On Locking Up The Defensemann

On Locking Up The Defensemann

Thankfully, I've never been sick enough to warrant a Get Well Soon card. I have, however, gotten the requisite birthday cards, always opened with that "Will some cash or a check fall out?" anticipation. Well, yesterday, Nick Grossmann got a combination of both. Sidelined with a knee injury, The Defensemann received and signed a 4-year contract to stay in Philadelphia, as Nick covered yesterday
The digits appear relatively favorable for the club (4 years, $14 mil; $3.5 mil cap hit), which has seen improved rearguarding since trade deadline deals brought Grossmann and Pavel Kubina to town. The Flyers had steadily been among the league's worst in allowing goals, surviving on their ability to light the lamp at a higher clip than most nights' opponents. But Grossmann and Kubina brought size and experience to the blue line, and along with improved goaltending, the Flyers have become a more balanced team. 
As I imagine was the case for most Flyers fans, Kubina was the more recognizable commodity at the time. We've seen much more of him over the years, and his name is usually thrown around when deadlines approach. However, it's been Grossmann who's had the bigger impact since coming over. 
Without Chris Pronger, the Flyers had only two bigs on the blue line—Coburn and Andrej Meszaros. Grossmann's impact was immediate, bringing an ability to clear the porch and reliably manage the attacker under his charge. Puck-moving ability is key for defensemen in the Flyers' system, and it's not a particular strength of Grossmann's. But the team already had vertical mobility, and it's not as though Grossmann is a sieve with the puck on his stick. In fact, he's appeared better than advertised in nearly every way. 
Our intel on Grossmann was decidedly thin when he came over. Due to the NHL's conference-heavy scheduling and his playing in Dallas, we knew little of him before reading the trade-day descriptions that basically all said the same things. Dallas dealt him in part due to a perceived inability to retain him when he became a free agent this coming summer; his star had also fallen in Big D, where he was moved from the top pairing to the second. 
It appeared at the time of the deal that the Flyers would give the 27-year-old, 6'3"/227 Grossmann a solid look, and if he panned out as expected, bolster the defense for the next few seasons by inking him to an extension. 
That's exactly how it has played out, despite the interesting timing of his signing coinciding with a knee injury. Grossmann already wears a brace on one knee, and Joe Vitale's hit injured the other one. There's no definite timetable on his return (or at least, one has not been given aside from "day to day"). The Flyers must be pretty confident that the injury is minor and transient though, or they wouldn't have consummated the deal. 
BLUE LINE LANDSCAPEWhat the Grossmann contract says about the team's overall defense plan is unclear. 
Uncertainty abounds on the blue line's horizon, where Kimmo Timonen has one year left on his contract and quite possibly his NHL career. Chris Pronger's NHL future is uncertain at best, though the book is not yet closed. Matt Carle will be a coveted free agent when the spending season opens this summer, unless the Flyers extend him first, which could be tough with the market often friendly to players who fit his description. Pavel Kubina has said he'd like to be re-signed by Philly, but if that happens, it'd likely have to be at a much lower cap hit than his current $3.8 mil. Andrej Meszaros has two more seasons left on his current deal, both at $4 mil per, though he could always be dealt, and the Flyers made Braydon Coburn their cornerstone this past fall when they extended him through 2015-2016 at $4.5 mil per season. (Figures in this section courtesy of CapGeek.com.)
Hamstrung by the uncertainty of Pronger's future and the permanence of his 35+ contract, the Flyers have lined up Coburn and Grossmann as fixtures, but most other slots could be in play going forward. As usual, they'll be linked to any defenseman looking to change addresses this summer. 
The team has overcome tremendous bad luck with their defensemen, from Pronger's severe concussion to a slew of injuries throughout the season. Meszaros is likely out until the second round timeframe at best, Grossmann is "day to day," and a career's worth of long minutes has taken its toll on Timonen. And yet, the Flyers are a contender when the playoffs begin next week. Paul Holmgren's deals to bring on defensive depth may have saved the season, as well as being tryouts for the future. 
Yesterday, the team anted up on Grossmann, who appears to be a safe bet provided his knees hold up. 

