Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Safety

Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Safety

We pick up our training camp preview at safety, where it appears the Eagles have an even more wide-open competition than at quarterback. It's anybody's guess who will be starting come Week 1.

[ Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp:
Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver | Tight End | Offensive Line
Defensive Line | Linebacker | Cornerback ]

Is Nate Allen a draft bust?

He’s got one last chance to prove otherwise, but it's looking that way so far. We can be a little quick to judge athletes in this town, however nobody would blame you for being down on Allen. He was enjoying a promising rookie season in 2010 until it was interrupted by a ruptured patellar tendon, and he never quite looked the same the following year, remaining inconsistent up to present day. At best, Allen was essentially invisible in 15 games last season, defending just four passes while creating zero turnovers.

Then again, who didn’t look inconsistent amid the Eagles’ dysfunction in the waning days under Andy Reid, particularly on one of the league’s worst defenses? The secondary especially was a joke, as opposing quarterbacks posted a 99.6 passer rating against Philly – second-highest in the NFL. Sure, that would seem to reflect poorly on Allen, but the cornerbacks were frequently leaving the safeties to fend for themselves, and the safeties were often scratching their heads and looking confused after the fact. It was chaos.

The Birds’ defense probably won’t be an elite unit in their first year under Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Billy Davis, but that should be because they’re a little short on talent, not for a lack of understanding the scheme. Whatever was going on with Juan Castillo/Todd Bowles/Jim Washburn on the coaching staff over the last two seasons, the secondary appeared to be hung out to dry as a result.

In other words, maybe Allen’s struggles are not all his own fault. Maybe in a less-complex scheme (with a true defensive coordinator), where the other guys in the huddle are in it for more than themselves, he’ll improve. Or maybe the one dubbed “the McNabb Pick” is a bust, and he’ll be exposed no matter where he is or who’s around him. The clock is ticking.

What should we expect from Patrick Chung?

A flawed-but-starting-material player. Chung burst on to the scene during his second season for the Patriots in 2010, but he’s been unable to stay healthy ever since. Then last year not only was he hurt, but his play really dropped off. He took bad angles to the ball, and generally was not as dangerous or effective. The ‘09 second-round pick lost his starting job before the year was out, and New England let him walk in the offseason.

The Eagles scooped him up for three years, $10 million, and penciled him in at one of the safety spots. It’s not simply a case where Chip Kelly is familiar with Chung from their Oregon days, either. The club is hoping they got a genuine inside-the-box presence, somebody who can help out against the run and blitz, plus make the occasional big play in coverage as well.

Chung probably isn’t going to become Brian Dawkins all of a sudden, but safety has been a huge mess for the Eagles ever since Weapon X left. Admittedly this addition looks more like another band-aid than a permanent solution, but having a player who was good enough to start in the Super Bowl a couple years ago means the Birds can finally move on from the likes of Kurt Coleman this summer. That can’t be a bad thing.

Is Kenny Phillips healthy?

That of course is the catch-22 with Phillips. He has a long injury of knee histories, missing almost all of the ’09 campaign after having microfracture surgery on the left, and appearing in just seven games due to a sprained MCL in the left last season. After signing with the Eagles as a free agent in the offseason, already this spring Phillips was held out of practice due to his knee issues.

If the former first-round pick were healthy, the Birds would be getting one of the best cover safeties in the NFL. In 2011, his last full season, he hauled down four interceptions, defended 11 passes, and forced a fumble. There’s a reason the New York Giants let him walk though, the same reason why Philadelphia was able to sign him for one year at just north of the league minimum – those knees.

If Phillips can survive training camp, he has a great chance to be one of the two starters. At this point that might seem like a big “if,” but who can predict these things?

Does Earl Wolff have a chance to start in his rookie season?

Absolutely. I mean, I don’t see anybody definitely holding him back, do you? A fifth-round pick out of North Carolina State, Wolff’s athleticism stands out. He’s not particularly huge at 5-11, 209, but he is strong, and people tend to take notice of players with 4.44 speed and a 39-inch vertical. Watch him jump on to a shelf that’s nearly as tall as he is.

Raw athletic talent won’t win a job alone for Wolff, but with so many question marks above him on the depth chart, he’s got a legit chance at earning playing time. Reporters noted the rookie did get some first-team reps at practices this spring, and while Chip says we can’t read into that stuff too much, this one seems fairly telling given the circumstances.

Allen, Chung, and Phillips are all injury prone and/or are not necessarily going to cut it. Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson, and David Sims don’t look like threats at the moment. Wolff’s path to the field is fairly clear.

Who will ultimately start at safety for the Eagles?

Chung almost certainly, then either Allen or Phillips in the second spot.

Based on the contract he signed, it appears Chung was brought in to start for at least this upcoming season, although obviously plans can change. On the opposite side Allen has the inside track, but if Phillips can go, he is probably the best – not to mention most-experienced – safety on the roster.

As was mentioned above, don’t sleep on Earl Wolff, either. Either way, just be glad Kurt Coleman could be out of the picture finally.

Andrew Kulp is a freelance writer covering Philadelphia sports for The700Level.com. E-mail him at andrewkulp@comcast.net or follow him on Twitter.

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.