Free Agency Round-up: Closing Thoughts

Free Agency Round-up: Closing Thoughts

Over the last week and a half, we followed the NFL's free agency movement with an eye trained on the Eagles, and I've gotta tell ya... it's been boring as hell from that perspective. This thing has been Peyton Manning's world, while the NFC East just lived in it. Well, except for the Washington Redskins. That organization is located on another planet.

As for the Birds, the acquisition of DeMeco Ryans sort of completes Philadelphia's journey, for now anyway. Sure, they will come to terms with a few more players between now and draft day, even until and probably into the month of Setpember -- just none likely to be as impactful, or from as far out of left field as Ryans.

Linebacker was the one big addition we expected from this offseason. With that out of the way, the Eagles are essentially finished.

Overall, it's been a positive 10 days for the Birds, if a little lacking in excitement. Besides the Ryans deal, which has been met with almost universal praise from fans and media alike, the front office has ensured a group of very good players will be wearing Midnight Green for years to come.

By extending Todd Herremans, then re-upping Evan Mathis, the Eagles have cemented their offensive line into place. This group is already considered one the best fronts in the league, and the next time any of the starting five will be available to become a free agent is 2015. That should foster some serious continuity.

On the other side of the ball, Cullen Jenkins restructured with the intention of retiring an Eagle, and Trent Cole's extension could conceivably achieve the same. The starting front four largely responsible for a league-leading 50 sacks in 2011 are also locked in until 2015. This team is built to dominate in the trenches.

And of course, there is DeSean Jackson. A long-term deal should keep the wide receiver happy for the foreseeable future, while protecting the franchise financially in case something goes wrong down the road. With management said to be working on a contract for LeSean McCoy as well, it means most of the core from an offense that is one year removed from setting a franchise record in scoring could stay together to break the mark several more times.

It means the Eagles don't have many holes left. They are taken care of offensively, where the biggest question mark seems to be whether Michael Vick can make the next step toward becoming an elite passer. On defense, the rest of the pieces should fall in step around Ryans, and a unit that was better than advertised in 2011 should be vastly improved in 2012 -- especially if new defensive backs coach Todd Bowles can figure out how to get the most out of their secondary.

As for the rest of the division, it will be about the same. The Giants are always a threat as long as they have Eli Manning, while the Cowboys made some nice additions and should be in the hunt. At least the Redskins will have a franchise quarterback again, even though he'll be surrounded by slop.

Meanwhile, a lot of folks are still bewildered and angry about last season, and the fact that Andy Reid somehow continues to collect a paycheck. The only thing that's going to win those people over is a Super Bowl.

One thing is for certain: if the Eagles don't do it this year, or at least come close, Reid will be out of excuses. By the time the draft is over, this will be the most complete roster Philadelphia has had on paper since '08, maybe even '04.

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

BOX SCORE

The moment when the ball struck first baseman Tommy Joseph’s glove for the final out of the Phillies 10-8 win over the Mets — dealing a major blow to their rival’s wild card hopes in the process — felt more like a collective exhalation than a moment of celebration (see Instant Replay).
 
Two days earlier, the bullpen faltered suddenly. A game-tying two-run homer by Jose Reyes in the ninth was the first body blow. The game-winning three-run homer by Asdrubal Cabrera was the knockout.
 
Saturday, the collapse occurred over the course of five innings as the Phillies let a lead that was once 10-0 slip away, one drawn-out at-bat after another.
 
Missing, of course, was the moment of impact in the proverbial slow-motion car crash, thanks to well-placed sinkers and four-seamers from Michael Mariot.
 
“The bullpen’s been sputtering,” manager Pete Mackanin said in an understatement.
 
Joely Rodriguez entered in the sixth inning with a 10-4 lead to face a string of lefties and it quickly became apparent that he did not have his fastball. A middle-in four-seamer that caught too much of the plate was slapped for a double by Mets shortstop Gavin Cecchini, his first major-league hit and a run. A second run scored when a little dribbler by third baseman T.J. Rivera died on the third base line, leaving Rodriguez with no play.
 
“He just didn’t throw quality strikes,” Mackanin said.
 
Even the normally-reliable Hector Neris struggled on Saturday. In his 77th outing of the season, Neris walked two straight batters and then surrendered an RBI double to Cecchini of his own which narrowed the lead to 10-7 and thrust the uncertainty of a save situation onto Mackanin.
 
Mariot was given first crack at the ninth inning one day after Mackanin said he would give Jeanmar Gomez a break from closing duties.
 
