Week One: What the Eagles Could Do When the NFL Re-opens for Business

Week One: What the Eagles Could Do When the NFL Re-opens for Business

Whenever the NFL lockout ends, the Eagles will be thrust into a bloated free agent market, while they attempt to take care of unsettled situations for many of their own players. In this two-part look, we predict what steps the front office will take once it's time to get back to work.

See part two here.

While most of the reports about a potential conclusion to the NFL labor crisis being within sight can be described as cautiously optimistic at best, we are checking our watches with frequency while our feet tap away impatiently. We've arrived at the proverbial two-minute warning before it becomes insanely difficult to start the season on time, and both the players and owners are at least giving the appearance they mean business. Since it's clear nobody on either side of the table wants to lose any money, we tend to think—admittedly a little too confidently—they will get this right, and soon.

Then we will be dropped into a scenario unlike any we've ever seen. 32 teams will scramble to sign free agents, get their draft picks under contract, and open training camps all pretty much simultaneously. The market is abnormally large, the window to take care of everybody painfully small. Luckily the Eagles have a plan, or so they say anyway, and Andy Reid, Howie Roseman, and Joe Banner seem up to the task. As we (hopefully) close in on this post-lockout world, we can't help but wonder what an abbreviated off-season could have in store for Philly's football club, so we went to the crystal ball for a glimpse into the future of the Birds.

Of course, this is all entirely speculation, but also our best estimate of a rough timeline of the action beginning from the day the league officially opens for business. Some of the specifics, namely the whos, might wind up different, but we think this is a decent approximation of just how active the front office is going to be. We took a stab at some unforeseen developments too, which honestly may be way off, but we're comfortable with the outcomes either way. Let's get to it.

1. The Eagles rescind David Akers' transition tag
This one is sort of obvious, but it's important nonetheless. When the Birds used a fourth round pick on Nebraska kicker Alex Henery, Akers immediately became expendable. While Henery could theoretically serve as the punter instead—the club currently has none signed for the 2011 season—it seems unlikely even for one year after such a large investment. Plus, the front office can't count on the idea that Akers will eventually sign the offer sheet, and we really doubt they would match another team's tender.

Meanwhile, even though Akers was none too pleased by the move back in February, it may ultimately benefit him to sign it now. It was recently reported the Pro Bowler ran into some financial trouble, and while we can only speculate how bad it actually is, he sounded eager to get back to work as the lockout lagged. Plus, kickers could get lost in the shuffle once the looming free agent frenzy begins, and he may not receive an offer as significant as the transition tag, which will pay him the average of the highest 10 players at his position. Remove the tag before he quick puts his signature on it, and officially end an era.

2. Trade Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals for next year's first and third round picks
It's hard to say whether this will happen before or after the first round of big name free agents come to terms, but all signs currently point to Arizona as Kolb's landing spot, to the point where a deal may even be on the table. There were rumors one team already offered a first round pick, which suggests at least a preliminary discussion occurred at some point. And since Arizona is where the bulk of the noise is coming from—which should not come as a surprise given their stable of quarterbacks—we'll use the old smoke/fire metaphor. Even if another team were to jump into the fray, say Seattle or Buffalo, they would have to act fast or want to for that matter while there was an element of surprise.

As for the compensation, while there has been much debate as to what the Eagles will ultimately get in return for Kolb, we still think it will be picks. The populist theory wishfully swaps the quarterback for CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromarties, thus killing two birds with one stone. That would leave the Cardinals perilously thin at corner themselves though, and it's based on the assumption the Birds even want DRC. Therefore, we think the deal will involve the traditional picks, and a team desperate to land a franchise QB will be willing to send a package that is headlined by a first.

3. Sign CB Johnathan Joseph, NOT Nnamdi Asomugha
The Eagles won't waste any time filling their need at corner once free agency begins, but they won't wind up with the big fish on the market. Asomugha turns 30 in July, and figures to become the highest paid defensive player in the league. If he was the only decent option available, that probably wouldn't stop the front office from kicking the tires. In this case, they might see Johnathan Joseph as a more sensible solution. Joseph is 27, and while he certainly won't come cheap, it shouldn't quite take top player money to get him under contract.

While some might label the team's refusal to sign the absolute best player as cheap, it will give them greater flexibility to make other moves in an unusually crowded field of free agents. As for Joseph, he doesn't get as much attention after playing for the Cincinnati Bengals the past five seasons, but he would instantly solidify the right corner position, maybe even reach a new level playing opposite Asante Samuel. It won't make headlines the same way Asomugha would, but it would still be a major upgrade for the secondary.

4. Sign RT Doug Free, and later trade Winston Justice for a mid-round pick
One thing fans should be prepared for once free agency begins is a signing or signings that seemingly come out of left field. Just looking at the sheer number of players out there makes it nearly impossible to pinpoint who any team will actually target once the curtain goes up. Now watch as the Eagles—perhaps engaged in a little misdirection with names like Asomugha, Plaxico Burress, and Reggie Bush floating around—pull the carpet out from under the division rival Cowboys and improve their offensive line in one fell swoop.