NFL Notes: Rams release former Eagles QB Nick Foles

NFL Notes: Rams release former Eagles QB Nick Foles

IRVINE, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Rams have released quarterback Nick Foles after failing to find a trade destination for the disgruntled quarterback.

The Rams announced the move Wednesday, one day before their veterans report to training camp.

Foles hasn't been around the Rams since they traded up to choose California quarterback Jared Goff with the No. 1 pick in the draft this spring. The veteran skipped offseason workouts while Los Angeles attempted to trade him.

Foles spent just one season with the Rams, who acquired him from Philadelphia in a trade for Sam Bradford. Foles started 11 games for St. Louis last season, throwing for 2,052 yards and seven touchdowns for the NFL's worst passing offense.

Goff and veteran Case Keenum are competing for the starting job at training camp.

Panthers: Former Eagles S Kurt Coleman extended 3 years
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- The Carolina Panthers have signed safety Kurt Coleman to a three-year contract extension through the 2019 season.

Coleman led the Panthers and finished tied for third in the NFL with career-high seven interceptions in his first season in Carolina last year. He contributed to a team that ranked sixth in the NFL in total defense and led the NFL in interceptions (24), takeaways (39) and points off turnovers (148).

The 28-year-old Coleman finished third on the team with 103 tackles. Financial details were not released Wednesday.

Coleman called the contract a blessing, saying "when you go through situations you want what's best for your family and what's best for the team, and I'm really excited. I'm fortunate to be a part of this team for three more years."

Ravens: Jake Long signs 1-year contract pending physical
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens have reached an agreement with veteran offensive lineman Jake Long on a one-year contract, pending the condition of his oft-injured right knee.

Long played in four Pro Bowls after being selected by Miami as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft.

But he played sparingly in just four games with Atlanta last year after tearing his right ACL in back-to-back seasons.

The contract won't be official until the Ravens receive more information on Long's knee. He will visit Dr. James Andrews to receive an assessment of the knee, coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday.

The Ravens are willing to sign the 31-year-old Long if they're not on the hook to pay him for the entire season if he's forced out with another knee injury.

Baltimore has been looking for another tackle since releasing Eugene Monroe last month.

Vikings: 5-time All-Pro Kevin Williams to retire
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings have signed five-time All-Pro defensive tackle Kevin Williams to a one-day contract so he can formally retire as a member of the team.

The Vikings announced the news Wednesday. Williams will finalize his retirement Thursday after 13 seasons, including 11 with Minnesota.

Taken with the ninth pick in the 2003 draft by the Vikings from Oklahoma State, Williams is eighth in team history with 60 sacks. His 171 regular-season starts are the most all time by a Vikings defensive tackle, and his five interceptions are tied for the most by a defensive tackle in NFL history.

Williams played for NFC champion Seattle in 2014 and New Orleans in 2015. He was picked for six Pro Bowls.

Jets: Bernard Pierce signed; Zac Stacy waived
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets are signing running back Bernard Pierce and waiving running back Zac Stacy, who failed his physical after missing the last half of last season with a broken left ankle.

Pierce ran for just 11 yards on six carries in seven games last season with Jacksonville after spending his first three NFL seasons with Baltimore. He ran for a career-best 532 yards as a rookie with the Ravens in 2012 after being a third-round pick out of Temple.

Pierce was released by Baltimore in March 2015, when he was charged with drunken driving. He was claimed off waivers by Jacksonville the next day.

The NFL announced in May that Pierce will be suspended for the first two games of this season, likely stemming from the DUI arrest.

Stacy ran for 89 yards in eight games for the Jets last season, but he was lost for the rest of the season in November when he broke his ankle on a kickoff return.

