Then and Now: Andy Reid and the Decay of the Eagles

Then and Now: Andy Reid and the Decay of the Eagles

We could reasonably divide Andy Reid’s 14-year tenure in
Philadelphia into four distinct periods. First the early years, when the Eagles ascended from bottom
feeder to legitimate threat in a matter of two seasons. Then came a stretch of
conference dominance that was marked by four consecutive trips to the NFC Title
game and a Super Bowl. That in turn was followed by the post-T.O. plateau, an
era where a veteran-Birds team was still considered a perennial contender for another four or five seasons.

Finally we reached the decline, which began in earnest once
the front office started dumping those veterans that had helped bring the
franchise so much success, choosing instead to retool on the fly.

Some say the decline began after the Eagles reached the
Super Bowl. True, they missed the playoffs in two of the next three seasons.
However, they followed both of those campaigns with deep tournament runs, making
it to the Divisional Round of the playoffs with Jeff Garcia in 2006, and most
notably, their fifth NFC Championship in 2008. They were 11-5 in ’09 as well,
so an injury-riddled ’05 and a .500 finish in ’07 look like the real outliers in that bunch.

That was always the thing about Andy’s teams. He had plenty
of faults, several of which seemed to rear their ugly head at the most
inopportune moments. Yet somehow, his teams had a chance to win it all every
year.

Until suddenly they didn’t anymore, of course.

Reid oversaw the decline every step of the way, which can be
traced back to the offseason immediately following that most recent conference
championship loss. Brian Dawkins, Jon Runyan, and Tra Thomas all left via free
agency, Lito Sheppard was traded, and Jim Johnson passed later that summer.
That was only the beginning – the following year saw the purging of any
remaining big-name veterans who had become synonymous with the achievements of the
previous decade.

In some cases, Reid found viable replacements. As great as
Tra was, Jason Peters is probably an upgrade. LeSean McCoy is certainly an
adequate replacement for Brian Westbrook to say the least.

In most situations however, he was unable to locate a player’s
equal or superior. Time eroded the once-sound structure the Eagles had under
Andy, and the many-patch jobs were not only incapable of restoring it – they couldn't hold his system together. Take a good, long look at the drop-off in performance at
these seven positions, and it isn’t hard to see why Reid’s success quickly evaporated.

From Donovan McNabb
to Michael Vick

When the Birds shipped an aging McNabb to Washington, we
thought it was in favor of Kevin Kolb, who looked like he might turn into a
decent system quarterback. That lasted all of two quarters of one game. In
comes Vick, who flashed immense talent, but much like he was in Atlanta, is
incapable of sustaining success for any length of time. Say what you want to
about McNabb, but he brought stability to the most
important position on the field for 11 years, while Vick has lacked any consistency at all
whatsoever.

From Jon Runyan to
Todd Herremans

One of the trends you’ll see in several of these examples
is the Eagles actually ran through multiple people. Initially they wanted to
replace Runyan with right guard Shawn Andrews, even though he only played two
games in ’08. When Andrews never saw another down in midnight green again, former
second-round pick Winston Justice stepped up for a couple seasons. Injuries
slowed him at the end of ’10, and he didn’t translate to offensive line
coach Howard Mudd’s scheme, which led to Herremans’ move outside. Herremans was
okay last season, but struggled when he had to be the unit's cornerstone in Peters’ absence.
Runyan was a always rock out there though, a warrior who played at a high level through anything.

From Shawn Andrews to
Danny Watkins

This is more an example of Reid’s drafting ability failing him,
because as is noted above, Andrews only played twice in ‘08. The Eagles landed
Andrews in the first round of ’04, and while thanks to various injuries and
other strangeness he only appeared in 50 games for Philly, he was absolutely
dominant when he was able to get on the field. Fast forward to ’11 when the
front office grabs 26-year-old Watkins in the first round. He doesn’t break the
starting lineup right away, and one season later develops a mysterious “injury”
that keeps him out – although seldom inactive. Same end result, but big difference in
talent and production.

From Sheldon Brown
and Asante Samuel to Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Philadelphia has had great cornerbacks for as long as Reid has
been here. He inherited Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, drafted Lito Sheppard
and Sheldon, then signed Samuel while he was at the top of his game. Both Brown
and Samuel were eventually moved in trades, but what’s the big deal? They
signed Asomugha and traded for Rodgers-Cromartie! Of course, neither has been
anywhere near the model of consistency fans had come to expect along the edges, nor even very good for that matter.

From Brian Dawkins to
Kurt Coleman

Dawk was one of the few veterans the front office let get away while there
was still something in the tank. Weapon X didn’t appreciate the open-ended
negotiation of his contract, so as soon as free agency started, he hopped on a
plane and inked a big-money deal in Denver. The Eagles tried home-grown
fifth-rounder Quintin Demps and free agent Sean Jones. They drafted Nate Allen
a season later, and eventually flip-flopped him with Coleman, an undersized,
under-skilled seventh-round pick. Not one of those players had the talent,
intensity, leadership, or instinct Dawkins brought to the table. To be fair,
few players in NFL history have – then again, not one of those players was
able to adequately replace a single one of those qualities, either.

