Looking Ahead to Next Offseason for the Eagles

Looking Ahead to Next Offseason for the Eagles

With LeSean McCoy's contract extension finished, and only one draft pick -- Fletcher Cox -- left to sign, the feeling around town is the offseason has officially come to a close for the Eagles. The front office is always tinkering with the back end of the 90-man roster they'll take to Lehigh, and a veteran safety could still enter the mix before the regular season gets underway, but Shady was the last of the headline grabbers.

Training camp is a couple months away though, and only so much can be gleaned about a football team from reading reports on OTAs, but fear not, armchair GMs. Next offseason is less than a year away, where another round of moves that will shape the direction of the franchise are right around the corner. We take a sneak peak at what hurdles possibly lie ahead for Eagles management once the 2012 campaign ends.

Extension for Jeremy Maclin
One of the staples of this regime has been locking their own talent into long-term contracts before the current deal expires, a move we saw plenty of this offseason. McCoy, Trent Cole, and Todd Herremans received the priviledged treatment this Spring, and it's most often applied to players nearing the end of their rookie deal, like Shady, and also Brent Celek mid-2010. Maclin would appear to be next on the list. The 19th overall selection in '09, he'll be turning 25 with one year remaining at season's end.

Exactly what kind of contract he'll be in line for has yet to be determined. Maclin is averaging 63 catches, 865 yards, and six touchdowns per season through three, which are solid numbers, though not quite star caliber. He's certainly flashed that kind of potential, hauling in 10 touchdowns during 2010, and his yards per game have climbed every year, from 50.8 as a rookie to 66.1 last year. Over a full 16 games, the latter equates to 1,057 yards. Perhaps all Maclin needs to reach the next level is a full season in good health, which he's experienced only once during his brief NFL career.

For all intents and purposes, this is a contract year for Maclin, so there is no time like the present.

Logjam at Left Tackle
The silver lining to Jason Peters' season-ending injury was the best free agent left tackle was still on the market, and because nobody else felt any urgency to sign Demetress Bell, the Eagles have him under a favorable contract. The problem is the terms of the deal will force a decision about the future of the position very early into the offseason.

The Eagles can cut ties on the remainder of Bell's five-year contract worth $35 million after just one season, but he's owed an $8.5 million roster bonus. We haven't located details on exactly when that takes effect, though it's typically on or around the first day of the new league year in March, which means to avoid paying that lump sum of cash, the team must release him before that date. It all sounds so easy, but will they have the confidence in Peters returning from multiple Achilles surgeries to dump Bell? The front office could also be in for a showdown with their All-Pro, whom they are taking $3.25M from to pay Bell's base salary in 2011, which apparently the front office is allowed to do because this was classified as a non-football injury.

The possibility certainly exists Bell's play won't warrant further consideration of his bonus, or they could pay it then attempt to trade him, move him beforehand, etc., but they can't afford to keep both tackles on the books going forward. (Well, maybe they can, but that would be more than a little ridiculous.) Maybe Peters will be the one deemed expendable, which would be a real shame considering how great he's been. Whatever the case is, unless they run into problems elsewhere on the line, one of the two should be gone.

Contract Dispute with Jason Babin
Unlike some of the other items on the list, this is purely speculative. Jason Babin is currently under contract through 2015, a free agent deal he and his agent negotiated just last summer. Ideally, he'll play that out for another year or two before making waves. The problem is he might be vastly outperforming what he's slated to receive. Babin finished 2011 third in the NFL with 18 sacks. He had 12.5 the season prior with the Titans. Another double-digit sack season would cement him as an elite pass rusher, while his contract would be anything but.

Babin's five-year deal was for just over $27 million, with just $4M in guarantees. He's slated to make $4.4M in '13, $6M in '14 and '15. That's a lot of change, but not comparatively speaking. Mario Williams just signed with the Bills for six years, $100 million, with $50 million guaranteed. That's basically three times what Babin will earn over the life of his deal, and while he's no Mario Williams, the discrepancies are all over the place. The Lions used the franchise tag of Cliff Avril this offseason, which guarantees one year at over $10 mil -- roughly the average of the five highest-paid ends in the league.

