Eagles Open Preseason in Style, Top Ravens

Eagles Open Preseason in Style, Top Ravens

We try not to get too excited over results of exhibition games on the whole, and with a very limited training camp and scant opportunities for live scrimmages, the Eagles' first preseason game was little more than a very glorified practice under the big lights at Lincoln Financial Field. Still, in watching the ones take the field and move the ball efficiently against a respected NFL defense, even for only a few minutes, it was absolutely impossible not to get caught up in it.  

On both sides of the ball, the Eagles' top units looked sharp, with Michael Vick leading a scoring drive on his only series of the game and the defense looking hungry and nasty. Vick completed four of six passes for 74 yards, including a 42 yarder to Riley Cooper that perched the Eagles near the Ravens goal line. One of Vick's two incompletions came on a near TD to Jason Avant, who was shown to lose the ball out of bounds on a play that Andy Reid would challenge. He just had to throw that flag… you knew it was coming as soon as the close play was called an incompletion.  

But the offense answered with a quick TD strike to Brent Celek from three yards out, and that was it for for the V unit on the night. He wasn't the only one who looked great in limited or extended action though, with quite a few Eagles stepping up, and just about every unit playing as well as we could hope in such early action.  

Although we started with a look at the offense's TD drive, the Eagles defense was the big story of the night on the whole. The units combined to limit the Ravens to just a pair of field goals on the way to a 13-6 Eagles win.  

The defensive line was everything a Jim Washburn-led unit was advertised to be. They bottled up the run and got after the quarterback with explosiveness from the opening snap, making the Ravens offense look lost for stretches of the game, forcing field goals at best and turnovers at worst. On the night, Ravens QBs were sacked six times, with the Eagles owning the ends of the line in particular, but also getting good pressure up the middle. The rotations and unit replacements came, but the pressure remained constant.  

The completely revamped unit, from coaches to on-field personnel, looked to be on the same page, and that page was "straight at the point of attack." There's still a lot to prove, and all this came against an offense just getting its bearings, but Juan Castillo aced his first test as Eagles defensive coordinator. Darryl Tapp had his name called out quite a few times, and "Chef" Jaiquawn Jarrett enjoyed a huge moment on his college home field, hauling in an interception on what I think was his first ever series as an Eagle. Safety Jarrad Page also came up with a big pick in the end zone.  

Vince Young played parts of the first and second quarters, making plays with his legs when the Ravens seemed to have him cornered and connecting on a 32-yarder to Chad Hall. Much of the offense when VY was on the field seemed to center on handing the ball off to Ronnie Brown, who was bottled up for the most part, but looked sharp.  

Mike Kafka had the reins of the offense for much of the night, and despite an awful interception when he tried to go long and came up quite short, looked pretty crisp in running a more complete offensive package than Young was understandably given. Kafka finished the night 13 for 19 for 132 yards.  

Alex Henery lined up for two field goals in his debut as the replacement for Birds legend David Akers, and I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that he hit both. His first, a 35-yarder, was a bit tight toward the right upright, which provided for the Don "Tolly Sunshine" Tollefson moment of the night, when Tolly called the kick "perfect." I kinda love that guy.  

Although the Birds managed only one touchdown, it was encouraging to see how it happened. A few small completions and one big play, followed by a narrow miss in the red zone (which we've seen plenty of), and a quick strike to one of the weapons this team has had for a few seasons but is a bit overshadowed with some of the other names on the field. If Jeremy Maclin's health doesn't keep him from the field, the combination of him and DeSean Jackson on the outsides, Jason Avant or Steve Smith on the inside, and a backfield that includes LeSean McCoy and Ronnie Brown, and oh by the way, MICHAEL VICK… defenses are going to have trouble containing everyone, and Celek could be one of the biggest beneficiaries. With improvements on the O-line, he may not have quite as much blocking responsibility as last year, leaving him free to find a seam for Vick to hit underneath.  

Just thinking about all that this offense can throw at a team—so long as most of its personnel stays healthy—is enough to make us want to watch that opening drive a few more times this morning. The work the twos and beyond put in last night was encouraging in the event they need to step up and become starters, which at some positions will surely happen.  

Perhaps best of all, no key players got hurt last night. The NFL is a war of attrition as you've no doubt heard, and while the preseason games don't count for anything in the standings, the injuries that happen in them are very real. I don't know that anything serious actually wound up on the injury report last night, although Cooper came up a bit hobbled after being pulled to the ground hard on his big first-quarter catch, and that's an even bigger win than the 13-6 score line.  

