Will the Eagles' Trash Be Another Team's Gold?

Will the Eagles' Trash Be Another Team's Gold?

When the report came in on Tuesday that the Eagles would not sign any of their own free agents, there was a little surprise in The700Level ranks. On one hand, the front office not-so-stealthily replaced practically every one of them in the draft in April, but after all, they have 15 unrestricted players. None of them will be back?

We're still not completely sold it will wind up that way, but the next question was what exactly is the organization losing? Plenty of teams have real good players and even bona fide stars leaving town. That's probably not the case in Philly. After the jump, we broke the departing players into groups, and examined whether any of them will be missed, or if perhaps the Birds are making a big mistake in letting some of this talent go.

Who Cares?
Antoine Harris, Bobby McCray, Reggie Wells

None of these guys made a measurable impact for the Birds, and most fans probably didn't even know who they were or that they were on the team to begin with. I would say they will soon fade into obscurity, but it seems they already have.

Won't Be Missed
Nick Cole, Omar Gaither, Dimitri Patterson, Ernie Sims

Where do we begin? Let's go with Patterson, who was exposed for what he is last season: a journeyman special teamer. Sims is what many suspected he was when he arrived, which is a replacement level player, and the once promising career of Gaither looks to have been derailed once and for all by a Lisfranc sprain in '09. Cole has had multiple opportunities, but never broke through, and became expendable after a decent season at center from Mike McGlynn.

Replaced
David Akers, Quintin Mikell

As was previously mentioned, Akers and Mikell were both essentially gone after the NFL Draft. Say what you want about the decision to trust rookies with key jobs at strong safety and kicker, but Mikell wasn't worth the $7 million/year the Rams gave him, and Akers is aging and has come up small in some big games in recent years. The Eagles should get on fine without them.

No Longer Necessary
Jerome Harrison, Ellis Hobbs, Max Jean-Gilles

A lot of people were really interested in Harrison staying, but believed he would look for a starting job. I don't think that's the problem at all, seeing as he likely won't find that line of work anyway. Sure, Harrison would prefer to be more involved, but the real reason he won't be back is he lacks value to the Birds. They didn't utilize him more because he is soft in pass protection, so they would rather move on and try to develop somebody who can get help in that area.

Jean-Gilles is the prototypical mid-round lineman for the Eagles, who bides his time as a reserve then goes on to become a roughly average starter for some below-.500 club. He could be a serviceable backup, but obviously Danny Watkins is expected to hold down the right guard spot.

Hobbs can't be counted on after sustaining a serious neck injury, and once the Eagles acquire another corner, that player will join Asante Samuel, Joselio Hanson, Trevard Lindley, and rookie Curtis Marsh in a suddenly crowded defensive backfield.

Have Value
Stewart Bradley, Akeem Jordan, Sav Rocca

We're still not prepared to write off these guys, at least not two of them. Jordan makes the list because he was the team's top contributor on special teams last season, and he has defensive experience as well. While it would make sense to bring him back, the Eagles often let this type of player walk, like Tracy White a couple years ago.

We would not be as quick to let Bradley leave town though. As has been noted several times and from many different outlets, the linebacker corps is extremely green if Stew B departs. Granted he did not have a very good season coming off of an ACL tear in 2010, but there is still a chance he can be an effective linebacker in the NFL. Once Bradley has tested the market and finds there aren't many front offices willing to offer an oft-injured player long term contracts, maybe the Eagles will bring him back after all.

On the other hand, after first theorizing Rocca could be brought back, we wonder if the Eagles won't cut ties with their punter of three seasons. While last year was his best, showing he has improved and can be more consistent, he's also old (37) and likely wants to be paid fairly well for being merely a punter. Plenty of time for minds to change, but don't be surprised if they give the undrafted, Ray Guy Award winner Chas Henry a real shot to win the job.

In the end, do the Eagles truly require the services of any of these players? A case could be built for Bradley, but that's about it. It's not often they lose a quality, young player to free agency, so obviously we're not talking about anybody they weren't prepared to part with.

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.