Free Agency Round-up: Closing Thoughts

Free Agency Round-up: Closing Thoughts

Over the last week and a half, we followed the NFL's free agency movement with an eye trained on the Eagles, and I've gotta tell ya... it's been boring as hell from that perspective. This thing has been Peyton Manning's world, while the NFC East just lived in it. Well, except for the Washington Redskins. That organization is located on another planet.

As for the Birds, the acquisition of DeMeco Ryans sort of completes Philadelphia's journey, for now anyway. Sure, they will come to terms with a few more players between now and draft day, even until and probably into the month of Setpember -- just none likely to be as impactful, or from as far out of left field as Ryans.

Linebacker was the one big addition we expected from this offseason. With that out of the way, the Eagles are essentially finished.

Overall, it's been a positive 10 days for the Birds, if a little lacking in excitement. Besides the Ryans deal, which has been met with almost universal praise from fans and media alike, the front office has ensured a group of very good players will be wearing Midnight Green for years to come.

By extending Todd Herremans, then re-upping Evan Mathis, the Eagles have cemented their offensive line into place. This group is already considered one the best fronts in the league, and the next time any of the starting five will be available to become a free agent is 2015. That should foster some serious continuity.

On the other side of the ball, Cullen Jenkins restructured with the intention of retiring an Eagle, and Trent Cole's extension could conceivably achieve the same. The starting front four largely responsible for a league-leading 50 sacks in 2011 are also locked in until 2015. This team is built to dominate in the trenches.

And of course, there is DeSean Jackson. A long-term deal should keep the wide receiver happy for the foreseeable future, while protecting the franchise financially in case something goes wrong down the road. With management said to be working on a contract for LeSean McCoy as well, it means most of the core from an offense that is one year removed from setting a franchise record in scoring could stay together to break the mark several more times.

It means the Eagles don't have many holes left. They are taken care of offensively, where the biggest question mark seems to be whether Michael Vick can make the next step toward becoming an elite passer. On defense, the rest of the pieces should fall in step around Ryans, and a unit that was better than advertised in 2011 should be vastly improved in 2012 -- especially if new defensive backs coach Todd Bowles can figure out how to get the most out of their secondary.

As for the rest of the division, it will be about the same. The Giants are always a threat as long as they have Eli Manning, while the Cowboys made some nice additions and should be in the hunt. At least the Redskins will have a franchise quarterback again, even though he'll be surrounded by slop.

Meanwhile, a lot of folks are still bewildered and angry about last season, and the fact that Andy Reid somehow continues to collect a paycheck. The only thing that's going to win those people over is a Super Bowl.

One thing is for certain: if the Eagles don't do it this year, or at least come close, Reid will be out of excuses. By the time the draft is over, this will be the most complete roster Philadelphia has had on paper since '08, maybe even '04.

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The dew on the infield grass had barely dried when Andrew Knapp was marched out to the firing squad at Phillies camp early Sunday morning.
 
He took his position at first base and looked across the diamond where Phillies instructors Doug Mansolino, Chris Truby and Larry Bowa were lined up at third base, shortstop and second base, respectively. Armed with fungo bats and a dozens baseballs each, the trio of sharpshooters proceeded to smash bullet one- and two-hoppers at Knapp, who was tasked with pulling them out of the dirt to complete the putout.
 
“Good job,” shouted Bowa, a tough grader when it comes to infield work, as Knapp finished up the hellacious early-morning drill.
 
Knapp is a catcher by trade, but he will continue these intense individual sessions at first base throughout the spring — in addition to his regular defensive work behind the plate.
 
A 25-year-old switch-hitter, Knapp was the Phillies’ second-round selection in the 2013 draft. He’s getting a lot attention in this camp because he has a shot to make the club as a reserve player. The Phils are in need of a backup catcher and a backup first baseman and Knapp, in big-league camp for the second time, is trying to show he can handle both assignments in one package.
 
“Last year it was more of a happy-to-be-here thing,” he said. “I was just trying to pick as many brains as I could and take in as much knowledge as I could.
 
“But this year it’s more of a let’s-go-win-a-job kind of deal.”
 
General manager Matt Klentak and manager Pete Mackanin first floated the idea of carrying Knapp as a two-position reserve at the winter meetings.
 
