United States.

But make no mistake, he earned that right and he never tried to hire his future ambitions. And even if his tenure with the Union will be a short one, it’s been very beneficial for both sides.

Barnetta, for instance, learned about the grueling travel demands in MLS and the more physical nature of the league compared to ones in Europe, all while showing the sublime skill that made him a three-time World Cup veteran for Switzerland.

And the Union leaned on his talent and leadership at the end of their disappointing 2015 season and throughout the entire 2016 campaign with Curtin calling him “the best player that ever wore a Philadelphia Union jersey.”

“He’s a great example for our young guys,” the Union coach added. “He’s got a close relationship with a lot of the veteran guys. And he’s just a pleasure to have in the locker room. He comes to work with a smile on his face but when it’s time to work, he’s the hardest worker there is. A true professional. And the pedigree is the highest we’ve ever had in this club.”

You can make the case that acquiring players with great pedigrees hasn’t always worked to the Union’s benefit (see: Mbolhi, Rais), but it’s hard to find any fault in the Barnetta deal, especially when you consider Philadelphia got him at a discount and that Curtin and technical director Chris Albright orchestrated the signing at a time when the franchise was in a state of flux and sporting director Earnie Stewart had yet to join the fold. 

For someone that’s played in three World Cups, the Champions League and one of the top leagues in Europe, Barnetta may not be the biggest name out there. But getting him when they did was still something of a coup for Philadelphia. And the benefits will likely be reaped for a long time to come as the Union followed last year’s Barnetta signing with a couple of big moves in the offseason and this summer’s long-term acquisition of U.S. national team starter Alejandro Bedoya — the combination of which has them thinking about the playoffs and a whole lot more even as Barnetta’s departure looms.

“It’s something we want to celebrate rather than pity and feel bad,” Curtin said. “We’re happy for the time we’ve had him here. And now we’re gonna make it last as long as we possibly can. The rest of the games out, in the pregame talk, we’ll say, ‘Let’s extend this thing as long as possible and use it as a rallying cry.’ You don’t want it to come to an end. And when it does come to an end, you want it to be a special moment.”

What kind of special moment?

“We want his last game with the Philadelphia Union to be an MLS Cup.”