Babin seems like the kind of guy who has no problem speaking his mind, and while he followed defensive line coach Jim Washburn to Philly, and despite having a far more extensive history of non-production, players averaging 15 sacks per season usually want to be paid in a manner reflective of that status. Could be trouble on the horizon.

Renegotiate with DeMeco Ryans
If Ryans is everything he is cracked up to be, the $6.8 million per year he's owed between 2013-15 may not be an issue next season. On the other hand, if he's lost a step, the Eagles might think that a steep price tag.

Ryans became expendable to the Texans after their move to a 3-4 defense. Only one interior linebacker -- Brian Cushing -- was used nearly 50% of the time as Houston shifted to their dime personnel on passing downs. However, Ryans was also returning from a ruptured Achilles from the season prior, the recovery paired with learning a new defensive system slowing him down some. Excitement is high that the Eagles finally added a Pro Bowler and leader in the heart of their defense, but some are a little more cautiously optimistic.

Like Babin's supposed dispute, we're merely guessing about a situation that should only arise if Ryans turns out to be ordinary. The Eagles did not assume any of his signing bonuses though, so they seem to have the leverage should they choose to rework the deal.

Sign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
There is one player the Eagles absolutely must act on before next offseason begins, and that is is Rodgers-Cromartie -- as long as they intend to keep him, that is.

One of the two pieces to come over in the trade for Kevin Kolb, DRC is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. While he is being penciled in as the starter at left corner, the 16th overall selection from the '08 Draft showed little in his first campaign with the Birds, mostly playing out of posi
tion in the slot. Management probably needs more performances to evaluate before deciding how they want to approach negotiations.

Cromartie has flashed star potential through his first four NFL seasons however, even earning a Pro Bowl nod in '09, and he looked like a different player last season when given the opportunity to line up outside. Being that he was a key part of the Kolb deal, the Eagles likely intend to keep him in the nest beyond 2012. If they don't offer him an extension at some point this season, it will be interesting to see how they go about it. If DRC plays well enough, the franchise tag could be the device used to keep him in Philadelphia.

Fill Need at Safety
There is much discussion about whether the current crop of safeties are going to cut it for the Eagles. That remains to be seen, and a debate best saved for another time, but the front office has been put on notice.

Nate Allen, assuming he continues progressing the way he did last season, should be in Eagles green for a long time. In fact, along with Maclin, Allen might be one of those young players on their rookie deal who are being looked at for a quick extension. He'll have one year left next offseason, so if he elevates his play and stays healthy in 2012, he could be heading for a payday.

What has yet to be determined for certain is whether they have a need at the other spot. Kurt Coleman seems serviceable, if a bit limited in terms of athletic ability, but he hasn't exactly locked down a job. He'll compete with Jaiquawn Jarrett, a second-round pick a year ago who hasn't been able to get on the field. We've suggested Jarrett's troubles as a rookie may have stemmed from the lockout-shortened offseason, but the point is he remains a mystery.

To say Jarrett only has this season to win over the coaches might be a bit of a stretch, but he at least needs to show something to convince them he can make it at this level. Either that, or Coleman could make the leap in his third NFL season and instill confidence in this group for the first time since Brian Dawkins departed. If neither Jarrett's or Coleman's growth comes to pass, it appears it could be back to the drawing board for the Birds. Safety could be their greatest need heading into 2013.

Ryan Howard's miserable May continues as Tigers out-power Phillies

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Ryan Howard's miserable May continues as Tigers out-power Phillies

DETROIT — Back when they were racking up National League East titles and filling Citizens Bank Park night after night, the Phillies could slug with anyone.
 
Those days are gone.
 
