Should They, Will They? Peyton Manning and the Eagles

Should They, Will They? Peyton Manning and the Eagles

You've no doubt heard the rumbling out of Indianapolis. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning is currently locked in a staring contest with the Colts over a $28 million bonus due on March 8.

Manning, of course, has not played football in over a year, and various reports indicate he is not fully recovered from multiple neck surgeries, the most recent of which he underwent in September. Meanwhile, the team owns the first pick in April's draft, and they are expected to choose quarterback and "can't-miss" prospect Andrew Luck.

It's widely assumed the front office will not pay, and Manning will wind up a free agent in the next few weeks. There are already whispers as to where he could wind up, and there is even a murmur in Philadelphia. Should the Eagles pursue a Super Bowl-winning signal caller if he becomes available?

Colts owner Jim Irsay officially dropped the gauntlet on Tuesday, telling Mike Chappell of the Indianpolis Star he wants Peyton "to make the choice" to stay. In other words, Manning can remain with the organization that drafted him in 1998, as long as he is willing to renegotiate his contract.

In certain circumstances, that option might make sense, but Manning is better off testing the market at this point.

The Colts are in the midst of a complete rebuild, so most of the players, coaches, and executives Manning worked with are either gone or on the way out. It does not appear the team can easily compete for a championship next season -- with or without Peyton -- and with his replacement due to arrive during the offseason, a low-ball offer seems likely.

Manning stands to make far more money, and perhaps find a better opportunity to win now, by negotiating with a bunch of desperate franchises that are clinging to the hope a veteran quarterback might put them over the top.

Believe it or not, some people think the Eagles should be among the teams who pursue the four-time league MVP -- provided he is healthy, of course.

The first problem with that idea is Michael Vick.

For better or worse, the Eagles are essentially married to Vick for at least one more season. Vick's entire $12.5 million salary is guaranteed in 2012, so it's not like cutting him is an option, and that dollar amount coupled with whatever Manning expects to earn is far too much to invest in one position, in case you were actually entertaining the ridiculous notion of keeping both of them.

That leaves a trade, but shipping Vick out is not likely to happen either. Even if they found a partner willing to take on his contract -- and this is actually the easy part given its favorable structure, with the bulk of the guarantees paid off by the end of 2012 -- the Eagles would be hard-pressed to find fair compensation for a 32-year-old quarterback coming off a subpar, injury-riddled season.

Even supposing the return on Vick is not as important as the upgrade at quarterback brings us to issue number two: you are operating on the assumption Manning is, in fact, an upgrade at all.

This would be dangerous thinking.

There remains a very real possibility Peyton Manning will never play football again. Sure, he says he will, and no doubt Peyton is determined to get back on the field, but doesn't this situation set off some red flags?

Manning is trying to come back from multiple neck surgeries. As recently as six months ago, he sought stem cell therapy in Europe. He is finally tossing the pigskin around, but several initial reports claim there is a distinct drop in his velocity, and he has trouble or is unable to throw deep or across his body.

Manning turns 36 in March, which puts him well out of his prime, as he attempts to regain physical abilities that made him great. Should he somehow manage to overcome all of the adversity, it's very hard to believe he could ever be the same player.

Is 75% of Peyton Manning capable of winning a Super Bowl, and still better than 90% of the NFL's starting quarterbacks? Maybe, maybe not, but what about 50% of Peyton Manning? 25%? There is no question he has the football IQ to outlast his talent to a certain extent, which may make him effective enough to lengthen his career.

Yet there are dozens of guys who have hung around after their abilities had already eroded, and never won a thing.

Vick, for all his flaws, at least has his physical gifts still largely intact. A tick or two have no doubt been shaved off that 40 time, but he can still sling the rock, can still turn the corner on would-be tacklers, and can still create big, explosive plays.

Honestly, there is no discussion for Peyton Manning in Philadelphia right now. There is no guarantee he ever plays again, no guarantee he makes the Eagles better even if he does, and that's without a proper debate about Mike Vick's value, trade and otherwise.

When Manning hits free agency in the next few weeks, and the Arizonas and Miamis and Washingtons go searching for lightning in a bottle, as those franchises are wont to do, the Eagles should sit back and let them fight over the scraps. Vick might not be perfect, may never lead Philadelphia to the promised land, but at least we know what we are getting.

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Manning-fied Eagles' logo via Dave's Art Locker. Check out Manning face logos for every team in the league.

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Another new feeling for the rebuilding Sixers: The bad loss with no excuse. For at least one and possibly multiple seasons, there was no real such thing as an inexcusable L, because they were so never the favorite going into any game that their excuse could almost always be "the other team was better." But four wins and one transcendent player into this season, the Ballers actually do need an excuse for dropping a home game against a subpar team by double digits. And if they had one last night in their 105-88 loss to the Orlando Magic, they weren't telling the rest of us.

