The Replacements: Eagles Draft Sends Message About Upcoming Free Agents

The Replacements: Eagles Draft Sends Message About Upcoming Free Agents

Quintin Mikell and David Akers have been in the news a lot lately. Two of the final three remaining members from the 2004 Eagles team that reached the Super Bowl become free agents whenever the new league year begins, and they both say the writing is on the wall.

"I talked to Dawk after he left, and he was pretty upset about it," Mikell said. "For me personally, seeing how upset he was, I think I started preparing for that back then. Mike Lewis and Dawk, seeing those guys go, I was like, 'Mentally be ready for that day, because it's going to happen, and it might happen sooner than you think.'

It's typical Eagles, casting off aging veterans in favor of their younger counterparts, and it's a model the front office has been very successful with, often parting ways at precisely the right time--except this time, it's not just the old guys. Virtually every player the Eagles selected in this year's draft should be viewed as a direct replacement for a scheduled free agent, several of them only finishing out their rookie deals.

The lack of a collective bargaining agreement has caused uncertainty over who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. A provision in the old agreement resulted in an uncapped year in 2010, during which the years of service required for unrestricted status jumped from four to six. Because nobody knows exactly what will happen, this led to the belief free agency could continue to operate under those rules.

In all honesty, that was always an unlikely premise. The rule changes triggered by the final year of the expired CBA were put in place as a feeble attempt to prevent a labor dispute. The thought process was the threat of an NFL with no salary cap would keep the owners honest, while a series of obscure rules limiting player movement would put pressure on the union.

We may not make it back to status quo, but there is no way the players will agree to anything that lengthens the wait until free agency. If you still need convincing though, take a closer look at the Eagles' draft class, and the list of players who would be unrestricted in a normal year.

2011 Draft: (1) running back, (1) fullback, (2) guards, (1) center, (3) linebackers, (1) cornerback, (1) safety, (1) kicker.

2011 unrestricted free agents: (1) running back, (3) guards, (1) defensive end, (4) linebackers, (2) cornerbacks, (1) safety, (1) kicker, (1) punter.

In case you are having trouble reading between the lines, the Eagles are preparing as if nobody will re-sign, and it's not just veterans like Mikell and Akers, or moving parts such as Dimitri Patterson and Ernie Sims. It's Max Jean-Gilles, a starter in 10 games last season; Jerome Harrison, who they swindled from the Browns in a trade last October; and Stewart Bradley, only two seasons removed from being a rising star at middle linebacker.

Prior the draft, I would have considered the return of several free agents likely, unrestricted or not. I really did not foresee the Eagles drafting another safety in the second round, Akers was tendered with the transition tag, and I hoped Bradley would show progress in his second season following an ACL tear. Now, none of their services are necessary.

Sure, anybody could come back... if the price were right. It has to be on the Eagles' terms though. Mikell should command top dollar as arguably the top safety on the market, not to mention years management would never match with Jaiquawn Jarrett in the fold. The transition offer to Akers may as well be rescinded, unless they are really going to have Alex Henery punting in his rookie season. Bradley probably has the best shot of all to don midnight green in '11, but only if he is willing to compete for a job.

We could do this all day. Curtis Marsh, a corner for all of one season, couldn't be any worse than Patterson. Why waste valuable instruction on the 28 year old Harrison when they have 20 year old Dion Lewis? Jean-Gilles, Nick Cole, and Reggie Wells are expendable now that they have Danny Watkins, Julian Vandervelde, and Jason Kelce, as are Sims, Omar Gaither, and Akeem Jordan to their Casey Matthews, Brian Rolle, and Greg Lloyd.

Obviously it's too soon to call anybody's draft a success, but it's enough to make you wonder how anybody could term the Eagles' haul bad, much less comically so as the Inquirer's John Gonzalez suggested the other day. They merely sought to replace players who are already out the door.

And are they losing anybody who is irreplaceable? A good kicker can be difficult to find, but Akers turns 37 this year, and the drama that unfolded over the winter--after he missed crucial field goals in the playoffs no less--hardly seems worth the trouble. Mikell is the most valuable of the bunch, and even he is somewhat one dimensional; one of the best in the box, but just average in coverage. And again, it's worth repeating he has a nice payday coming.

The Eagles passed on the household names in the first round, and failed to address seemingly obvious holes in the process. However, it would be incorrect to conclude they failed to draft for need, when if the roster holds up without any of their 15 upcoming free agents, they drafted out of practically nothing but immediate need. As a result, don't be surprised by the impact this year's class plays in the season ahead.

NFL Playoffs: Matt Ryan, Falcons dismantle Packers to reach Super Bowl LI

NFL Playoffs: Matt Ryan, Falcons dismantle Packers to reach Super Bowl LI

The Atlanta Falcons are headed to their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history after routing the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the NFC championship game.

Matt Ryan threw for four touchdowns, including a 73-yard catch-and-run for a highlight-reel score by star receiver Julio Jones. The defense played just as crucial a role in containing quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense.

Rodgers had 287 yards with three touchdown passes and an interception. But the Falcons got to Rodgers with pressure and forced two Green Bay turnovers. Rodgers was outplayed by Ryan, who even ran for a 14-yard touchdown.

