Free Agency Round-up: Apparently No One Values Linebackers

Free Agency Round-up: Apparently No One Values Linebackers

Almost one week has gone by since the free agency opened in the NFL, and in typical Eagles fashion, the front office has ignored the plethora of linebackers on the market.

What's that you say? The top free agent linebackers are still available. Like, all of them?

Put it this way: the biggest name to sign anywhere to this point is Dan Connor, who joined the Cowboys for two years at $6.5 million. Stephen Tulloch, Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne, London Fletcher, and practically every other name you would recognize are waiting for contracts.

So what exactly is keeping these players, any of whom Eagles fans would take in a heartbeat, from striking deals? The short answer is these players aren't as valuable as many seem to believe. Here's why:

1. Money
The obvious stumbling block is money. The Inquirer's Jeff McLane reports Lofton wants around $9 million per year, which sounds insane for a slightly above average player. McLane adds Tulloch wants no less than five-year, $42.5 million D'Qwell Jackson got for re-signing with Cleveland.

Tulloch is the consensus best linebacker out there, but is he worth $8.5 million a season? Does Tulloch, or any other free agent, have an impact on the game in the mold of a Brian Urlacher or Ray Lewis? The feeling right now around the league is no, and that these guys are going to have to come down on their demands eventually.

2. Prevalence of two-down linebackers
Lofton wants $9 million per. The problem: while he's a solid run defender, some teams, including his own Atlanta Falcons it would seem, fear he needs to come off the field in passing situations.

It's the same reason why the Eagles made Connor a low-ball offer, allowing him to slip through their fingers to Dallas. It's the same reason why we're not talking a whole lot about the Eagles going after an outside backer like Manny Lawson or Kamerion Wimbley. Too many players today have specialized roles, and are skilled in either run support, coverage, or rushing the passer -- maybe two out of three, but seldom all of the above.

What good is it to go out and drop a load of cash in the first few days of free agency on a situational player? None, and the Eagles aren't falling into that trap. It wouldn't be a shock if they added one of those guys eventually, but they have plenty of situational players already, so there's no rush.

3. 3-4 vs. 4-3 defenses
There are still places where linebacker is one of the most coveted positions on the field, but those clubs usually operate a 3-4 defense. Why are linebackers more valuable there?

For one, as the name indicates, they utilize up to four linebackers at a time, as opposed to three in a 4-3. We're sure that blows your mind, but what we're getting at is those teams need more linebackers on their roster, and their linebackers are often asked to do more, and therefore are required to be more versatile.

Outside linebackers, in particular, are more important in the 3-4, because those are typically the primary pass rushers in those defenses. In fact, those players often translate to defensive ends in a 4-3, so even though Mario Williams is listed as an OLB on the free agency tracker, he would be playing with his hand in the ground all the time had he signed with Philadelphia rather than in Buffalo.

None of this is to say the Eagles couldn't use an upgrade at linebacker, or that they haven't made some mistakes along the way evaluating talent at the position. But when you look at the sorry state of the position on 4-3 defenses around the league -- and search no further than the Super Bowl champion New York Giants for proof -- it's not specifically Andy Reid and the Eagles who don't "value" the position.

- Just to further update the status of those players, the belief is Tulloch will wind up staying in Detroit, though McLane reports the Lions are bringing Hawthorne in for a visit. Hawthorne and Lofton both visted New Orleans over the weekend as well. The Eagles haven't had contact with any of those players, that we know of at least, and McLane's sources indicate the price tag will not drop low enough for the team to jump into the mix.

- Even though it has little to do with the Birds, Peyton Manning finally made his decision, choosing the Denver Broncos over finalists Tennessee and San Francisco. Denver has a decent defense, and plays in the wide-open AFC West, where the path to the playoffs goes through teams like Oakland and Kansas City. However, Peyton's success at this point boils down to two factors: 1. how well can he throw the football, and 2. can he stay healthy? I wouldn't count him out, but I'm glad I don't have to pin my team's Super Bowl hopes on number 18.

- In case you were wondering what I think of Tim Tebow, who should instantly become available as a result of the Manning signing, I think he's not a very good quarterback. Moving on...

- Mike Tolbert, one of T7L's depth targets for the Birds, left San Diego to sign with the Carolina Panthers. Speculation is Tolbert's arrival makes Jonathan Stewart expendable, who would be another person of interest to back-up LeSean McCoy, but the Panthers allegedly will hold on to the former first-round pick.

- Super Bowl hero and suddenly overrated wide receiver Mario Manningham left the Giants for the San Francisco 49ers. In five games against Philadelphia, he averaged 2.8 receptions for 31.4 yards per contest.