Free is coming off a quality season playing left tackle for Dallas, but ideally they'll move him back to his more natural right side after using the ninth overall pick on USC's Tyron Smith. That likely means they'll want to pay Free less money as well, which may make it difficult to find a middle ground. Of course, the Eagles would stick him on the right side too, but they might be willing to pay more to protect their left-handed quarterback, not to mention the opportunity to weaken arguably the biggest threat in the NFC East. The signing suddenly gives the Birds one of the best offensive lines in the conference, and they are free to unload Justice for a moderate return.

5. Agree to an exte
nsion with DeSean Jackson
Originally, this looked like it could be the final piece of the puzzle. Take care of DeSean right before the regular season begins, then go to work. While the Eagles would probably like that, the fact is the talented wide receiver could press the Birds into action sooner. DJac has been lobbying for this contract for almost two years now, and with a base salary pegged at $565,000 for 2011, it's difficult to see him playing another game in midnight green until this is resolved.

If Jackson is seriously injured during training camp or while playing a preseason game, it will hamper his ability to get a fair a contract this year or even when he becomes a free agent in 2012. He knows that, and if he and agent Drew Rosenhaus have any sense, they will take a stance that keeps him out of harm's way until an extension is in place. On the other hand, the Eagles had plenty of time to hear his demands, so the essentials of an agreement should already be fairly understood by both sides. Therefore, we believe DeSean's extension could come very quickly once the CBA is finally in place.

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And that about covers, oh, the first week or so (maybe). The pace will be furious, and as you can see, filled with surprises. They don't end here though. Tomorrow we'll look at the rest of a summer that is still jam packed with a pair of re-signings, plus two more major acquisitions.

See part two of what the Eagles could do once the lockout ends here.

Photo of Johnathan Joseph by Joe Nicholson-US Presswire. Photo of Doug Free by Matthew Emmons-US Presswire.

NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

Dragan Bender

Position: Power forward
Height: 7-1
Weight: 225
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.

But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.

Strengths
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.

He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.

Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.

Weaknesses
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.

In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.

Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.

How he’d fit with the Sixers 
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.

The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.

NBA comparison
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.

Draft projection
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.

Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

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Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

Another day, another mailbag. 

I hope you're enjoying your Memorial Day Weekend. If you're reading this on the beach or at a BBQ, well done. 

Yesterday, I answered the first round of your questions about Doug Pederson, Brandon Spikes and the possibility of adding another running back. 

Today, I'll answer some more: 

At times, Jordan Matthews will still be in the slot this season. But he won't be there all the time. 

In Doug Pederson's offense, the receivers will move around quite a bit, which means we'll see Matthews lining up out wide on both sides and in the slot. He has the ability to do both. Either way, he's going to be on the field. He's clearly the Eagles best receiver and they're not going to take him off the field. 

I think there's a good chance we'll see some Josh Huff in the slot this year, which would make a ton of sense to me. Huff is at his best when he gets the ball in his hands and can make something happen. He's shifty enough to play in the middle. 

The idea that slot receivers are just small, shifty guys is outdated. It's all about matchups and Pederson won't be afraid to move his receivers around to find the best ones. 

Good question. I'll give you two names. One on offense and one on defense. 

Now, I didn't just pick the best players, I picked the best players with the biggest drop off to their backups. So on offense, it's Jason Peters and on defense it's Jordan Hicks. 

The scary thing: it wouldn't be shocking if either of these two go down in 2016. 

If Peters goes down, the Eagles will be fine at left tackle, because Lane Johnson will shift over. But that means either Dennis Kelly or Halapoulivaati Vaitai will come in. We all know what's happened in the past when Kelly comes in, and Vaitai is just a rookie. Not a ton of great depth at tackle. 

As for Hicks, we saw what happened to the defense when he went out last season. And this year, the team has virtually no depth at linebacker. If Hicks went down, either veteran special teams player Najee Goode or rookie Joe Walker would need to fill in. Yikes. 

I understand it's kind of a cop-out to just pick the top running back on the depth chart, but that's what I'm doing. I know Ryan Mathews has a lengthy injury history, but I can't see Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood or Kenjon Barner being the team's leading rusher. 

And when healthy, Mathews was the team's best running back in 2015, going for 539 yards on 106 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. If he manages to play 12 games this year, I think he'll be the team's leading rusher. 

Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

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Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

Mark Appel, whose fastball velocity was down considerably in the first inning of his last start, was placed on the disabled list Friday with a shoulder strain.

Appel, 24, is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in eight starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley in his first year in the Phillies' system. He's struggled his last four times out, allowing 18 runs (15 earned) in 16⅓ innings on 20 hits and 11 walks.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2013 out of Stanford, Appel has had a disappointing pro career to this point. In 62 minor-league games (61 starts), he has a 5.04 ERA. The Phillies acquired him from Houston as part of the Ken Giles trade this past winter.

Appel's trip to the DL creates an opportunity for right-hander Ben Lively, who was promoted from Double A Reading to Triple A to take Appel's place in the IronPigs' rotation. Lively, acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, is 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA this season.

Rehab updates
Leftfielder Cody Asche and left-handed reliever Mario Hollands had their rehab assignments transferred to Triple A Lehigh Valley. 

Asche is 5 for 34 (.147) with two home runs and 12 strikeouts during his stints with Clearwater and Reading. 

Hollands has been sharp, posting a 1.04 ERA in 8⅔ innings with 12 strikeouts and one walk.