So even on a night when they got some power from two young up-and-comers in their lineup, the Phillies still couldn’t get enough to match up with the Detroit Tigers on Monday night.
 
“We don’t have enough pop to go blow for blow with them,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
The Tigers belted four home runs, three against starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, in beating the Phillies, 5-4, at Comerica Park (see Instant Replay).
 
Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph both homered for the Phillies, but Ryan Howard, no longer even close to the player he was during those aforementioned title years, slipped deeper into the May quicksand. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to fall to .156 on the season. He is 4 for 48 (.083) in the month of May.
 
“Man, it’s been brutal,” Howard said after the game. “I’m not going to lie. I need some breaks, man. It’s been tough. I’ve hit some balls hard, but they’re not finding any real estate out there.
 
“I have to keep grinding and swinging. Luckily, it’s still early to get it turned around.”
 
Yes, it’s early for some guys.
 
But it might not be that early for Howard. He’s 36 and in the final year of his contract. His slump has coincided with Joseph’s ascension from the minors. Joseph played first base Monday night and looked good at the position. In addition to hitting a game-tying homer in the sixth, he had a double. Half of his six hits in his first seven games in the majors have been for extra bases.
 
Joseph will continue to play first base while Howard serves as the designated hitter in the final two games of the interleague series in Detroit. After that, Joseph is expected to start against lefty Jon Lester in Chicago on Friday. If he keeps hitting — and Howard keeps struggling — the situation could be ripe for Mackanin to continue to play Joseph, even against the right-handers Howard usually sees.
 
“I'm going to look at it a week at a time,” Mackanin said. “We'll see. At some point it might come to that, but I can't say it's imminent.”
 
If Howard starts spending more time on the bench, it will be part of a downhill progression that started in the second half of last season when he became a platoon player. Will a progression to the bench ultimately lead to his being released in the coming weeks? Well, if Joseph keeps hitting and continues to earn playing time, management may have to seriously ponder the move.
 
Even with Franco and Joseph hitting home runs, the Phillies didn’t have enough to match the Tigers’ thunder.
 
Miguel Cabrera belted two home runs and in the seventh inning clubbed his 500th career double. He then came around to score the go-ahead run on a single by Victor Martinez.
 
Entering the game, the Tigers were among the top teams in the American League in batting average (.265), runs per game (4.60), homers (56) and OPS (.758).
 
Meanwhile, the Phillies couldn’t get much lower in offense. They ranked near the bottom in the National League in batting average (.233), runs per game (3.23), homers (32) and OPS (.651).
 
“You look up and down their lineup on the scoreboard and it looks like everybody is hitting .300 with eight or 10 home runs,” Mackanin said. “It can be daunting.
 
“The middle of their lineup hurt us with the long ball. We knew they were swinging the bats well lately. They weren’t earlier. Now they’re swinging well and we couldn’t contain them.
 
“We got 12 hits of our own. But they’ve got a lot of power on that team.”
 
The Phillies are at the start of a challenging trip — three in Detroit followed by three against the Cubs in Wrigley Field. The Cubs have the majors’ best record. The Phillies, a surprising four games over .500, will be tested on this trip.
 
They did not pass the first test. Velasquez had trouble commanding his pitches and for the second straight start ran a high pitch count. He took a 3-1 lead to the mound in the fifth, but it evaporated quickly under the weight of homers by J.D. Martinez and Cabrera. Reliever Colton Murray also gave up a homer in the inning. He also allowed the go-ahead run in the seventh as Mackanin held David Hernandez back in case the Phils got a lead.
 
“Velasquez didn’t have any command of his secondary pitches, pretty basic stuff, and he left some fastballs over the plate,” Mackanin said. “You have to throw quality pitches to a lineup like this. If you make mistakes against them, they don’t miss. If you don’t command your secondary pitches against good hitters, they become like sharks and smell blood and hit the fastball.”
 
Velasquez said he should have gotten the loss, not Murray.
 
“You can’t shy away from hitters and I did that,” he said. “You’ve got to pitch inside. I pitched around them.
 
