Grading 2011's Free Agent Class

Grading 2011's Free Agent Class

As we prepare to ring in another action-packed NFL offseason, we remember the excitement -- and the lessons -- last August brought.

When the lockout lifted, the Eagles signed wave after wave of player during a free agency period that truly was like none other before. Many were busts, but a handful of moves paid off, and are a big reason why the front office will not be as active in 2012. After a full season to take in the hectic events last summer brought, here are our grades for the ten most significant additions of last season.

Jarrad Page
Billed as a quality, under-the-radar addition to an inexperienced safety corps, Page brought whatever the opposite of veteran stability is to the unit. He wasn't anything special in coverage, took poor angles to ball carriers, and was an awful tackler on the off-chance he arrived there. How bad was he? Jarrad Page is a baseball player now.

Grade: F

Steve Smith
Smith often seemed like a double agent who was sent by the Giants to sabotage the Eagles' season, except he seldom played. The team shut him down in December with a bone bruise on the same knee that was recently repaired by microfracture surgery. He finished the season with 11 catches and one touchdown.

And it still wouldn't have been a completely horrible signing, only Smith is already a free agent again. The front office acquired a player they knew would not be 100% last season, and did so without at least leaving open the option to keep him for another year once he got healthy. What was the point of this again?

Grade: F

Ronnie Brown

I think that about sums it up.

Grade: D

Kyle DeVan
Not a conventional free agent signing, the Eagles scooped up DeVan after he was waived by the Colts on cutdown day. First-round pick Danny Watkins wasn't ready for the NFL when the season began, and DeVan knew Howard Mudd's system.

It accomplished a goal. DeVan started the first four games of the season. He wasn't very good, but was competent. The offense struggled mightily in short yardage as a result though, so Watkins was re-installed as starter, and DeVan was released a short time later.

Grade: C-

Vince Young
Undoubtedly the winner for most disliked free agent signing, Young had his ups and downs on the field, but those were completely overshadowed by his "Dream Team" remarks. Fans got a sick feeling in their stomach, and the Eagles were suddenly playing with bullseyes on their jerseys.

VY was more of a mixed bag under center. He went 1-2 in three starts, leading an incredible 18-play drive to defeat the Giants, only to have a four-interception meltdown in Seattle two weeks later.

Grade: C-

Nnamdi Asomugha
Asomugha finds himself this high on our list by default. By no measure did he have a great season, the first of five years for a whopping $60 million. Sure, Juan Castillo didn't use Nnamdi purely as a right-man corner like he played in Oakland, but it's not like they asked him to play while blindfolded, either.

Which isn't to say we're giving up on Asomugha. He is still an amazing athlete, a three-time Pro Bowl corner. With another year in the system, and a better comprehension of his role, there should be improvement in 2012.

Grade: C

Derek Landri
Talk about finding a diamond in the rough. Landri was brought in for training camp depth following Mike Patterson's scary seizure. He had a strong preseason, but the coaching staff didn't think enough of Landri to keep him on the 53-man roster. Somehow he remained unsigned, so when Antonio Dixon was lost for the season in September, the Eagles gave Landri a call.

He became a force. According to Pro Football Focus, Landri charted as the fourth-best defensive tackle in the league, and he was the fifth-most productive interior pass rusher with 18 hurries in 178 snaps. A six-year veteran journeyman, it seems this is a case where Landri is a fit in their system. Hopefully he agrees, and returns to Philadelphia for another season.

Grade: B+

Cullen Jenkins

Any questions?

Grade: A

Jason Babin
What do 18 sacks get you these days? A career year. A Pro Bowl. Maybe a double team.

How 'bout second place on the Eagles' best free agents list?

Don't get me wrong, Babin had a tremendous season rushing quarterbacks, and you can easily make a case for him as the most valuable FA, but two aspects knocked him out of the running for an A+. First, Babin was invisible against the run. When you're getting 18 sacks out of a guy, you'll take the good with the bad, but being a one-dimensional player hurt him overall.

Second, how much of the credit for his outrageous sack total goes to Jim Washburn's scheme? Before he hooked up with Washburn in Tennessee last year, Babin was a first-round bust who spent seven years floundering between four teams until the wide nine rescued him. Maybe we're just trying to be contentious, but it would seem the day Washburn goes, Babin suddenly becomes less effective.