Atlanta will play either New England or Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 in Houston.

The only other time that Atlanta made the Super Bowl was in the 1998 season. The Falcons lost 34-19 to the Denver Broncos.

The Packers fell in the NFC title game for the second time in three seasons.

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jonathan Isaac has a banner week

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jonathan Isaac has a banner week

Two of the country's top prospects faced off in the Pac 12 this week while a top 10 forward saw his season come to a premature close. However, we begin this week with the breakout performance by Jonathan Isaac.

Jonathan Isaac, forward, Florida St. (6-11/205)
Isaac's potential had everyone in the basketball world's curiosity. Now his play on the court has their attention. The Seminoles hosted No. 15 Notre Dame, which had yet to lose in ACC play before the Wednesday game. 

The freshman forward dominated in the 83-80 win. He had 23 points on 7 for 9 shooting from the field. He made both his threes, all seven of his free throws and also had one assist. His other stats were also otherworldly. He picked up 10 rebounds and had seven(!) blocks, including one on a late Notre Dame shot to get back into the game after he'd put the Seminoles ahead with a three. All this was in just 25 minutes

He followed it up with a similar game against Louisville. In 28 minutes, he had 16 points on 4 for 7 shooting, making one three and, again, all seven free throws. Add in two assists and two blocks to aid in the 73-68 win. Isaac has shown himself to be an athletic freak, a potential stretch-four at the next level and one with tremendous defensive potential, displayed with his nine blocks this week.

OG Anunoby, forward, Indiana (6-8/235)
Anunoby has had an uneven season, but he, at the very least, showed flashes of the ability that make him a top player for this year's draft class. However, a knee injury suffered on Wednesday finished off Anunoby's season, forcing him to undergo surgery that will keep him off the court for the rest of Indiana's schedule.

This may knock him out of the 2017 draft entirely. As a freshman last year, his NCAA Tournament performance was enough to make him a lottery pick in an even weaker draft field than the upcoming one. He chose to remain in school and it isn't farfetched to believe he will return to Indiana for his junior year to get more seasoning, a better draft field and another year of education.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA (6-6/190)
There are going to be quite a few marquee matchups in the Pac 12. One of the first this year came in the form of UCLA-Arizona in Los Angeles on Saturday. The No. 3 Bruins lost, 96-85, but that had nothing to do with Ball's standout performance (more on the Wildcats below). He pushed the ball in transition, drove to the hole with ease and made 4 of 8 threes with his quirky shot. 

He had 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting and had eight assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block. When you watch Ball score so naturally, it's easy to forget his potential as a point guard, but then he whips up beautiful assists as he did many times on Saturday. The freshman has everything you want in a point guard.

Lauri Markkanen, forward, Arizona (7-0/225)
The No. 14 Wildcats picked up their biggest win of the year, moving to 7-0 in conference play. As you can expect, Markkanen had a big game to push Arizona past UCLA. He had 18 points on 6 for 10 shooting, was 3 for 3 from three and made three free throws, all which grabbing seven boards. Like Isaac, he is a tantalizing talent as a stretch-four, hanging out around the perimeter and spotting up for threes well.

He now has 16 made threes in his last four games and has averaged over seven boards in that stretch. He's not unbelievably thin like many fours his age. The freshman really can battle down low and get his shot, and he justifies his prospect status on a game-by-game basis with his ability.

Markelle Fultz, guard, Washington (6-4/195)
Washington lost on Saturday, moving to 9-10 and 2-5 in conference. But it's worth talking about Fultz's standout Wednesday night. The freshman willed his team back from 17-points down with a 37-point performance en route to an 85-83 OT win over Colorado. In 43 minutes, he was 13 for 24 from the field and 11 for 15 from the free throw line.

Don't think he's just a scorer, though. He had eight assists, five rebounds, three steals and three blocks, doing it all for the Huskies as he usually does. The freshman sensation was 0 for 2 from three, but he is normally efficient from beyond the arc. He alone is the reason to watch the under .500 Huskies.

While the 9-10 Huskies are unlikely to make a late run towards March Madness, the strong Pac 12 should provide many marquee matchups for Fultz. He faces off vs. a stout Arizona team next Sunday afternoon. Six days later, the long awaited matchup between Fultz and Ball up in Seattle goes down with presumably many scouts in attendance.

Quick Hits

Malik Monk, guard, Kentucky (6-4/185)
Twenty-seven points on 9 for 14 shooting, 4 for 7 from three, 5 for 6 on free throws, three rebounds, one assist, two steals and four turnovers in an 85-69 win over No. 24 South Carolina.

Josh Jackson, guard/forward, Kansas (6-8/203)
Fifteen points on 6 for 14 shooting, 2 for 5 from three, 1 for 3 on free throws, five rebounds, two assists, four steals and six turnovers in a 79-67 win over Texas.

Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke (6-8/204)
Fourteen points on 4 for 9 shooting, 1 for 4 from three, 5 for 6 on free throws, three rebounds, one assist, three turnovers and five fouls in a 70-58 win over Miami.