Overall, the opening preseason game was a great appetizer. We didn't get to see the ones in action for long, but what we did see made us want a lot more.

Browns WR Josh Gordon reinstated by NFL after missing all of 2015

Browns WR Josh Gordon reinstated by NFL after missing all of 2015

CLEVELAND — Josh Gordon's curious and complicated career has taken a new turn.

He's getting yet another chance.

The talented but troubled wide receiver has been reinstated on a conditional basis by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who met face to face with Gordon last week and said he believes the 25-year-old can "make the right choices" going forward.

Gordon has been banned since February 2015 for multiple violations of the league's drug policies. He will be suspended for the first four games of the 2016-17, but he's allowed to join the team in its upcoming training camp and can participate in meetings and conditioning work. The league said once Gordon meets clinical requirements, he can take part in preseason activities, including practices and games.

It's a fresh start for Gordon, who emerged as one of the league's rising stars in 2013 before several missteps led to his banishment.

As long as he stays clean, Gordon, who met with Goodell in New York on July 19, is eligible to return to the team on Oct. 3. During his four-game suspension, Gordon may participate in team meetings and other activities but can't practice or play in games.

Gordon was suspended 10 games in 2014 and the entire 2015 season for substance violations, a pattern that began during his college career at Baylor and Utah. He was denied reinstatement in April after failing a drug test because of samples that also tested positive for marijuana.

In a letter to Gordon, Goodell made it clear the onus is on the 25-year-old former Pro Bowler to stay clean.

"As we discussed at our (July 19) meeting, as Commissioner, I want nothing more than to see you turn your circumstances around and succeed," Goodell said. "Countless others including your agent, teammates and coaches, (owner) Jimmy Haslam and the leadership of the organization, the Program professionals and Jim Brown also have pledged to provide you with every resource at their disposal. But as you acknowledged, ultimately, your future is your responsibility. I have every belief that you can make the right choices, but it will be up to you to do so."

The Browns open training camp on Friday under first-year coach Hue Jackson, who has mostly steered clear of discussing Gordon or his future.

The team has not yet commented on Gordon's conditional reinstatement.

Gordon broke out in 2013, when he led the league with 1,646 yards receiving, scored nine touchdowns and averaged 117.6 yards per game.

With his future unclear, the Browns selected Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman in the first round of this year's draft.

Ron Hextall sees benefit in Brayden Schenn's 'market deal'

Ron Hextall sees benefit in Brayden Schenn's 'market deal'

Expensive at the start, cheaper at the finish.
 
That’s how Flyers general manager Ron Hextall views the four-year, $20.5 million contract he gave Brayden Schenn on Monday morning to avoid salary arbitration (see story).
 
Hextall admitted the club is overpaying up front on the deal, but believes it got a “fair” number for the final two years when Schenn would have become an unrestricted free agent.
 
“We took a higher cap hit for the first two years and essentially a lower hit than we would have taken in years three and four if we piece meal it together,” Hextall said.
 
Hextall said he was walking into the 9 a.m. Toronto hearing with agent Don Meehan already deep in a conversation on a deal but prepared to go through with arbitration.
 
Both parties asked arbitrator Elizabeth Neumeier for additional time and completed the contract by 9:45 a.m.
 
Schenn, a restricted free agent, turned down the Flyers’ two-year offer of $4.25 million for this coming season and $4.369 million in 2017-18. That averaged to $4.30 million.
 
His new contract averages $5.125 million.
 
“The benefit for us is our cap number stays flat for four years rather than having have a cap at a lower number then taking a run at him for two years, if in fact he’d sign for two years at a higher cap number,” Hextall said.
 
Hextall denied he was concerned he might get whacked in arbitration. Yet Schenn has had just one very good season in five years as a Flyer. That was last season with 26 goals and 59 points.
 
Hextall described Schenn as a player who has been “average” in his development, yet has improved in the subtle “intricacies” of the game such as finding open spots, avoiding shot blocks and coming cleanly across the blue line without turning the puck over.
 
Schenn’s true market value is closer to what New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri, a 25-year-old right wing, signed earlier this month: a five-year deal worth $23.25 with an AAV of $4.65 million.
 
Then again, St. Louis’ Jaden Schwartz signed a five-year, $26.5 million deal with a $5.35 million AAV. That’s above market value.
 
Meehan originally sought an AAV of $5.5 million for Schenn. In arbitration, it’s likely the Flyers would have received a two-year award in the middle of both numbers.
 
“Nothing really concerned me [about arbitration],” Hextall said. “We had a range and in the end our range was close to what Brayden’s camp felt the range was. Both sides had a range on a two-year deal.

