Eagles Free Agency Preview: Class of 2011 a Cautionary Tale

Eagles Free Agency Preview: Class of 2011 a Cautionary Tale

One of the most common complaints levied against the Eagles
during the Donovan McNabb years was aimed at owner Jeffrey Lurie, who was often
accused of operating his franchise on the cheap. Folks watched as one prominent
veteran after another was cast aside rather than re-signed, all while the front
office would seldom target the sexiest names in free agency.

Perception wasn’t always reality in this case. We know now
that the fan favorites the team left walk away were typically on the verge of
being washed up, with few notable exceptions. And while the Eagles were usually
game to test the free agent waters, former president Joe Banner thought extending the club’s own
young talent a better use of Lurie’s checkbook.

With good reason it turns out. If anybody still questions
the organization’s guiding philosophy during that time period, look no
further than what happened with the free-agent class of 2011.

Due to a rare set of circumstances, the Birds were able to
treat free agency like they were on Supermarket Sweep. A number of players had
their unrestricted status delayed for a full year as a result of the lockout, causing
the market to become inundated with talent as soon as that drama was finally
sorted out. And the Eagles themselves were in prime position to make it rain,
having just purged their roster of most of its expensive veterans one offseason
prior.

Plenty of folks had already come to grow suspicious of the
harpy song that is free agency. Philadelphia endured Stacy Andrews, Darren
Howard, and Jevon Kearse as big-money signings over the past 10 years, along with
the likes of Dhani Jones and Kevin Curtis to a lesser extent.

It was practically impossible not to get excited about the
Eagles’ summer though, viewed almost universally as a major coup for Banner, Howie Roseman, and everybody involved. Depth on offense was supposed to be solidified by Pro
Bowlers Vince Young, Ronnie Brown, and Steve Smith. The defense should have been
overhauled by the additions of Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, and Nnamdi Asomugha.

They were a “Dream Team.”

Which is far from how everything worked out of course. The
only player from a class that numbered in the double digits and is a virtual lock to make the team a mere
two years later in 2013 is Evan Mathis. At the time, Mathis was not viewed
with much importance, nor even the most highly-regarded offensive lineman they
signed.

By and large, free agency is not an ideal solution. What type of
players manage to become unrestricted free agents without a contract extension
or getting slapped with the franchise tag in the first place? Besides the
broken, under-utilized, or plain ol’ bad: aging players, players who excelled
in a certain scheme, and very-good-to-elite players who a) also fit one of the first
two descriptions, or b) are asking for way too much money.

That’s not to say free agency can’t be a helpful tool in
team building. However, it’s often best when used to supplement the existing
talent, rather than as a key part of an organization’s infrastructure like it
became for the Birds.

Then again, according to EaglesCap.com the Eagles have an
estimated $33 million to play with this offseason. That figure will only
grow once the front office comes to a decision on Nnamdi Asomugha.

Looks like the team is back in prime position to go on
another spending spree should they so desire.

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Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.

A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.

The rest of the team included:

• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)

Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.

But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.

Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.

Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.

“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

There’s a number of reasons why the Flyers have a five-game winning streak, why they’re playing better hockey, and why they own the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
 
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is goaltender Steve Mason, who has won four of those games, compiling a 1.71 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that span.
 
Mason was named the NHL’s first “Star of the Week” on Monday. St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones were second and third stars.
 
“The team is on a roll right now and I’m a benefactor of that,” said Mason, who needs a win Tuesday against Florida to tie his career-high streak of five set Dec. 17-30 in 2013, during his first, full season as a Flyer.
 
“There’s strong play in front of me. The team is playing a little tighter in our defensive zone of late and making the goaltender reads that much more simple. 
 
“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me … Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”
 
His four victories last week were tops in the NHL. Among them, he had a season-high 45 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Boston. 
 
Like many goalies, Mason prefers action. Games such as the 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa last week when the Senators only fired 21 shots, bother him.
 
“Those games, when you are not getting a lot of shots, the ones you do get will be a high-grade scoring chance,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around a few minutes not seeing the puck and all of a sudden see a chance like that …
 
“It’s more difficult to play [those games] than the games where there is a constant workload and you’re not thinking, but just playing. For myself personally, those are the games I enjoy the most. When I see a lot of pucks.”
 
The Flyers have seen dramatic improvement over the past month in their overall defensive play, from both their defensemen in down-low coverage in the slow and with their forwards on the backcheck.
 
Mason said the team has gone through “growing pains” with trying to integrate some younger bodies to the lineup this season – Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nick Cousins  come to mind.
 
“You have to familiar with everybody,” he said. “Have a constant lineup where guys go out  shift after shift and night after night, you know what to expect from one another. When you have that kind of confidence in guys, it makes playing easier.” 
 
Mason’s 4-2 victory at Nashville on Sunday saw him go over .500 for the first time this season with a 9-8-3 record. 
 
His GAA is coming down at 2.76 while his save percentage has risen to .904.
 
“I was aware of it obviously, just because of the way the year started,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get it above the .900 level.
 
“We’re obviously going to continue to work at getting it even better. The way the team’s playing right now and the way everybody’s clicking, we’re going at a good pace right now.”