From Jim Johnson to
Todd Bowles

Actually, that’s from Jim Johnson to Sean McDermott to Juan
Castillo to Todd Bowles. The defense has never been the same since we lost
Johnson, who if coordinators made the Hall of Fame would be a first-ballot
entry. Part of that is coaches like Johnson are literally irreplaceable – he was
an amazing innovator who had a knack for squeezing every ounce of ability out
of players. His line of successors has been completely forgettable though, and
while each has been limited in some sense by bad personnel and/or other issues out of their control, not one of them
distinguished themselves in any way. It might as well have been the same anonymous
person under that headset every season for the last four.

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Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

The Eagles released Rueben Randle and Chris Givens on Sunday, ending the brief and disappointing Eagles careers of both veteran wide receivers.

The two receivers were among eight players released by the team on Sunday evening.

Randle caught five passes for 26 yards in the preseason and Givens caught one for 19 yards.

The Eagles tried to bolster their receiver corps by adding the two receivers this offseason, signing Randle to a one-year, $1,025,000 contract and Givens to a one-year $760,000 deal.

Randle got $500,000 guaranteed and Givens $180,000 guaranteed, so the two moves will count $680,000 against the Eagles’ 2016 adjusted salary cap of $161,570,362.

The moves leave the Eagles with eight wide receivers: Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff, Paul Turner, Marcus Johnson, Cayleb Jones and David Watford.

Barring any other personnel moves, Matthews, Agholor, Green-Beckham, Huff and Turner appear headed for the final 53-man roster.

Randle’s decline is fairly astonishing.

Two years ago with the Giants, he caught 71 passes for 938 yards, and last year he caught 57 passes for 797 yards and eight touchdowns. He had four catches of 40 yards or more in 2015, fourth-most in the NFL. In four seasons in New York, he caught 188 passes for 2,644 yards and 20 TDs.

Yet the Giants had no interest in re-signing him. Now the former second-round pick’s career is in jeopardy at the age of 25.

Givens, a fourth-round pick of the Rams in 2012, was with his third team in two years this summer. His once-promising career could be over at the age of 26.

Most notable among the six other players released was offensive tackle Andrew Gardner, who started 11 games in an Eagles uniform.

Gardner, who had also spent time with the Dolphins and Texans, started eight games at right guard and right tackle for the Eagles in 2014 and was the Eagles’ opening-day starter last year at right guard. He suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot during a Week 3 game against the Jets at the Meadowlands and missed the rest of the season.

Also released was a member of last year’s draft class, sixth-round pick Randall Evans out of Kansas State. Evans spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad but was activated for the Pat Shurmur season finale against the Giants at the Meadowlands and got into the game on special teams.

The Eagles also released veteran defensive tackle Mike Martin, who played in 46 games for the Titans the last four years, including five starts. Also released were long snapper John DePalma and cornerback Denzel Rice, the latter of who played in five games last year and got 20 defensive snaps in the season finale against the Giants last year.

The Eagles also placed linebacker Joe Walker (knee) and defensive end Alex McCalister (calf), two rookie seventh-round picks, on season-ending Injured Reserve.

Teams have until Tuesday to reduce rosters to 75. The Eagles’ roster is currently at 73, and they have to reduce it to 53 by 4 p.m. next Sunday.

The Eagles finish the preseason on Thursday night at the Linc against the Jets.

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson had his first career three-homer game, Troy Tulowitzki also went deep and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Minnesota Twins 9-6 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Donaldson hit a solo homer off Kyle Gibson in the second, then delivered a go-ahead, two-run blast off Pat Light (0-1) in the seventh.

Dozens of fans tossed hats onto the field to celebrate the home run hat trick after Donaldson, the AL MVP in 2015, hit a solo shot off Alex Wimmers in the eighth. Groundskeepers and even the Blue Jays mascot helped clear the hats away.

Donaldson's fourth multi-homer game this season and the 10th of his career also marked the 17th three-homer game in the majors this season.

Jose Bautista had his first three-hit game of the season for the AL East-leading Blue Jays.

Minnesota lost its season-worst 10th straight. The Twins have lost seven straight in Toronto.

Scott Feldman (7-4) earned the win by getting two outs in the seventh. Jason Grilli worked the eighth and Roberto Osuna finished (see full recap). 

Pirates win 8th straight on road, sweep Brewers 3-1
MILWAUKEE -- Ivan Nova threw six sharp innings before leaving early because of a hurting left hamstring and the Pittsburgh Pirates hit three solo homers to rally past the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1 on Sunday for their eighth straight road victory.

