Here Comes That Linebacker Help: Eagles Trade for MLB DeMeco Ryans

Here Comes That Linebacker Help: Eagles Trade for MLB DeMeco Ryans

The NFL's free agency market for linebackers has taken time to get rolling, but the pieces started to fly on Tuesday. One of the Eagles' top presumed targets was Stephen Tulloch, who re-upped to stay in Detroit. That signing was believed to be a catalyst for the market, and the Eagles struck quickly after, only they did not go with a free agent. 
On Tuesday night, the Eagles agreed to acquire MLB DeMeco Ryans from the Houston Texans, pending a physical. CSN's Reuben Frank relays that the Birds sent the Texans a fourth round pick in 2012 that was previously acquired from Tampa Bay, and the teams exchanged third round picks; the Eagles gave up the 77th pick and received the 89th. 
Roob lists Ryans' annual base salaries as $5.9 mil in 2012, $6.6 mil in 2013, and $6.8 mil in 2014 and 2015 and calls the move a big upgrade for the Eagles. Dan Graziano of ESPN adds that none of the money is guaranteed past the upcoming season. 
Roob initially passed along the trade information reported by John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. McClain describes Ryans as a team leader and one of his all-time favorite interviews. Great news for a defense that could use not only a strong MIKE, but also some personality. 
Ryans (6'1, 250) turns 28 in July and was drafted by the Texans out of Alabama as the 33rd overall pick in the 2006 draft. He was the 2006 Rookie of the Year, a Pro Bowler in 2007 and 2009, and a 2007 All-Pro. 
He was also the Texans defensive captain and a popular player with teammates and fans. 
So why did they let Ryans go for what may seem to be such a small haul? 
McClain points out that he played weakside interior linebacker in the 3-4 that the Texans defense now runs under Wade Phillips, a position that comes off the field in passing downs. When Houston went to the dime, strongside inside linebacker Brian Cushing was always on the field. 
A true MIKE, Ryans' strengths were wasted in Wade's scheme. In its first year of implementation, the new defense was successful without Ryans playing a big role, and the Texans are said to have asked him to take a pay cut, which is understandable given their cap constraints and his diminished role in the 3-4 scheme. 
Instead, they found a team with ample cap space and a desperate need for someone who fits Ryans' bill.  
Ryans also suffered a season-ending achilles injury in 2010 and was nicked up with elbow and hamstring injuries early in 2011, though he returned to play every game of the season and had a strong second half according to McClain. He'll need to pass a physical before the deal is finalized, and assuming he does, there's no guarantee he returns to pre-injury form.
It will be interesting to see what the Eagles do in the upcoming draft now that their most glaring need is presumably filled. Still plenty of room for improvement and future planning, and linebacker is still an option if the Eagles like their options when they're on the clock.

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.

A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.

The rest of the team included:

• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)

Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.

But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.

Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.

Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.

“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

There’s a number of reasons why the Flyers have a five-game winning streak, why they’re playing better hockey, and why they own the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
 
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is goaltender Steve Mason, who has won four of those games, compiling a 1.71 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that span.
 
Mason was named the NHL’s first “Star of the Week” on Monday. St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones were second and third stars.
 
“The team is on a roll right now and I’m a benefactor of that,” said Mason, who needs a win Tuesday against Florida to tie his career-high streak of five set Dec. 17-30 in 2013, during his first, full season as a Flyer.
 
“There’s strong play in front of me. The team is playing a little tighter in our defensive zone of late and making the goaltender reads that much more simple. 
 
“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me … Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”
 
His four victories last week were tops in the NHL. Among them, he had a season-high 45 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Boston. 
 
Like many goalies, Mason prefers action. Games such as the 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa last week when the Senators only fired 21 shots, bother him.
 
“Those games, when you are not getting a lot of shots, the ones you do get will be a high-grade scoring chance,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around a few minutes not seeing the puck and all of a sudden see a chance like that …
 
“It’s more difficult to play [those games] than the games where there is a constant workload and you’re not thinking, but just playing. For myself personally, those are the games I enjoy the most. When I see a lot of pucks.”
 
The Flyers have seen dramatic improvement over the past month in their overall defensive play, from both their defensemen in down-low coverage in the slow and with their forwards on the backcheck.
 
Mason said the team has gone through “growing pains” with trying to integrate some younger bodies to the lineup this season – Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nick Cousins  come to mind.
 
“You have to familiar with everybody,” he said. “Have a constant lineup where guys go out  shift after shift and night after night, you know what to expect from one another. When you have that kind of confidence in guys, it makes playing easier.” 
 
Mason’s 4-2 victory at Nashville on Sunday saw him go over .500 for the first time this season with a 9-8-3 record. 
 
His GAA is coming down at 2.76 while his save percentage has risen to .904.
 
“I was aware of it obviously, just because of the way the year started,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get it above the .900 level.
 
“We’re obviously going to continue to work at getting it even better. The way the team’s playing right now and the way everybody’s clicking, we’re going at a good pace right now.”