“I’ve got to do something about this. I’ve got to challenge hitters.”

With game on the line, Pete Mackanin benches his best player for lack of hustle

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With game on the line, Pete Mackanin benches his best player for lack of hustle

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DETROIT — Phillies manager Pete Mackanin made a strong statement Monday night when he benched his best hitter in the seventh inning of a tie game.
 
With Odubel Herrera on the bench for the final innings, the Phillies went on to lose, 5-4, to the Detroit Tigers (see Instant Replay).
 
Mackanin did not regret his decision to yank Herrera and his team-high .335 batting average from the game.
 
“It’s important to me to set that tone,” Mackanin said. “When you don’t hustle, I’ve got a problem.”
 
Herrera had singled in each of his first three at-bats. He drove in the Phillies’ first run with a hit in the third inning.
 
But when he bounced back to the pitcher and took his time getting to first base in the seventh, Mackanin abruptly pulled him. Even Ryan Howard said something to Herrera in the dugout.
 
“He didn’t run,” Mackanin said. “One of the ingredients to our success to this point is the fact that guys play with energy and they play hard. We’re training them to play the game the right way and not running is not the right way.”
 
Herrera said he did not run because he was “frustrated” and “angry” with the at-bat. He said Tigers reliever Justin Wilson “got in his head” by varying his delivery times. Herrera even mentioned that Wilson quick-pitched him.
 
“The pitcher was playing with me,” he said. “I have to learn from it. I didn’t think [Mackanin] was going to bench me, but I understand why. I can’t argue. I was frustrated. I respect the decision. I know that I did wrong. I have to learn from my mistakes and it won’t happen again.”
 
Mackanin is a huge fan of Herrera. He has predicted the 24-year-old Venezuelan will someday win a batting title.
 
But Mackanin indicated after Monday night’s game that Herrera might be developing some bad habits — at least when it comes to the hustle that Mackanin values. The front office values it, too. Playing with “energy” is something the front office frequently says it wants to see, and the ability to get his players to play with energy is one of Mackanin’s strengths.
 
“I’ve seen it in the past and it’s been trickling in,” Mackanin said of Herrera’s occasional lapses in hustle. “I didn’t like it and I made the decision. He knows he should have run.”
 
Jonathan Papelbon put a chokehold on Bryce Harper’s neck last year in Washington for a similar transgression.
 
In the Phillies’ dugout Monday night, Herrera got a little talking-to from Howard.
 
“That was great to see,” Mackanin said.
 
Said Howard: “Doobie's got a lot of promise. He’s going to be around this game for a long time. He makes things happen. He brings energy to the game.
 
“The pitcher lost the grip and had to double-pump. If you’re running hard, maybe he makes a bad throw and you’re on base.
 
“I just told him, ‘You’ve got to keep going. I know it’s not the at-bat you wanted, but look at me, bro, I’m still out there grinding.’ If he’s running there, the pitcher could throw it away and he could be on second and we could squeeze a run out.”
 
Howard went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to fall to .156 on the season. He is 4 for 48 (.083) in the month of May (see story).
 
Mackanin said his message to Herrera was complete. Herrera will be back in the starting lineup on Tuesday night.

NBA Playoffs: Raptors hold off Cavs to even East Finals 2-2

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NBA Playoffs: Raptors hold off Cavs to even East Finals 2-2

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TORONTO -- A series that once looked lopsided is now even.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points, including a driving layup in the final minute, and DeMar DeRozan had 32 as the Toronto Raptors evened the Eastern Conference Finals by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 105-99 in Game 4 on Monday night.

DeMarre Carroll scored 11 points and Bismack Biyombo had 14 rebounds as Toronto improved to 8-2 at home this postseason and got back on level terms after big losses in Games 1 and 2.

"We've been counted out, and we like that challenge," DeRozan said.