Really, this game couldn't have been teed up much better for Philly: We were home, well-rested after Wednesday's weird-ass cancellation, against a 7-12 team we nearly beat early in the season, who were on the second night of a back-to-back after ceding a tough one to the Grizzlies -- and we had Joel Embiid for up to 28 minutes. If this one was to be a laugher by early in the fourth quarter, you'd almost have to assume that it'd been the Sixers who put it to bed early. 

Instead, the Sixers slumped horribly from the field in the first quarter, missing bunny after bunny and plenty of open jumpers, as they dug themselves a hole they were never quite able to climb out of. Philly kept it manageable and D.J. Augustin and Nik Vucevic caught fire for Orlando in the third quarter, and the game was suddenly in Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot territory before we could even process what was happening. 

Of course, you can't blame Embiid for this one. Though JoJo was a little out of sorts defensively on this one -- and personally, I really wish he'd stop trapping five feet outside the arc, it may cause panic in the Magic's ball-handlers but it really seems to compromise our own half-court D -- he still finished with a resounding 25-10-4 with three triples, and for the first time in his young career, 0 turnovers. (I coulda swore I saw at least one, but so says the box score, anyway.) Just another game for the Process, though the Sixers (for some reason) needed him to be immaculate last night, and he was merely phenomenal. 

Less phenomenal were the rest of the Sixers' shooters. Our bench in particular was absolutely putrid, going a combined 0-12 from three, with Nik Stauskas's streak of consecutive games with a three snapped at 15 after his scoreless, 0-6 performance. (Five assists for Sauce, at least.) Jahlil posted a dominant stat line of 16 and 13 (on 8-10 shooting) but was again hapless on defense, ending a team-worst -19 for the night. And Dario Saric's slumping continued with a 1-5 shooting outing with no rebounds or assists, likely his worst game of the season. 

It was a surprisingly listless effort from a team that should have looked much sharper, and the most positive non-Joel-related thing to be said about it is that it's (sort of) nice to finally have expectations high enough to have them let down. It'll be a lot harder for Philly to let down tonight against the Celtics, without JoJo, against a pretty good and mostly healthy Boston team. But that's five losses in a row already for the improving Sixers, and it'd be nice to cut off that streak soon, before it starts threatening double digits -- we could certainly do with being done with those for the forseeable future.

No longer feeling like a rookie, Wendell Smallwood more comfortable as lead back

No longer feeling like a rookie, Wendell Smallwood more comfortable as lead back

As the Eagles prepared to face the Green Bay Packers last week, rookie Wendell Smallwood readied himself for a big role.
 
Then he got just nine carries. 
 
It wasn’t that those carries went elsewhere, it was that the Eagles got away from the run game early in the 27-13 loss to the Packers despite being down one score for most of the game. Ultimately, he had half of the team’s carries. 
 
On Friday, head coach Doug Pederson said the disparity in play-calling didn’t have anything to do with having Smallwood as the lead back instead of Ryan Mathews. 
 
“Not really,” Pederson said. “Again, that's something – when I go back ask evaluate after the game – it's something I have to consider more of: Did I run the ball enough or throw the ball enough or not enough or did I do it too much, one way or the other. 
But no, that did not dispel anything, run or pass.”
 
For the second straight week, Mathews is out with an MCL sprain, which means Smallwood is preparing for a bigger role in the offense again. That could also mean his second career start in as many weeks. 
 
Having gone through this process last week has made this week even easier. 
 
“I think I'm very comfortable, more than I was last week,” Smallwood said. “I kind of knew I was going to have a lead role, kind of thinking about a lot, how to play better and take on the load that I was probably going to get. So this week, I think it was kind of natural for me, not really worrying about it.”
 
Smallwood, who was a fifth-round pick out of West Virginia, has 66 carries for 290 yards and one touchdown this season. Smallwood's average of 4.4 yards per attempt is sixth in the league among rookie with at least 60 carries this season. He also has the most rushing yards of any Eagles rookie since Bryce Brown in 2012. 
 
While the Eagles would probably have preferred to use Mathews more this season, the veteran has played just 53 more snaps than Smallwood. 
 
Does Smallwood even feel like a rookie anymore? 
 
“Nah, definitely not, definitely not,” he said with a smile. “Probably after Week 3 I stopped feeling like a rookie. And guys tell me all the time, 'we need you to play, we don't need you to be a rookie right now.' So kind of forced not to be a rookie.”