Looking Ahead to Next Offseason for the Eagles

Looking Ahead to Next Offseason for the Eagles

With LeSean McCoy's contract extension finished, and only one draft pick -- Fletcher Cox -- left to sign, the feeling around town is the offseason has officially come to a close for the Eagles. The front office is always tinkering with the back end of the 90-man roster they'll take to Lehigh, and a veteran safety could still enter the mix before the regular season gets underway, but Shady was the last of the headline grabbers.

Training camp is a couple months away though, and only so much can be gleaned about a football team from reading reports on OTAs, but fear not, armchair GMs. Next offseason is less than a year away, where another round of moves that will shape the direction of the franchise are right around the corner. We take a sneak peak at what hurdles possibly lie ahead for Eagles management once the 2012 campaign ends.

Extension for Jeremy Maclin
One of the staples of this regime has been locking their own talent into long-term contracts before the current deal expires, a move we saw plenty of this offseason. McCoy, Trent Cole, and Todd Herremans received the priviledged treatment this Spring, and it's most often applied to players nearing the end of their rookie deal, like Shady, and also Brent Celek mid-2010. Maclin would appear to be next on the list. The 19th overall selection in '09, he'll be turning 25 with one year remaining at season's end.

Exactly what kind of contract he'll be in line for has yet to be determined. Maclin is averaging 63 catches, 865 yards, and six touchdowns per season through three, which are solid numbers, though not quite star caliber. He's certainly flashed that kind of potential, hauling in 10 touchdowns during 2010, and his yards per game have climbed every year, from 50.8 as a rookie to 66.1 last year. Over a full 16 games, the latter equates to 1,057 yards. Perhaps all Maclin needs to reach the next level is a full season in good health, which he's experienced only once during his brief NFL career.

For all intents and purposes, this is a contract year for Maclin, so there is no time like the present.

Logjam at Left Tackle
The silver lining to Jason Peters' season-ending injury was the best free agent left tackle was still on the market, and because nobody else felt any urgency to sign Demetress Bell, the Eagles have him under a favorable contract. The problem is the terms of the deal will force a decision about the future of the position very early into the offseason.

The Eagles can cut ties on the remainder of Bell's five-year contract worth $35 million after just one season, but he's owed an $8.5 million roster bonus. We haven't located details on exactly when that takes effect, though it's typically on or around the first day of the new league year in March, which means to avoid paying that lump sum of cash, the team must release him before that date. It all sounds so easy, but will they have the confidence in Peters returning from multiple Achilles surgeries to dump Bell? The front office could also be in for a showdown with their All-Pro, whom they are taking $3.25M from to pay Bell's base salary in 2011, which apparently the front office is allowed to do because this was classified as a non-football injury.

The possibility certainly exists Bell's play won't warrant further consideration of his bonus, or they could pay it then attempt to trade him, move him beforehand, etc., but they can't afford to keep both tackles on the books going forward. (Well, maybe they can, but that would be more than a little ridiculous.) Maybe Peters will be the one deemed expendable, which would be a real shame considering how great he's been. Whatever the case is, unless they run into problems elsewhere on the line, one of the two should be gone.

Contract Dispute with Jason Babin
Unlike some of the other items on the list, this is purely speculative. Jason Babin is currently under contract through 2015, a free agent deal he and his agent negotiated just last summer. Ideally, he'll play that out for another year or two before making waves. The problem is he might be vastly outperforming what he's slated to receive. Babin finished 2011 third in the NFL with 18 sacks. He had 12.5 the season prior with the Titans. Another double-digit sack season would cement him as an elite pass rusher, while his contract would be anything but.

Babin's five-year deal was for just over $27 million, with just $4M in guarantees. He's slated to make $4.4M in '13, $6M in '14 and '15. That's a lot of change, but not comparatively speaking. Mario Williams just signed with the Bills for six years, $100 million, with $50 million guaranteed. That's basically three times what Babin will earn over the life of his deal, and while he's no Mario Williams, the discrepancies are all over the place. The Lions used the franchise tag of Cliff Avril this offseason, which guarantees one year at over $10 mil -- roughly the average of the five highest-paid ends in the league.

