Eagles Should Keep Asante Samuel

Eagles Should Keep Asante Samuel

They wouldn't... would they? Nah. Even if they wanted to, they
couldn't... could they? The Eagles have already challenged some commonly
held perceptions about how the organization is run with their recent
spending binge. Yet despite going out and turning the notion that the
franchise operates on the cheap on its ear, it's still hard to believe
they actually intend to carry three Pro Bowl cornerbacks into the 2011
season.

It's not even simply a matter of cheap or not.
Conventional wisdom would suggest the club can't keep Nnamdi Asomugha,
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Asante Samuel, sign all of the other
free agents they already did, and also take care of business with their own
guys. With the trade winds kicking up though, it needs to be said that
the Birds can—and absolutely should—keep the trio in tact for a potential Super
Bowl run.

Many people understandably began jumping to conclusions
right away when the Eagles announced the Asomugha signing. "Who's out?"
quickly turned into "What's happening to Samuel?" He would be the most
logical odd man considering the other two had only been acquired in the
previous 48 hours.

Because he is effective
The first reason that could conceivably be a
very big mistake is because Asante Samuel is still one of the best
players in football. In fact, last season was one of the best in his
eight-year career. His seven interceptions were impressive enough, but
that number doesn't quite do him justice. According to Football
Outsiders
, quarterbacks only tested Samuel 36 times in 2010. That means
nearly one in five passes thrown his way were picks.

In fact, by their measurements, Samuel had a better season than Asomugha. And while we're not as familiar with the situation in Oakland, here it was pretty attractive for opposing quarterbacks to throw at Dimitri Patterson's side last season. Simply put, there are not many players in the NFL with better instinct and ability.

Sure,
with the arrival of Asomugha—another shutdown corner who quarterbacks
rarely look at—and Rodgers-Cromartie, the case can be made Samuel is
expendable anyway. That's not entirely untrue. Having said that, the organization
isn't in a position where their hand is being forced.

Because the team can
Looking at
the contract situations for all three, Asomugha obviously comes in as
the top dog. He'll make $10 million in 2011. Samuel comes in at a close
second with a cap figure at $9.3 mil. Finally, Rodgers-Cromartie will
earn just under $1 million. DRC's cap figure is what makes the entire
thing work. Naturally he'll be rewarded with a raise and extension,
likely next season. Coming off a subpar year in Arizona
however, the Eagles aren't necessarily required to move on that now. (Numbers via eaglescap.com)

They can also release Joselio Hanson and free up a couple million there.

Meanwhile,
the Eagles can look to get cap relief from a potential Samuel trade
next off-season, when the All Pro corner might be looking to renegotiate
in the first place. The guaranteed bonus money in his contract is
minimal after this season, and even though his base salary is still
hefty in 2012 and '13, the future will be heavy on Samuel's mind when he
turns 31 in January. At that point, the Eagles could make the exchange,
which in turn would free up the money to re-sign DRC, who will be on the final year of his rookie contract.

And what's
the rush for? While management entertains offers for their Pro Bowl
corner, they shouldn't even consider a swap unless the return on their
investment is outrageous. The primary consideration has to be what will
help the team most this year: high draft picks next April (keeping in
mind that player-for-player trades are somewhat rare), or a stud
ballhawk in their secondary. After all, barring a catastrophic injury,
his value shouldn't plummet much at all between now and March, when they
will inevitably part ways over his contract. In other words, those
picks will be there.

Because it's what's best for him
As for Samuel's alleged unhappiness with the
current situation, we're not sure that has anything to do with
welcoming Asomugha and DRC. His confrontational attitude seemed to be
more of a response toward reports the front office is listening to trade
offers, and not so much the influx of talent in the secondary. If that
is indeed the case, you could gather that Samuel actually wants to stay,
and be a part of this so-called "Dream Team."

After all, there
really is no reason for Samuel to demand a trade, and according to his
agent, he has not done so. Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has not
indicated Samuel's role on defense would change, and the team has not
requested he take a paycut or renegotiate. Plus, right now it's just
hype, but Samuel has to realize Philadelphia is his best opportunity to win
another championship this year.

That puts the decision entirely
in the hands of the front office. Maybe the right deal comes along,
something they absolutely can't refuse. We'll evaluate that trade
if/when it happens. With what we know now though, there should be
unanimous support from the fan base for keeping Samuel in midnight
green. The pressure is on this year, and the Eagles shouldn't be taking
any bullets out of the chamber.

Roman Lyubimov getting comfortable, impressing with hard, heavy style

Roman Lyubimov getting comfortable, impressing with hard, heavy style

Ron Hextall said when Flyers training camp began there were spots to be won and spots to be taken from others.

Even though it’s still early in camp, it seems fairly clear Russian forward Roman Lyubimov is going to steal someone’s job among the bottom-six forwards.

He’s been the right wing on Boyd Gordon’s line in camp with Chris VandeVelde on the left side. 

That fourth line worked again Tuesday night as the Flyers opened their home preseason schedule with a 4-0 win over the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.

The 6-2, 207-pound Lyubimov plays a heavy game. He is tenacious in one-on-one battles and, perhaps more importantly, jumps on loose pucks after faceoffs as demonstrated during the 2-0 loss in New Jersey on Monday.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol took notice.