“It’s a market deal … Brayden has been a good player. Top six forwards are hard to find and there’s a premium to pay. There’s no question we paid a premium for a top six forward whose 24-years-old and essentially coming into his prime.”
 
While Hextall labeled Schenn as a top six forward, he tap-danced around whether he sees him as a “core” player for the Flyers, even though this makes him the third highest-paid forward behind Claude Giroux ($8.275 million) and Jakub Voracek ($8.25 million).
 
“What is a core [player]?” Hextall asked. “That’s arguable … What we do know is Brayden is a very good young player who is getting better and we hope he continues to get better.”
 
This signing leaves the Flyers with just $1.38 million in salary cap space, but with 14 forwards, the club will lose at least one by the end of training camp.
 
Thinking ahead, Jordan Weal could be sent to the Phantoms, shaving $650,000 off the cap. That’s the most likely option for the Flyers, but not their only option.
 
Scott Laughton, whose role was diminished by a strong presence from Nick Cousins, is a lesser possibility. His cap hit is $863,333.
 
Losing either of those two salaries would provide the Flyers over $2 million in cap space.
 
Schenn’s contract lacks a no-trade/no-movement clause that he would have been eligible for starting in 2018-19. He turns 25 in August.
 
The Flyers have one more arbitration to settle: defenseman Brandon Manning on Aug. 2.

Cubs acquire closer Aroldis Chapman from Yankees

Cubs acquire closer Aroldis Chapman from Yankees

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs acquired hard-throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman in a trade with the New York Yankees on Monday, giving the NL Central leaders a boost as they try for their first World Series title in more than a century.

The Cubs paid a steep price, parting with top shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres and versatile pitcher Adam Warren in the four-player package going to the Yankees. Chapman faced a domestic violence allegation in the offseason that cost him a 29-game suspension, and the left-hander is eligible for free agency after this year.

But there is no doubting the talent of the 28-year-old Chapman, who went 3-0 with a 2.01 ERA and 20 saves in 31 games with New York. He threw a 105.1 mph fastball to Baltimore's J.J. Hardy last Monday night, matching the fastest since Major League Baseball began tracking speeds in 2008.

With lefty-batting sluggers Bryce Harper of Washington and Brandon Belt of San Francisco possibly looming in the playoffs, the addition of Chapman gives manager Joe Maddon one of the majors' top assets when in need of a late strikeout.

New York had won six of eight heading into Monday night's game at Houston, but it still faces long odds of getting to the playoffs. All-Stars Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are still at the back of the bullpen, allowing the Yankees to trade Chapman now and still consider trying for the postseason depending on how they fare ahead of the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline.

The Yankees made the decision to trade Chapman after his agents said he would not agree to a new contract that would start in 2017, a person familiar with the talks said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no public statement on those talks was authorized.

If New York slips back any further, it could engage in a rare sell-off for the franchise. Miller, who is signed through 2018, also could be traded. Outfielder Carlos Beltran, first baseman Mark Teixeira and pitcher Ivan Nova are eligible for free agency after the season and could be sought by contenders.

Chapman quickly turned into one of baseball's most dominant relievers when he broke into the majors in 2010 with Cincinnati. He threw the 62 fastest pitches in the major leagues last season, ranging from 103.92 to 102.36 mph.

Chapman saved 146 games with a 2.17 ERA in six years with the Reds before he was traded to New York last December after a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers fell through when it was learned Florida police investigated an accusation of domestic violence involving the Cuban pitcher.

Prosecutors declined to file charges, citing conflicting accounts, and Chapman was suspended for the first 29 games of the season, losing $1,856,557 of his $11,325,000 salary. He was the first player penalized a finite number of games under Major League Baseball's domestic violence policy.

"I regret that I did not exercise better judgment and for that I am truly sorry," Chapman said in a team statement Monday. "Looking back, I feel I have learned from this matter and have grown as a person. My girlfriend and I have worked hard to strengthen our relationship, to raise our daughter together, and would appreciate the opportunity to move forward without revisiting an event we consider part of our past."

Chapman and Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo also got into a heated argument in the ninth inning of a July 2014 game, but Rizzo said last month he was fine with the idea of acquiring the reliever.

The Yankees also received minor league outfielders Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford in the trade for Chapman. McKinney, a first-round pick in the 2013 draft, was acquired along with All-Star shortstop Addison Russell in the 2014 deal that sent pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland.

Warren was drafted by New York and made his major league debut with the Yankees in 2012. He was traded to Chicago in the December deal that moved infielder Starlin Castro from the Cubs to the Yankees.