- There are some rumblings that the Eagles have made contact with Plaxico Burress, and some rumblings that this simply isn't true. Even though he would make an excellent addition for inside the red zone, I don't believe the front office is too keen on the idea, or Plaxico too keen on the money/role. My guess is reports in this case may be driven by the agent.

Instant Replay: Nationals 2, Phillies 1

Instant Replay: Nationals 2, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

The Phillies’ losing streak against the Washington Nationals this season rose to nine games in a 2-1 loss Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park.
 
The Phils gave up five first-inning runs and had just nine hits in being swept in the three-game series. They had four hits Monday night, three on Tuesday and two on Wednesday.
 
The Phils entered the game hitting .239 as a team. Only San Diego was worse in the majors.
 
The Phillies have lost three in a row and seven of their last nine.
 
Starting pitching report
Adam Morgan absorbed his ninth loss but had the best of his 16 starts in the majors this season. The lefty gave up a first-inning home run to Jayson Werth then did not allow another run until there were two outs in the seventh. He was one strike away from getting out of the frame with a 1-1 tie when he gave up a full-count RBI single to Wilson Ramos.
 
In all, Morgan gave up just three hits in 6 2/3 innings. He walked none and struck out five. He had entered the game with a 6.50 ERA and lowered it to 6.21.
 
Washington lefty Gio Gonzalez (10-9) held the Phillies to two hits and a run over six innings.
 
Bullpen report
Blake Treinen, Marc Rzepczynski and Shawn Kelley closed it out for the Nats. Manager Pete Mackanin pinch-hit Ryan Howard against the lefty Rzepczynski with two outs in the eighth. Howard, hitting .138 against lefties, struck out. Rzepczynski stayed on for the ninth. He walked Cesar Hernandez to lead off the frame then got Odubel Herrera to bounce into a double play before handing off to the righty Kelly. Herrera has two sacrifice bunts this season, but was not asked to get one down on this occasion.
 
At the plate
Freddy Galvis clubbed his 15th homer, a solo shot in the fifth, for the Phillies’ only run.
 
Werth’s homer in the first inning was his 20th of the season. It was a bomb to dead center. It came off the bat at 107 mph and traveled 453 feet. Werth also homered in the first inning of Monday night’s game. He has reached base safely in 55 of his last 57 games.
 
Ramos’ tie-breaking hit against Morgan came one batter after Anthony Rendon extended the seventh inning with a two-out double.
 
Ramos leads major-league catchers with 71 RBIs.
 
Reinforcements coming
The Phillies will add three players from the minors on Friday (see story).
 
Up next
The Phillies are off on Thursday. They open a three-game series with the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night. Here are the pitching matchups:
 
Friday night — RHP Jeremy Hellickson (10-8, 3.80) vs. RHP Joel De La Cruz (0-7, 4.66)
 
Saturday night — RHP Vince Velasquez (8-6, 4.21) vs. TBA
 
Sunday afternoon — RHP Jake Thompson (1-4, 7.86) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (4-9, 3.12).

Union goalie John McCarthy ready for 1st MLS start of season

Union goalie John McCarthy ready for 1st MLS start of season

CHESTER, Pa. — Long after Wednesday’s morning training session ended, John McCarthy remained on the practice field to sign autographs for a bunch of young campers.
 
This is a typical activity for the popular Philadelphia native, who in many ways is a perfect backup goalkeeper for the Union.

But this weekend, McCarthy will be more than just an ambassador for fans. With Andre Blake on international duty with the Jamaican national team, the La Salle alum will be thrust into the limelight and make his first MLS start of the season when the Union face the Chicago Fire on Saturday at Toyota Park (8:30 p.m./TCN).  

“Obviously he’s itching to get his first MLS game this year,” Curtin said. “He’s a professional. This is what he prepares for. It’s similar to a backup quarterback role — you have to be ready when your number is called, and I know Johnny will be. He’s a guy I trust a great deal. He’s a winner. He won big games last year, and I expect him to do the same in Chicago.”

McCarthy indeed had a memorable rookie season last year, starting 11 games in league play while playing a key role in the Union’s run to the U.S. Open Cup final. 

But with Blake overcoming injuries and growing into an All-Star this year, McCarthy’s opportunities for playing time have dried up. So far in 2016, he’s played in just one U.S. Open Cup game on top of the 11 starts he's made for the Union’s USL affiliate, Bethlehem Steel FC.

How has he dealt with such a change?

“You don’t want to change anything up,” McCarthy said. “You just want to be as consistent as possible, keep training the same and keep your mindset the same because it’s the same when you’re sitting on the bench. You’ve got to be ready to play — and the opportunity is here.”

