New Life at PPL? Union Sharp Despite Loss

New Life at PPL? Union Sharp Despite Loss

It's been a month since we filed in for a regular season home match at PPL Park. Might as well have been two with how long it felt. On Saturday night, with perfect summer weather the likes of which we probably won't see again this season, the place was packed, electric from the intros and receptive to a rally video moment from new boss John Hackworth. It also helped that nearby rival and first place side DC United were in town, complete with their travel contingent. The east end of the stadium sounded like a drum circle all night, echos bouncing throughout the whole building. 
It was a lot more than the just the result of month away, this energy. I don't recall it like this all season so far. 
The team on the field looked a whole lot different too. From the opening tap, the Union were running. They controlled the run of play, generating great opportunities and limiting the potent DC attack. For the better part of the night, it looked like we might be in for an outstanding 0-0 match. I know that doesn't sit well with a lot of non-soccer folks, but the action was highly entertaining despite the lack of scoring. 
Then a reality we know a bit too well came back to the stadium. A late concession, a Union loss. A Lancaster Kolsch-soaked look at how Hackworth deployed his selections and how they fared below, along with video highlights from a great match. 
The night on the whole was a positive step forward for the Union, who outshot DC 15-7. Chris Pontius, who scored for United in the 78th minute on the receiving end of a controversial free kick, tweeted after the game: 

Props to Philly 2night. Took it 2 us most of the night. We have a lot to work on and will get back to work this week. Safe travels everyone!

We'll enjoy that progress for now, but the Union still lacked finish on all those opportunities, and they once again allowed a late goal. If they play like they did last night, the results should often be better than they've been so far. At the very least, the matches should be more entertaining. 
Tactically, Hackworth deployed a trio of Freddy Adu, Jack Mac, and Josue Martinez. When Lio Pajoy returns from suspension, it will be interesting to see what the Union do up front. It will be tempting not to break them up after the amount of opportunities they generated. Adu played with intensity and flashed the skill that can set him apart. When once he got too cute and lost the ball in the attacking third during the first half, he raced back and retrieved the stolen property himself, turning the play back toward Bill Hamid. That broken play may have been my favorite part of his night. Martinez had one of the match's best opportunities, but couldn't get around Hamid. The first half saw a flurry of action in the DC box, but Hamid stood tall when the shots were on target. When it came time for second-half subs, Adu remained while Martinez came off for Antoine Hoppenot and Jack Mac left for Chandler Hoffman. Hoppenot saw one shot hit the frame and another sail wide, but man did he look dangerous. It may be hard to coach the group to the next level, as they were tactically on-point and got the opps they needed and then some. They just lacked finish. Only the players themselves can deliver that, and some luck is probably in the cards as well. A little will go a long way, hopefully soon. 
At midfield, the Union were still without Roger Torres, who watched the game along with others from the stadium club. Torres told me he'll be back next week, which could add creativity and a scoring threat to the middle while allowing Adu to play forward again. Brian Carroll, Michael Lahoud, and Michael Farfan made up the middle in this one, and they moved the ball well. Notably absent, at least to me, was unused sub Keon Daniel. Due to all the personnel issues lately, Keon's been moved around and used outside of the roles we saw him do well in last season, not always looking as effective in 2012. Maybe as roles become more consistent (presuming they do), so will he. 
Gabe Farfan and Sheanon Williams returned to the outside of the Union back line, with Carlos Valdes and Amobi Okugo paired inside. They all played very well from my vantage—quick and physical—and it's likely we'll see this quartet work together more frequently. The Union won't face many tougher tests than the DC attack, and they held up against all but one well-placed free kick that Pontius was on the right end of. As Rev pointed out in the pre-game, the Union are susceptible on set pieces, and we saw the business end of that damn them to zero points on the night. Whether you agree with the referee's call on Valdes or not, they need to stop bleeding goals off of free kicks and corner. 
But, there truly did seem to be progress from start to finish. Gone were the long-ball Hail Mary's to the forwards, stretching the field instead with short passes and measured control. The Union looked confident and cut through DC with speed and well-placed passing, using the entire field and being opportunistic. 
Next up in regular season action is a meeting with Sporting KC on Saturday at PPL Park. For the first time in a while, the Union gave us good reason to raise our expectations. 