“It’s a nice trait for a player to have automatically and it’s an important trait,” Hakstol said.

“His competitiveness and his battle level on 50-50 pucks, things like that, hasn’t changed from Day 1.”

After spending six years in the KHL, it appears Lyubimov has found a home here. He’s already making a nice adjustment to the smaller rink, too.

“Last couple of years, playing for the Red Army team, there were some pretty physical games,” he said, via translator Slava Kouznetsov. “I think it was pretty close to NHL games. I just have to adapt to the smaller ice.”

He logged 3:55 ice time on the penalty kill against the Devils — second only to rookie defensive prospect Ivan Provorov — and Hakstol has his sights set on using him in that capacity if he makes the final cut.

While playing for the Russian Army, Lyubimov was used in a shutdown role and on the PK with little power-play time.

“I was more defense-oriented,” he said. “If you don’t let the [opponent] score on you, it’s easier to win games. Here, I’ll see what the coaches want me to do. I watched a lot of NHL games. One of my criteria was to be good at the penalty kill.”

The only hard question Hakstol has to answer is Lyubimov’s adjustment to the smaller rink.

“I think he is still working through that but he is game for it,” Hakstol said. “He doesn’t look for open ice in terms of shying away from traffic areas. He is battling in those high traffic areas.”

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare made the adjustment quickly, coming over from France. Michael Raffl played a couple games with the Phantoms after coming over from Austria.

It’s possible the Flyers could start Lyubimov with the Phantoms and then call him up.

“He plays a small-ice type of game,” Hextall said of Lyubimov. “He goes hard to the net, he’s good on the wall, does all those little things. Space I don’t think will affect him as much as other guys.”

He had a prime scoring chance in Tuesday’s game against the Islanders, chasing down a puck behind the net and getting a wraparound that was blocked at the post by defenseman Kyle Burroughs.

Lyubimov finished with 12:07 of ice time and two shots.

His best shot to make the cut is to take away VandeVelde's spot on the fourth line (see story). Once Bellemare returns from the World Cup of Hockey, someone has to go. Another factor here is whether the club carries 23 players instead of 22.

Lyubimov said what impressed him about the Flyers was how players are treated here, on and especially off the ice.

That was always something former Flyers loved about their late owner Ed Snider. He treated them as family, not employees.

“There is a difference,” Lyubimov said. “Everything here is comfortable and done for the players. Here I live five minutes from the rink. In Moscow, it’s 45 minutes. Everything works for me here.”

So much so, Lyubimov is bringing his wife, Katrina, and their 1-year-old daughter Alexa, over this fall to live here even though he has just a one-year deal worth $925,000.

“I want to stay here more than a year,” he said. “I will do whatever I have to do. This is the place I wanted to come.”

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- Nerlens Noel’s recent comments on the logjam of big men on the Sixers' roster did not come as news to head coach Brett Brown. While Noel had not been this publicly outspoken on the issue, he and Brown have been having open discussions about it. 

“I have been talking to Nerlens a lot and I have a fondness for him,” Brown said Tuesday on the first day of training camp. “I don’t begrudge Nerlens Noel at all for what he said. I don’t have any problems with it.”

The Sixers' crowded frontcourt this season is a continuation of last season’s conundrum in which Brown was tasked with playing Noel and Jahlil Okafor, two natural centers, together. The depth has increased with the return of Joel Embiid and additions of Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. 

So when Noel doubled down on Monday by saying, "I don't see a way it can work,” Brown recognized where the center's opinions were coming from as he enters his fourth season in the NBA. 

“I feel if we do anything well, we communicate with our players freely,” Brown said. “It is one hundred percent transparent – hard conversations ahead, easy conversations ahead. I have spoken with Nerlens about this a lot. 

“My messaging and my mood and attitude and things that come out of my mouth haven’t changed once. I feel very confident that I’m giving him the advice that he should hear from me and it still allows me to do my job. 

“We have talked about it freely, like I have talked about it with Jahlil and Joel. Those situations are part of pro sports. They’re ever-present with me and us right now.”

Noel has been a rare mainstay among a revolving door of players over the past three years. He is in a unique situation with Brown in that the two have experienced a long list of the team’s ups and downs together. Noel feels comfortable talking honestly with Brown about his viewpoints. 

“I’ve known Brett probably longer than most guys here and we’ve built a different type of relationship,” Noel said. “It’s been very front and forward and we talk and we keep it real. That’s what he’s been doing with me and that’s why I’m able to continue to talk to him about myself and him just telling me what position I’ll be in – he’ll try to put me in – to succeed.”

With Brown having an understanding of Noel, his focus is on what Noel can bring to the team this season. He believes Noel has an edge over Embiid and Okafor for minutes early on because Noel the only one of the trio starting camp without restrictions from previous injuries. 

There is a tough competition for playing time among the bigs, and camp is about proving oneself through basketball, not through personal opinions. Brown was impressed on the first day of camp by the manner in which Noel approached the morning practice amid the comments.

“He has handled it with me and in the training session today like a pro,” Brown said. “He came to mean it. He didn’t back down at all. There was no moping or sulking or him being stubborn. He played. That’s what he has to do. I think that’s a real reflection of anybody of how you handle adversity. Today he handled it like a true pro and a true competitor.”