Another international call-up for Blake left the door open for McCarthy to potentially start June 1 vs. Columbus Crew SC. But Curtin instead opted to go with Matt Jones, who gave up two goals but got the win in what's been his only MLS start. Jones has since been dealing with an injury though, which led to McCarthy getting the nod this weekend. 

Despite the competition, McCarthy insists he and Jones — and Blake too — have maintained a great rapport.

“We’re all really good friends,” he said. “We all sit next to each other in the locker room. We can give each other crap off the field, joke with each other and stuff, and then when it comes to [being] on the field, it’s time to work. And we work together as a group because at the end of the day, whoever’s playing, we want the best for them and we want to win.”

McCarthy certainly wants the best for Blake, who is set to start in net for Jamaica in a couple of key games vs. Panama and Haiti as the Reggae Boyz look to advance to the fifth round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. 

Alejandro Bedoya will also be involved in the final two games of the fourth round of qualifying as he joins the U.S. national team. And if he plays in Friday’s game vs. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as expected, it will mark just the second time in club history an active Union player plays for the USMNT.

That’s a big deal, according to Curtin.

“Listen, when kids watch the game and they see who’s on the national team, that’s who they should all aspire to be like,” Curtin said. “I think Alejandro is a player every kid should want to be like. … To have a guy from the Union with this badge represent our country is really powerful. I think that shows the growth of our club. We want more and more of our guys to represent our country.”

At the same time, Bedoya’s absence will naturally create a big hole for the Union, who are dealing with injuries to other midfielders. Blake — who’s usually good for a spectacular save or two — not being in Chicago will be tough for the team to cope with, too.

But Curtin is eager to see some of his bench guys fill important roles this weekend — especially McCarthy.

“All goalies are a little bit crazy in their own way,” Curtin said. “I put Johnny right in that category. So he’s not fazed by pressure. I think he embraces pressure. He’s a fighter. He has a good strong mentality and he works his tail off every day in training.
“He’s one of our hardest working guys. He stays after to take shots, and puts a ton of work in. I’m happy and excited for him to get his opportunity now.”

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said he expects the club to add three players from the minors on Friday. Rosters expand on Thursday, an off day for the Phils.

“A couple of relievers, maybe a hitter,” Mackanin said before Wednesday night's game against Washington.

Mackanin would not name names because a lot can change in a day or two.

Darin Ruf seems to be a logical choice to be the hitter Mackanin referred to. He opened the season with the big club, but got just 57 at-bats and hit just .158 before being sent to Triple A when Tommy Joseph came up. Since going down, Ruf has hit .298 with 20 homers, 65 RBIs and a .895 OPS in 94 games for Lehigh Valley.

The Phillies will likely add two relievers to fortify the bullpen. Patrick Schuster, a lefty who was recently claimed off waivers from Oakland, could be a possibility. Colton Murray, Luis Garcia, Dalier Hinojosa and Elvis Araujo all could be possibilities, as well. All have spent time in the majors this season.

The Phils can’t completely pick over the Triple A roster because Lehigh Valley’s regular season runs through Monday and that club is likely to be in the International League playoffs.

Once Lehigh Valley’s season is over, more pitching could come. Starters David Buchanan and Phil Klein could be possibilities. Alec Asher, currently serving a suspension for testing positive for PEDs, is expected to be activated by the big club next week and could provide some innings to the starting rotation.

It’s unclear which prospects will come up. Catcher Jorge Alfaro seems to be a shoo-in after Double A Reading’s playoff run. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is not on the 40-man roster and does not need to be protected on it this winter. That could prevent him from coming up as the Phillies look to use the 40-man roster spot on a player that they could lose if not protected. Outfielder Nick Williams seemed to be a lock to come up a month ago, but his performance has slipped at Triple A in recent weeks and he now looks iffy.

Williams, like Alfaro, was acquired from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade last summer. The lefty-hitting outfielder entered Wednesday hitting .265 with 12 homers, 62 RBIs and just a .294 on-base percentage in 119 games. He entered Wednesday hitting just .187 with a paltry .204 on-base percentage in the month of August. He had struck out 34 times and walked just once in 93 trips to the plate in August.

That certainly cannot sit well with a front office that puts a premium on players who "control the strike zone."

AFL rosters announced
The Phillies will send six players to the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. The group includes three pitchers, right-handed relievers Victor Arano and Miguel Nunez, and lefty starter Brandon Liebrandt, second baseman Scott Kingery, third baseman Mitch Walding, and outfielder Aaron Brown. Brown replaces outfielder Andrew Pullin, who recently went on the disabled list at Double A Reading with an elbow injury.