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.


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.

Lost in Joel Embiid's night, Jahlil Okafor returns with new role

Lost in Joel Embiid's night, Jahlil Okafor returns with new role

Joel Embiid’s regular-season debut headlined the Sixers' home opener Wednesday, a night two years in the making. He wasn’t the only player coming back from injury, though.

Jahlil Okafor took the court in a regular-season game for the first time since Feb. 28. Okafor underwent surgery in March to repair a right meniscus tear. He suffered a setback during training camp and was limited by soreness in that knee.

Okafor subbed in for Embiid with 7:47 remaining in the first quarter. He totaled eight points (4 for 10 from the field), three rebounds, one block, two fouls and three turnovers in 16 minutes, exceeding the Sixers’ initial minute projection of 12 to 14.

Okafor said his knee felt “good” after the game and did not experience discomfort. 

“I enjoyed myself,” Okafor said following the Sixers' 103-97 defeat to the Thunder (see Instant Replay). “Even though we lost, I enjoyed myself. We had a sold-out crowd. We had a hard-fought battle.”

Okafor’s role on Wednesday was different than it had been his rookie season. The former third overall pick is coming off the bench with a minutes restriction, broken down into segments. 

“It’s different for me,” Okafor said of his playing time. “I’m not used to playing in four-minute clumps. You’re more aware of when you’re going to go in. It kind of helps you a little bit. But it’s not something I want to get used to.”

Okafor is adjusted to a new in-game experience as a reserve. Last season, he started 48 of his 53 games and averaged 30.0 minutes. 

“My main thing was being able to come off the bench, which I’m not really used to, and still stay engaged, trying to stay loose,” Okafor said.

Opening night marked new starts for Okafor, as a player and a member of the Sixers (see 10 observations).

“I was taking a flashback to last year when we were 0-15, 0-16 and we so badly wanted to just restart the season,” he said. “Now we have the opportunity.”

Carson Wentz on recent struggles: 'I need to be better'

Carson Wentz on recent struggles: 'I need to be better'

Through the first six games of his NFL career, Carson Wentz has had some magical outings. 

Sunday wasn’t one of them.

While the Eagles won the game and Wentz was able to do enough when it counted, the Vikings' game was the worst of his young career. He completed just 57 percent of his passes for 138 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. 

The 52.4 passer rating was the lowest he’s had in any game this season — over 20 points lower than his 77.7 against Washington. For the second straight week, he had the worst game of his NFL career. 

So how would Wentz assess his play? 

“I need to be better,” the rookie said. “I think most importantly, I need to play better, I need to be smarter, I need to protect the football. I had three turnovers. Any time you have that many turnovers, as an offense we had four balls on the ground, those things we need to just clean up. 

“I think that, kind of like Doug (Pederson) said, goes back to the fundamentals as well. Things we just have to get in order. But, yeah, I have to play better.“

Wentz's 52.4 passer rating Sunday was just the 15th time ever an Eagles rookie has had a passer rating below 55 (with 20 passing attempts) and the first since Matt Barkley in 2013. Donovan McNabb had three such games during his rookie season in 1999. 

For as magical as Wentz has looked at times this season, he had a bad day Sunday and the Eagles still squeezed out a win. Now, it’s about getting him back to form. 

“I think it’s just going back to refining my footwork primarily is the biggest thing,” Wentz said. “Just being in rhythm and the reads and everything. I don’t think it’s anything that we need to overanalyze or freak out about, but it’s something that you can just kind of focus in on each week.” 

Pederson on Wednesday said this week was about refocusing on fundamentals and mechanics. Pederson specifically pointed to Wentz’s missing a couple throws to his left, where Pederson said Wentz needs to adjust his target line. 

Wentz’s reasoning for those missed throws was much simpler. 

“It’s really nothing you need to fix,” Wentz said. “You just have to make the throw.” 

Aside from the mechanics of throwing left, Pederson also said the team is working with Wentz this week on situational football: knowing down and distance, what defenses are trying to do, personnel. 

Specifically, Pederson said it’s important for Wentz to know which running back is in the backfield because angles change depending on who is back there. 

“Those are all things now that we're trying to bring into his game, and he understands that,” Pederson said. “Now it’s just sort of [that] we have to magnify it just a little bit.”

There’s probably no need to panic. Wentz wasn’t going to have magical games every time he stepped on the field as a rookie. And even in his worst game, there were moments where he showed glimpses of the guy he’s expected to be. 

Despite his ambition, there’s a learning curve for all rookies. And especially for one that has played just six NFL games.  

Even if he doesn’t want to hear it. 

“At this point, I don’t really get caught up in that,” Wentz said. “I’m too busy getting ready for the next week’s opponent. I don’t believe in the rookie excuse or anything like that. I’m all about just winning ballgames and winning them now.”