Mariot’s audition got off to a rough start. He gave up a pinch-hit solo home run to Jay Bruce — who had been mired in an 0-15 slump — with one out in the ninth and then walked Eric Campbell and Michael Conforto after a pair of grueling at-bats that lasted a combined 18 pitches.
 
The two hitters fouled off eight of Mariot’s pitches and took several four-seamers that just missed the plate.
 
“I was pretty upset about that,” Mariot said of the four-seamers that missed. “I was hoping to get at least a swing or maybe a call on those. Talking to [catcher] A.J. [Ellis], I think he said that they missed but I was hoping at least one of them to get called a strike.”
 
Gomez was up in the Phillies’ bullpen but Mariot ensured that Mackanin wouldn’t need to throw the recently-struggling closer back into the fire in a high-stress situation.
 
Mariot was able to locate his fastball when he needed to most. He fooled Lucas Duda with a two-seamer that the slugger popped out to Freddy Galvis and got Travis D’Arnaud to ground a four-seamer outside right back to him.
 
“I just told myself: ‘keep throwing strikes and good things will happen,’” Mariot said.
 
He threw just enough strikes to ensure that the Phillies didn’t end up on the wrong end of what would have been the Mets’ biggest comeback in team history.

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College football wrap: Auburn upsets No. 18 LSU with controversial finish

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USA Today Images

College football wrap: Auburn upsets No. 18 LSU with controversial finish

AUBURN, Ala. -- Gus Malzahn was ready to try anything to get a win for his Auburn Tigers.

Malzahn relinquished offensive play-calling duties. Following his daughters' advice, he traded his usual game-day visor for a cap. And then, when the clock expired and LSU players were celebrating an apparent last-second win, the Auburn coach put all his faith in a ruling he couldn't control.

Daniel Carlson kicked six field goals and Auburn beat No. 18 LSU 18-13 on Saturday night after officials ruled Danny Etling's apparent last-gasp scoring pass came after time expired.

Malzahn said he knew there were only zeroes on the clock before the snap to Etling.

"I was pretty confident time had expired," Malzahn said. "It was just a matter of going to the booth and confirming it."

Etling rolled to his right and found D.J. Shark in the back of the end zone on a 15-yard pass, setting off a short-lived celebration by LSU players (see full recap).

Hornibrook proves he's ready in Badgers' win over Spartans
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- By the time Alex Hornibrook's first start was over, there wasn't much question about whether he could handle one of the toughest road tests in the Big Ten.

Hornibrook threw for 195 yards and a touchdown, and 11th-ranked Wisconsin turned its early-season showdown with No. 8 Michigan State into a rout, beating the Spartans 30-6 on Saturday.

"You've got to have respect for a guy whose first start is against a Michigan State defense," Wisconsin running back Corey Clement said.

"He's going to come out the next game and do even better. I think he's just getting his feet wet."

The freshman quarterback outplayed fifth-year senior Tyler O'Connor, his Michigan State counterpart. The Badgers (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) were the better team in the first half and then outscored the Spartans 17-0 in the third quarter (see full recap).

No. 23 Rebels find their rhythm, beat No. 12 Georgia 45-14
OXFORD, Miss. -- Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly faked the handoff and then took off running toward the end zone. A few seconds and 41 yards later, the quarterback had cruised through the middle of the Georgia defense and into the end zone untouched.

It was pretty much that easy for the Rebels all afternoon. Ole Miss finally built a lead it couldn't give away.

No. 23 Ole Miss rolled to a 45-14 victory over No. 12 Georgia on Saturday, building a 31-0 lead by halftime and a 45-0 advantage by midway through the fourth quarter.

Kelly threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns. Ole Miss (2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) broke a 10-game losing streak in the series dating to 1996 (see full recap).

Dobbs rallies No. 14 Vols to 38-28 win over No. 19 Gators
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- This time, Tennessee delivered the comeback.

And in the process, the Volunteers took out 11 years' worth of frustration on Florida.

Joshua Dobbs accounted for five second-half touchdowns Saturday and No. 14 Tennessee erased a 21-point deficit to beat No. 19 Florida 38-28 and end their 11-game losing streak in the annual series.

"I didn't see anybody blink," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "Nobody flinched. They just kept playing."

This marks the first time Tennessee (4-0, 1-0 SEC) has beaten Florida (3-1, 1-1) since 2004. The Volunteers had lost to Florida by one point each of the last two years despite leading in the fourth quarter of both games (see full recap).