John Jaso and Gregory Polanco each homered in the sixth off Brewers starter Chase Anderson (7-11) to complete Pittsburgh's first sweep at Miller Park since 2004. Starling Marte added a solo shot in the eighth.

Nova (4-0) retired 10 of his final 11 batters after allowing Jonathan Villar's solo homer in the third. He scattered three hits and struck out four before being pinch hit for in the seventh.

Tony Watson pitched a clean ninth for his 10th save in 13 opportunities (see full recap).

Archer strikes out 10, Rays hit 3 HRs in 10-4 win vs Astros
HOUSTON -- Chris Archer struck out 10 in seven innings, Corey Dickerson hit a three-run homer and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Houston Astros 10-4 on Sunday.

Matt Duffy and Nick Franklin also went deep for the last-place Rays, who have homered in 21 of their last 24 games.

Houston, in the hunt for an AL wild card, had won three straight.

Archer (8-17) gave up three runs and four hits with two walks. With his strikeout of A.J. Reed in the sixth, the right-hander joined David Price and James Shields as the only Tampa Bay pitchers with multiple 200-strikeout seasons.

The Rays jumped out early against Doug Fister.

Fister (12-9) allowed four runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings, the fourth time in his past seven starts he has permitted four or more runs (see full recap). 

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- A.J. Ellis’ first game as a Phillie certainly went a lot better than Carlos Ruiz’s first game as a Dodger.

Ellis’ first hit with his new club helped the Phils salvage one game of a weekend series with the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon. The Phillies won it, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), behind a solid start from Vince Velasquez, excellent bullpen work and Ellis’ big hit, a tie-breaking, two-run double in the top of the seventh.

The Phillies had lost the first two games of the series by a combined score of 21-5. Their pitchers gave up eight homers in the first two games.

On Sunday, Velasquez and a quartet of relievers held the Mets to seven hits, all singles.

Ellis joined the Phillies just 24 hours earlier after being traded from the Dodgers on Thursday. He had been with that club his whole career.

Ruiz, of course, had been with the Phillies his whole career.

Ruiz’s first game with the Dodgers did not go nearly as smooth. The veteran catcher had trouble handling the pitches of closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning Friday night and that contributed to the Dodgers blowing a one-run lead and losing to the Chicago Cubs in 10 innings.

Leaving the Dodgers was difficult and emotional for Ellis. He was able to bury himself in the game Sunday and came away feeling pretty good.

“It’s just great to be playing baseball again,” he said, standing in front of his locker, a blue Dodgers equipment bag (that will soon be swapped out for a Phillies bag) at his feet. “You kind of lose yourself in the competition and then just play again.

“Regardless of what’s happened in the last four days, it feels good to drive in runs, feels good to help put your team ahead and help contribute to a team win.”

During his 24 or so hours with the Phillies, Ellis has immersed himself in learning a new staff of pitchers. He caught starters Jerad Eickhoff and Jake Thompson in the bullpen before Saturday’s game and warmed up several relievers during that game.

On Sunday morning, he arrived at Citi Field, saw his name in the lineup and immediately began prepping to catch Velasquez, the hardest-thrower on the Phillies’ starting staff.

Velasquez bounced back from three poor outings in which he gave up 19 runs in 17 1/3 innings and held a hot Mets lineup to a run over five innings. The only negative was that Velasquez could not pitch deeper into the game because his command was poor and needed 103 pitches to complete the five innings.

Nonetheless, Ellis, who was the personal catcher for Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles, liked what he saw of Velasquez.

“His pitch count got elevated the first two innings and he was able to grind through the last three,” Ellis said. “The stuff is electric. He has so many weapons, so many options. When he keeps growing and keeps polishing that gift up, it’s going to be really, really special.

“So I’m excited to be able to continue to work with him, excited to work with him and (pitching coach) Bob McClure and (No. 1 catcher) Cameron Rupp, kind of talk to them about things, things he sees, things we see, and together we can build a plan for him going forward in his career.”

Two things are going to help the 24-year-old Velasquez reach his potential.

First is good health. He’s had arm problems in the past and there remain concerns about his long-term durability. That’s why the Phillies are closely monitoring his workload as this season winds down.

Second is command, control, economy of pitches – whatever you want to call it. Velasquez needs to be more efficient. Too many times he’s left games in the middle innings because of a high pitch count.

“Definitely,” he responded when asked if lowering his pitch counts and working deeper into games was the key to his improvement. “It’s going to help the longevity, it saves the bullpen, it helps out everybody. Not just on my end, but the whole team in general.

“And,” he joked, “then I can also work on my swing by getting some more at-bats.”

Despite the high pitch count, Velasquez walked just one. He struck out seven. He is up to 129 innings for the season. That includes five innings in a rehab game at Double A Reading. The Phillies will look to keep him at about 150 innings for the season. That could be three, four or five more starts, depending on how long the right-hander lasts. He’s averaged just over five innings in his starts this season.

“I think that would be the right move,” Velasquez said of the 150-inning target.