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, LB: Mychal Kendricks on the trade block?

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2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, LB: Mychal Kendricks on the trade block?

In 2015, trade rumors were swirling around Mychal Kendricks. He was entering the final year of his rookie contract, and the Eagles had just made sizeable investments in a bunch other linebackers. Then, out of nowhere, Kendricks signed a four-year extension during training camp worth $29 million, with $16 million guaranteed plus incentives.

Fast forward to 2017, and you should expect those rumors to return, only for vastly different reasons.

At the time of the extension, Kenricks was one of the Eagles' top playmakers, not to mention one of only three linebackers in the NFL to rack up at least 8.0 sacks, three interceptions and five forced fumbles and a two-year span. Since then, big plays have been few and far between, performance has been inconsistent altogether and now he's barely even on the field. According to Football Outsiders, Kendricks lined up for only 26.8 percent of the defensive snaps in '17.

The combination of his up-and-down performance and reduced playing time no longer justify Kendricks' rising salary. Also, surprise, the five-year veteran isn't very thrilled about being the third and least utilized of the linebackers in the base defense, nor should he. For the sake of comparison, both Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks were on the field at least 95 percent of the time.

Moving on from Kendricks isn't entirely financially motivated, either. Because the Eagles still owe $4.8 in prorated signing bonus over the next three years, the club can only save $1.8 million of his hit against the salary cap for '17. Until they pay a veteran replacement, much of that money — if not all, and then some — is being put right back into the position.

Still, there is likely a team out there that's willing to take a chance on Kendrcks in exchange for a mid-to-late-round draft pick. His $4.85 million base salary this season is very reasonable if he can return to his 2013-14 level of production, which in the right scheme, if he's allowed to blitz and freelance more, could potentially happen.

As long as he's with the Eagles, he's not going to get off the bench unless Bradham or Hicks get hurt. Even then, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz doesn't like to blitz, perhaps Kendricks' greatest strength. This simply may not be the right fit regardless, which isn't really anybody's fault. That tends to happen when regimes change.

The best case scenario for both sides at this point would be the Eagles take what they can get for Kendricks and give him a chance to play. In fact, it might be an upset if something doesn't go down this offseason.

LINEBACKERS UNDER CONTRACT

Mychal Kendricks
Age: 27*
Cap Number: $6,600,000

Even in 2015, widely considered a down year for Kendricks, he managed 3.0 sacks, three pass breakups and a forced fumble in 13 games. Last season, he finished with zero sacks, zero interceptions and zero forced fumbles. The only time Kendricks got his hands on a football was a lone pass breakup. Part of the issue seems to be player regression, which is going to drive his trade value down. Regardless, there's really no reason for the Eagles to keep him around at that price. It's awfully expensive for depth, especially considering he hasn't looked very good. Some new scenery might be what the doctor ordered for Kendricks at this point, because it hasn't been working out in Philadelphia for awhile.

Nigel Bradham
Age: 28*
Cap Number: $4,750,000

Bradham turned out to be an absolute steal for the Eagles in free agency, although that wasn't much of a surprise. His best season had been under Schwartz with the Bills in 2014, so there was a feeling he might find similar success back in the same scheme. Sure enough, Bradham led the Eagles with 102 tackles while recording 2.0 sacks, five pass breakups, an interception and two forced fumbles. There's still some lingering legal troubles out there, which might be the only reason he wouldn't get his two-year deal extended this offseason. If the Eagles feel comfortable that those charges will go away or with minimal repercussions, nor will this be a recurring theme for Bradham, it might be wise to work out something long-term now, before he hits the market again. They might even be able to lower his number for '17.