Doug Pederson not worried about Eagles' young linebacker corps

Doug Pederson not worried about Eagles' young linebacker corps

With another one of his players, Nigel Bradham, landing himself in off-field trouble (see story), Doug Pederson was predictably peppered with questions about how he handles player conduct Wednesday after Day 3 of Training Camp at the Novacare Complex.

On the field, his resources at the linebacker position may become a larger concern depending on Bradham’s legal situation. After the Eagles cut linebacker Travis Long from the 90-man roster, Pederson insisted he still feels positively about the team’s linebackers.

“I love the fact that we got three starters coming in," Pederson said. "Of course you mentioned Nigel [Bradham], and Jordan Hicks is coming back healthy and ready to go, and Mychal Kendricks. And I tell you, Joe Walker has done a great job for us this offseason, and he’s going to put himself in a great position to be a solid backup. And we got some young guys there, but at the same time, we’re going to continue to monitor that position and just watch and see, and keep upgrading if we can. But right now, very pleased with the work these guys have done in the offseason, what the rookies have shown these last three days, and just look forward to putting the pads on.”

Pederson is right when he says the Eagles have “some young guys” at linebacker. In fact, backup Najee Goode, 27, is the oldest returning player at the position. Bradham, who the team signed to a two-year deal from Buffalo in the offseason, is 26 years old, while Kendricks is 25 and Hicks, the team’s leading tackler last year as a rookie before his season-ending pectoral tear, is only 24. Walker is an Oregon product and one of the team’s three seventh-round picks. He’s 23 years old.

Scanning over that depth chart probably makes the average fan a bit uneasy. Yet according to Pederson, he’d be content entering the season with his current personnel at linebacker, even if that means Goode, a player with 32 NFL games, one start, and 24 tackles, is his most experienced player.

“If you had to go into the season that way, yeah, I’m comfortable with [Goode]," Pederson said. "Would you like to continue to have more depth at that position, and at any position? Sure. But yeah, I’m very comfortable with him.”

After releasing Long, who Pederson says the Eagles wanted to “give an opportunity to catch on with another football team,” it left the team with 89 players. On Wednesday afternoon, the Eagles filled the 90th spot by signing wide receiver David Watford (see story).

Unless they pull off a surprising move, the Eagles will likely settle for the linebacker rotation they have. They may be young, injury-prone, and legally embattled, but Bradham, Kendricks, Hicks, Walker and Goode will probably be the players anchoring the middle of the Eagles’ defense this season.

Eagles put Ryan Mathews on non-football injury list, sign WR David Watford

Eagles put Ryan Mathews on non-football injury list, sign WR David Watford

Many fans are worried Ryan Mathews won't be able to stay healthy this season. 

Well, it's a day before the first full-team practice and the running back is already hurt. 

The Eagles placed Mathews on the Active/Non-football Injury list Wednesday. The Eagles say he hurt his ankle last week while training. 

Mathews, 28, can be activated at any time, but can't practice while he's still on the list. The severity of the injury is unclear, but seems to not be severe, as Mathews was seen walking into the team facility this afternoon without a noticeable limp. 

Without their starting running back, the Eagles will be giving more reps to Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Kenjon Barner and a couple of undrafted rookies as practice continues Thursday. 

The Eagles also filled out their roster, signing wide receiver David Watford. Watford, who was a QB at Hampton University, was with the Eagles during rookie camp on a tryout basis this spring. They're now at 90. 

Every Eagle on the roster has now reported to training camp, except long snapper Jon Dorenbos, who has been competing (doing magic) on the NBC show "America's Got Talent." His absence was excused and he's expected to make himself appear at the facility Thursday. 

Head coach Doug Pederson said he's pulling for Dorenbos in the show, but was asked about the show will conflict with the training camp schedule. 

"We've just got to see," Pederson said. "Obviously, he went through this show and he'll be back tomorrow for the conditioning test. We'll just go day-by-day and just see where it ends up in the next couple of days."