Babin seems like the kind of guy who has no problem speaking his mind, and while he followed defensive line coach Jim Washburn to Philly, and despite having a far more extensive history of non-production, players averaging 15 sacks per season usually want to be paid in a manner reflective of that status. Could be trouble on the horizon.

Renegotiate with DeMeco Ryans
If Ryans is everything he is cracked up to be, the $6.8 million per year he's owed between 2013-15 may not be an issue next season. On the other hand, if he's lost a step, the Eagles might think that a steep price tag.

Ryans became expendable to the Texans after their move to a 3-4 defense. Only one interior linebacker -- Brian Cushing -- was used nearly 50% of the time as Houston shifted to their dime personnel on passing downs. However, Ryans was also returning from a ruptured Achilles from the season prior, the recovery paired with learning a new defensive system slowing him down some. Excitement is high that the Eagles finally added a Pro Bowler and leader in the heart of their defense, but some are a little more cautiously optimistic.

Like Babin's supposed dispute, we're merely guessing about a situation that should only arise if Ryans turns out to be ordinary. The Eagles did not assume any of his signing bonuses though, so they seem to have the leverage should they choose to rework the deal.

Sign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
There is one player the Eagles absolutely must act on before next offseason begins, and that is is Rodgers-Cromartie -- as long as they intend to keep him, that is.

One of the two pieces to come over in the trade for Kevin Kolb, DRC is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. While he is being penciled in as the starter at left corner, the 16th overall selection from the '08 Draft showed little in his first campaign with the Birds, mostly playing out of posi
tion in the slot. Management probably needs more performances to evaluate before deciding how they want to approach negotiations.

Cromartie has flashed star potential through his first four NFL seasons however, even earning a Pro Bowl nod in '09, and he looked like a different player last season when given the opportunity to line up outside. Being that he was a key part of the Kolb deal, the Eagles likely intend to keep him in the nest beyond 2012. If they don't offer him an extension at some point this season, it will be interesting to see how they go about it. If DRC plays well enough, the franchise tag could be the device used to keep him in Philadelphia.

Fill Need at Safety
There is much discussion about whether the current crop of safeties are going to cut it for the Eagles. That remains to be seen, and a debate best saved for another time, but the front office has been put on notice.

Nate Allen, assuming he continues progressing the way he did last season, should be in Eagles green for a long time. In fact, along with Maclin, Allen might be one of those young players on their rookie deal who are being looked at for a quick extension. He'll have one year left next offseason, so if he elevates his play and stays healthy in 2012, he could be heading for a payday.

What has yet to be determined for certain is whether they have a need at the other spot. Kurt Coleman seems serviceable, if a bit limited in terms of athletic ability, but he hasn't exactly locked down a job. He'll compete with Jaiquawn Jarrett, a second-round pick a year ago who hasn't been able to get on the field. We've suggested Jarrett's troubles as a rookie may have stemmed from the lockout-shortened offseason, but the point is he remains a mystery.

To say Jarrett only has this season to win over the coaches might be a bit of a stretch, but he at least needs to show something to convince them he can make it at this level. Either that, or Coleman could make the leap in his third NFL season and instill confidence in this group for the first time since Brian Dawkins departed. If neither Jarrett's or Coleman's growth comes to pass, it appears it could be back to the drawing board for the Birds. Safety could be their greatest need heading into 2013.

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

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MIAMI -- For struggling pitchers, facing the Phillies has become like a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
 
Another rival pitcher searching for a cure got it Monday night when the Phillies suffered their 23rd loss in the last 29 games. This time it was Miami Marlins right-hander Edinson Volquez. He pitched six shutout innings and allowed just three hits in leading his club to a 4-1 win over the Phillies, who fell to 6-20 in May (see Instant Replay).

Volquez had gone 16 starts between wins.
 
"Every loss stings, I don’t care who's pitching," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're just in a rut. We've got to battle our way out of it. We have to show up tomorrow and get after it. We've got to get more than three or four hits in the game."
 