Grade: A

Evan Mathis
Mathis was supposed to be another one of those under-the-radar additions. Instead, he wound up developing into a Pro-Bowl caliber player.

In 2010, Mathis was toiling away on Cincinnati's bench, his third stop in a seven-year NFL career during which he had started all of 22 games. He came to Philly, where he was awarded the starting job at left guard after Todd Herremans moved to right tackle. Year eight turned out to be the charm for Mathis, as he elevated his game to a new level working under Howard Mudd.

Mathis is a huge reason why the offensive line began to gel last season. While Watkins and Jason Kelce were going through normal growing pains in their rookie seasons, Mathis was able to solidify his spot along the interior. As long as the Eagles are able to re-sign him, this line could finally reach its full potential in 2012.

Grade: A+

Overall
There were plenty of notable misses in free agency. Young, Brown, and Steve Smith accounted for nearly $10 million in cap space alone last season, not to mention Page and DeVan. However, they were all on one-year deals. The Eagles suffered the negative consequences with those players, but they never have to again.

The front office connected on long-term contracts with Jenkins and Babin, and got incredible value out of Mathis and Landri, and their impacts far outweighed the negative ones.

Only Asomugha is still on the see-saw. At times he looked like he might be effective, so we're holding out some hope he will rebound -- and he is still a starting cornerback in the NFL -- but his contract is lengthy and expensive. That and some remarkably awful one-year stopgaps prevent the Eagles from receiving an exceptional mark, but they still found four starters and a decent role player. Not too shabby.

Grade: B

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Shayne Gostisbehere’s fist pump was so vicious and mighty, the celebration was probably felt back in Philadelphia.

This was an exultation the entire Flyers felt, too.

When it started to look like the bye week wasn’t the break they needed, the Flyers reached down deep and got one Sunday night at the Barclays Center in the form a 3-2 overtime victory over the Islanders (see Instant Replay).

“It allows you to take a breath,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That’s one thing for sure.”

A sigh of relief for a team beaten and bruised — losers of three straight by a combined score of 15-4, not to mention 3-9-3 in its past 15 games. The Flyers had lost the day prior on home ice to the Devils, 4-1, with a performance not exactly inspiring confidence following five days off.

On Sunday, they trailed 2-0 in the second period.

“We've got to get better at dealing with adversity when something goes wrong,” general manager Ron Hextall said bluntly before the game. “We need to get back on the horse and get back going. Big deal, a team scored a goal. We need to react better to it.”

Finally, the Flyers reacted the way their GM had been hoping.

They flipped the deficit into a victory when Gostisbehere skated behind the net and put the puck on Claude Giroux’s stick for the game-winner with 1:40 left in the extra session. Gostisbehere whipped his arm through the air and embraced Giroux, along with Jakub Voracek, who started the play by stripping Islanders captain John Tavares.

“On a lot of different levels, it’s an important win,” Hakstol said. “It’s huge. And more importantly for us, a great effort. Thought we deserved the two points. Sometimes maybe that’s what it takes to get over the hump — a tremendous effort for 60-plus minutes. I thought we got that out of everyone tonight.”

For Giroux, it was his first goal since Dec. 21.

For Steve Mason, his first win since Dec. 21.

And for the Flyers, their first road victory since Dec. 14, as they went 0-6-3 in the previous nine games away from home.

Yeah, “it was needed,” as Wayne Simmonds said of the win.

“We’ve been fighting it lately and I thought that was a good game from start to finish,” he said. “I thought everyone played well. I think we made bounces go our way tonight instead of hoping and waiting.”

Simmonds scored what might have been the biggest goal of the game. The Flyers, down 1-0 in the second period, came up empty for 33 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play and the proceeding 5-on-4 advantage. The Islanders then padded the lead to 2-0 moments later, putting the Flyers’ backs against the wall.

But Simmonds kept his team from uncoiling with a goal at 14:10 of the period, giving the Flyers life at second intermission. If not for that score, who knows how the Flyers come out in the third period, trailing by multiple goals yet again.