The next challenge for Toronto? Game 5 on Wednesday night in Cleveland, where the Raptors are 0-3 this season, losing by a combined 72 points.

"We have to continue to make sure that when they punch, we punch back," Lowry said. "And if they punch three times, we punch four times."

The Raptors are 2-6 on the road in the playoffs.

After a 10-0 start to these playoffs, the Cavaliers are counting on home court advantage to help them reach their second straight Finals.

"Going back home we have to play a lot better and I think we will," LeBron James said.

Cleveland lost consecutive playoff games to an Eastern Conference opponent for the first time since dropping the final three games of the conference semifinals to Boston in 2010.

"We had a few defensive breakdowns that you can't have down the stretch of a game, especially in the playoffs," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "They executed every time we made a mistake."

James scored 29 points and Kyrie Irving had 26 for the Cavaliers, who trailed by as many as 18 points. Channing Frye scored nine of his 12 points in the fourth quarter.

Lowry scored nine in the fourth and DeRozan had 12, connecting on five of six shots.

"It's a cakewalk for me when (Lowry) gets going," DeRozan said. "It opens up everything."

The Raptors led 78-69 to begin the fourth but Frye made consecutive 3-pointers as Cleveland opened the final quarter with an 8-0 run, cutting it to 78-77. The Cavaliers made their first 11 shots of the fourth quarter.

"It wasn't enough because we got off to a horrible first half once again in this building and you're playing catch up the whole game," James said.

Frye's errant 3-point attempt at 4:12 was Cleveland's first miss of the fourth. DeRozan made two free throws at the other end and, after another miss by Frye, Carroll made one of two to put Toronto up 99-96 with 3:23 to go.

A long 3 by Irving made it 101-99 with 2:00 left, but DeRozan answered with a driving bank shot at 1:33. Toronto got the ball back after Biyombo blocked J.R. Smith's 3, and Biyombo kept the offensive possession alive by rebounding Lowry's missed shot. After a timeout, Lowry let the shot clock wind down before driving for the decisive layup, making it 105-99 with 22 seconds to go.

Toronto jumped out to a 13-5 lead as Cleveland missed eight of its first 10 shots. Following a timeout, the Cavs made five of their next six to cut the deficit but the Raptors led 27-24 after one quarter.

Lowry scored 15 points in the second, making three of Toronto's four 3-pointers, as the Raptors opened a 57-41 halftime lead despite not shooting a single free throw in the first two quarters. It marked the first time a team led by 15 or more at halftime in a conference finals game without shooting a free throw since Game 2 of the 2001 East Finals between Milwaukee and Philadelphia. The Bucks made two of six from the line, the fewest ever made in an NBA playoff game at the time.

DeRozan shot Toronto's first free throws at 6:13 of the third after being tackled by Smith on a drive. The foul drought came after Raptors coach Dwane Casey was fined $25,000 for criticizing the officials following Toronto's Game 3 win.

Fans cheered derisively when Matthew Dellavedova was called for Cleveland's first foul of the game at 8:56 of the second.

Not much to Love
After shooting 3 for 19 in Game 3, Kevin Love shot 4 for 14 in Game 4. He finished with 10 points. Love did not play in the fourth after appearing to injure his left ankle when he stepped on referee David Guthrie late in the third. "It didn't feel too great," Love said. Lue said Love's health was "no concern."

Fair and foul
Cleveland didn't shoot any free throws in the third quarter and had just two in the fourth. Twelve of Toronto's 19 free throws came in the fourth.

Tip-ins
Cavaliers: James and Irving each had six assists. ... Cleveland shot 3 for 23 from 3-point range in the first half. The finished 13 for 41. . Cleveland's Dahntay Jones served a one-game suspension for hitting Biyombo in the groin in Game 3.

Raptors: Raptors C Jonas Valanciunas was active but did not play. He's been out since spraining his right ankle in the third quarter of Game 3 against Miami on May 7. ... Toronto is 10-1 in the playoffs when holding opponents below 100 points.