The Phillies had just four hits in the game. It was the fifth time in the last nine games that they've had four or fewer hits. Only one of the hits was for extra bases and one of the singles was an infield hit.
 
"Once again, we need more offense," Mackanin said.
 
Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson completed a difficult month of May by allowing six hits, including a two-run homer, and four runs over six innings.
 
Hellickson surrendered a two-run homer to Derek Dietrich with two outs in the sixth and that was basically the ball game. Dietrich hit a high changeup. Back in April, that pitch would have been at the knees. But Hellickson has misplaced the pitch command that he needs to succeed.
 
Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. In May, however, he went 1-3 with a 7.04 ERA in six starts. He was tagged for 35 hits, including nine homers, in 30 2/3 innings.
 
"Command in general," said Hellickson, describing his problem this month. "The biggest thing is not getting strike one, falling behind too much. I'm not getting the quick easy outs I was getting early in the season. I'm trying to get ahead, just missing."
 
Volquez signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the Marlins over the winter, but it wasn't until this game that he delivered his first win. He entered the game 0-7 with a 4.82 ERA in nine starts.
 
The win was Volquez's first since Aug. 25, 2016, when he was a member of the Kansas City Royals.

Volquez isn't the first struggling pitcher to shine against the Phils recently. Eight days earlier, Pittsburgh's Chad Kuhl took a 6.69 ERA into a start against the Phils and pitched five shutout innings. In the series against Colorado, the Phillies were dominated by a pair of rookies. In the only game they won (in a late rally), they were held to one run over six innings by Tyler Anderson, who had entered that game with an ERA of 6.00. On Friday night, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Tim Adleman pitched eight shutout innings against the Phils and gave up just one hit in the best start of his life. He had come into that game with an ERA of 6.19.
 
So Volquez had to be heartened when he saw the Phillies on the schedule.
 
They are the get-well team for pitchers in need of a pick-me-up.
 
It's actually kind of sad.
 
With Odubel Herrera locked in the throes of the worst slump of his life and on the bench and Maikel Franco mired in a 2 for 21 slump and hitting .209, Mackanin is trying to push things a little. He gave Aaron Altherr the green light to steal with one out and runners on the corners in a one-run game in the sixth inning. Altherr was out at second on a close play and Tommy Joseph struck out to leave the runner at third.
 
The Marlins salted the game away in the bottom of the inning on Dietrich's homer.
 
"With our offense, I have to take chances," Mackanin said. "I can't sit around and wait for three hits in a row. We haven't been doing that."
 
The Phils have the worst record in the majors at 17-32.
 
They have lost eight of their last 10 and scored just 15 runs in the losses.
 
"It sucks," catcher Cameron Rupp said. "There's really no other way to put it. It's frustrating. But the only people that are going to help us are ourselves. Nobody's going to go out there and play for us, swing the bats, pitch, play defense. That's on us and we have to do a better job all around.
 
"We all want to be successful and get the job done. We just haven't been hitting the ball. There's no other way to put it. But the good thing about baseball is we play every day so we turn the page and come back tomorrow and try to get it done."

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins rarely tested the hottest goaltender in the playoffs in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against Nashville.

They beat Pekka Rinne anyway.

Rookie Jake Guentzel fired the puck past Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a back-and-forth 5-3 victory on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Matt Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in Final history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37 minutes at one point without a shot.

"I think at the end of the day we're up 1-0," Bonino said. "We had a good first, we had a terrible second and we were terrible in the third. I don't think it's Xs and Os. We've got to work harder, compete a little harder, but we got some timely goals."

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions, trying to become the first repeat winner since Detroit in 1998.

All the guys from "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

"The impact of that moment and then the chain of events that happened after that with the penalty kills I think changed the course of the game," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said.

The decision gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge. Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead, they rallied and took over the game.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second and Nashville kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history -- and the first such period by any team in a Final game since the NHL began tracking shots on goal in 1958.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

"We didn't do a great job of (shooting), but we made them count," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "But it was a good finish there to get that one from Jake."