"I think we were plying well,” Giroux said. “We had a lot of chances and [the puck] wasn't going in. Everybody on the bench was frustrated. When Wayne got that first goal, I think [there was] a little relief on the bench. I haven't see a team celebrate so much just for a first goal. It was kind of a relief and we had a little boost out of that.”

Ivan Provorov scored the equalizer 1:47 into the final period when he maintained possession from the blue line to the circle, adeptly skating around two Islanders to put the puck on net. Provorov’s pass to Travis Konecny hit off the skate of New York’s Adam Pelech and into the net.

“I came off the bench and I saw [Brayden Schenn] was going into the zone, so I took a few hard strides, got the puck from him and I saw it was kind of an odd-man situation,” Provorov said. “I held on to the puck a little bit, saw T.K. going backdoor, passed it there and it went off their D skate.”

Just as important as the timely goals was the Flyers’ discipline. Against the Devils, the Flyers compiled 19 penalty minutes, forcing them on seven penalty kills. This time, the Flyers sharpened up, not allowing the Islanders a power play until midway through the third period. In total, they had just four penalty minutes and killed off both power plays faced.

That gave them a chance.

“We just kept saying it the whole time, ‘Keep going, keep going, guys,’” Simmonds said. “We just need one [goal] and from one comes two, and Mase held the fort.”

Mason made 17 of his 36 saves in the third period and overtime combined.

Now, the Flyers at least go into another important back-to-back — starting Wednesday at the Rangers before welcoming the Maple Leafs Thursday — with some confidence instead of a lost weekend.

“I thought the focus was purely on going out and playing well,” Hakstol said. “And you know, that’s harder to do than you might know — when you start to feel some of the pressure without a win in a little bit. I really liked that side of it. Even in that situation, all the guys played well. Hopefully that puts our entire team in the right direction.’’

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored two goals, Sidney Crosby added his league-leading 28th and the Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth straight game, 5-1 over the Boston Bruins 5-1 on Sunday.

Pittsburgh led 2-1 through two periods before breaking out in the third with three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 57 seconds.

Sheary scored his 17th and has nine goals in nine games. Bryan Rust added his 12th and Patric Hornqvist his 11th for the Penguins, who won a season-high seventh straight at home. Pittsburgh the NHL's best home team, is 13-0-1 in its last 14 home games.

Evgeni Malkin had two assists for a season-best seven-game point streak. Crosby added two assists for a three-point game. Matt Murray made 44 saves to win his fourth straight game.

David Krejci scored his 11th for the Bruins, who have lost four straight and five of their last six (see full recap).

Rangers shut out Red Wings in 1-0 OT win
DETROIT -- J.T. Miller scored at 1:56 of overtime to lift the New York Rangers to a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.

Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves for his second shutout of the season and 61st of his career. The Rangers managed only 19 shots in a game that featured few memorable chances by either team.

The winner came when Mats Zuccarello and Miller swooped in alone on Detroit goalie Jared Coreau. Zuccarello made a simple pass to Miller, who lifted the puck over Coreau for his 16th goal of the season.

Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall played for the first time since Jan. 4, returning from a lower-body injury. The Red Wings put forward Drew Miller on waivers (see full recap).

Atikinson lifts Jackets over Senators in wild OT win
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Cam Atkinson's second goal of the game at 1:09 of overtime lifted the Columbus Blue Jackets a 7-6 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.

Atkinson had a breakaway after a shot by Senators captain Erik Karlsson missed the Columbus net and went around the boards out to Atkinson, who was at center-ice.

The Blue Jackets trailed 5-3 after two periods before Lukas Sedlak and Matt Calvert scored 31 seconds apart to tie it less than 2 1/2 minutes into the third. Atklnson then gave Columbus a 6-5 lead with 9:10 remaining, before Kyle Turries tied it for Ottawa on the power play less than 2 minutes later.

Nick Foligno, Scott Harrington and Zach Werenski also scored for the Blue Jackets, and Joonas Korpisalo finished with 28 saves.

Zach Smith and Mike Hoffman each had two goals and Mark Stone also scored for the Senators. Mike Condon had 22 saves (see full recap).