Of course, it came with a lot of qualifiers. Knapp is still considered a developing player and team decision-makers would have to consider what impact a reserve role would have on his development. Also, the prototypical backup catcher in the majors is a plus defender who has experience handling a big-league pitching staff. Knapp has never played in the majors and his defense is considered a work in progress. Later in the winter, the Phillies signed two big-league veteran catchers (Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan) to minor-league deals and they are very much in the mix for the job.
 
“I kind of understand there’s a definite value in having a veteran guy as a backup, but I think I can do the job on the field,” Knapp said.
 
A potential separator for Knapp could be his bat and his versatility if he can continue to develop it. He is not a novice at first base. He played there as a sophomore at the University of California. Knapp also has this going for him: He’s on the 40-man roster and with so many young prospects on it and the probable need to add an outfielder like Chris Coughlan later in camp, that could work in Knapp’s favor.
 
Another factor that could held Knapp’s chances: The Phillies’ development blueprint calls for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro to get the bulk of the playing time at first base and catcher, respectively, at Triple A.
 
“You’d like to see him get 500 at-bats, but it’s not a perfect world,” Bowa said. “Our Triple A team is loaded. He might find himself in the same role at Triple A. if that’s the case, it might be best if he came here if he swings the bat like he can and he can provide versatility.
 
“A guy like him can give you some options and flexibility. When you face the Mets and they have three stud right-handers throwing 95, it might be nice to have a guy like that to give (first baseman) Tommy Joseph a blow.”
 
Knapp had a brilliant season with the bat at Double A in 2015. He hit .360 with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and a 1.050 OPS in 55 games, earning him the franchise’s Paul Owens Award as minor-league player of the year.
 
Knapp tapered off at Triple A last season. He hit .266 with eight homers, 46 RBIs and a .719 OPS over a full season. Knapp’s day last summer typically started with defensive work at 1:30 in the afternoon.
 
“I would get my hitting in, but I don’t think there was as much of a focus on it as there was the year before,” he said. “I do think last year I took a real step forward defensively, especially in the second half of the year. I kind of had a tough first half, but the second half I really honed in on the defensive part, blocking and throwing mostly, just kind of keeping everything in front and shutting down the running game.”

A lot of eyes will be on Knapp when the exhibition games start next week.
 
“We need to find out if he’s capable of doing it,” Mackanin said. “Catching is a defensive-oriented position. We need good defense. We need good game calling, a catcher who can handle pitchers, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at from a guy like Knapp as well as the other guys. We’re going to take a good long look at that.
 
“He’s definitely in the mix. I want to play him a lot to see him. We all want to see what he can do offensively and defensively. From what I’ve been told he’s shown a lot of improvement and we’re going to look for that. We’re looking for the 25 best men. There’s a good chance he might be one of them.”
 
Knapp is determined to show that he is.
 
“It’s open for someone to go take it and I want to be that guy,” he said.

Penn beats Yale for 4th straight win, moves into Ivy League Tournament picture

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Penn beats Yale for 4th straight win, moves into Ivy League Tournament picture

BOX SCORE

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Darnell Foreman scored 15 points with four assists, Matt Howard added 14 points, including three 3-pointers, and Penn used a big second-half run to beat Yale 71-55 on Sunday for its fourth straight win.

AJ Brodeur had 12 points with nine rebounds, Ryan Betley also scored 12, and Devon Goodman had 11 for the Quakers (11-12, 4-6 Ivy League), who won their fourth straight game and moved into a fourth-place tie with Columbia in the conference standings. The top four teams will play in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament, March 11-12, at The Palestra.

Goodman's layup off a steal capped a 17-3 run as Penn extended a 31-30 halftime lead to 48-33 at 14:39 in the second half. Howard hit two 3s in the run and Foreman added a third. Goodman hit a 3, Foreman followed with a layup and the Quakers led by 20, 62-42, with 6:17 left and held on.

Penn shot 50.9 percent from the field to Yale's 32.8 percent and made 9 of 23 from behind the arc to the Bulldogs' 6 of 28.

Miye Oni scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds for Yale (14-9, 6-4), which entered the game in third place behind Harvard and Princeton.