Jordan Hicks
Age: 25*
Cap Number: $796,183

Hicks answered any doubts about whether he could play in Schwartz's scheme, or hold up to the rigors of being a middle linebacker in the NFL in general. Many felt the second-year player was snubbed by Pro Bowl voters, as he finished with 85 tackles, 11 pass breakups and five interceptions — granted, two of those picks were in Week 17. Regardless of individual accolades, the Eagles have a linebacker in Hicks who can literally play in any scheme. Perhaps best of all, he's no eligible for a contract extension until 2018, so he's cost-controlled for another year. Then again, if Hicks keeps this up, he could be looking at something in the neighborhood of $10 million annually. Of course, that would be a small price to pay for his leadership, versatility and playmaking ability.

Kamu Grugier-Hill
Age: 23*
Cap Number: $540,000

A sixth-round draft pick by the Patriots, Grugier-Hill didn't make the 53-man roster our of training camp, and the Eagles pounced. He wound up playing exclusively on special teams, but proved to be a worthwhile investment there, making eight tackles in 12 games. Now Grugier-Hill will have a full season to pick up Schwartz's system and could compete for more work as a reserve, or even for a spot in the rotation.

Joe Walker
Age: 25*
Cap Number: $480,034

Walker was slated to be Hicks' backup at middle linebacker until suffering a torn ACL in training camp. Fortunately, the starter played all 16 games, anyway, but it's a lost year for a seventh-round rookie who would've been battling just to make the roster many other places. Seeing as the Eagles are likely to upgrade the position this offseason, he may find himself in that situation this camp around.

Don Cherry
Age: 23*

A late addition to the roster during camp last summer, the Villanova product eventually wound up landing on the practice squad, too, signing a futures contract at season end. Cherry initially caught on with the Bears as an undrafted rookie before landing on his feet with the Eagles, but the fact that he didn't make it to cut-down day with his first employer suggests his prospects aren't very good.

EXPIRING CONTRACTS

Stephen Tulloch
Age: 32*
2016 Cap Number: $2,500,000

The injury to Walked necessitated the Eagles go out and find a backup for Hicks, who has a long and distinguished injury history. On the bright side, Tulloch wasn't required to play too much. He has plenty of experience in wide-nine defenses and with Schwartz specifically, but all that experience also means he's at the tale-end of his career. That much seemed clear when he played extensively against the Lions in Week 5. Simply put, the Eagles need to find some young reserves to groom behind Hicks and Bradham, not go dumpster diving for the Tullochs of the world. It was a fine career, but there's a reason he was still available in August. Retirement seems like the next step here.

Najee Goode
Age: 28*
2016 Cap Number: $675,000

Goode signed a one-year deal with the Eagles, and while he wasn't needed to fill in much on defense, which he's done a fine job of in the past, he too was excellent on special teams. The five-year veteran had 10 tackles in 16 games while playing pretty much exclusively in the third phase. It will be interesting to see whether Goode draws more interest in free agency in '17. Goode can clearly help on special teams, and when he is pressed into the game on defense, he can definitely hold his own. It certainly wouldn't be a bad thing if the Eagles could bring him back given their depth issues at linebacker, especially if Kendricks is dealt. A one- or two-year deal right around $1 million annually seems fair and isn't going to break the bank.

Ben Simmons healing on schedule; Joel Embiid out tonight; Jahlil Okafor downgraded

Ben Simmons healing on schedule; Joel Embiid out tonight; Jahlil Okafor downgraded

Ben Simmons had a planned foot scan Monday in New York and is progressing as expected.

Simmons suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot nearly four months ago, Sept. 30, and there is still no timetable for his NBA debut.

Okafor downgraded
Jahlil Okafor was limited at shootaround Tuesday and has been downgraded to questionable for tonight's game against the Clippers. He had been listed as probable on Monday.

Okafor is dealing with right knee soreness he experienced on Saturday. The Sixers kept an eye on him Monday and held him out of 5-on-5 drills in practice. Okafor said the team was being cautious, and he wanted to rest his knee given the number of games coming up.

"It was bothering me a little bit in the warmup lines, I started to feel it. When I got going, it started feeling really good, then when I sat out for an extended period, it got kind of sore on me again," Okafor said Monday.

Embiid out
Joel Embiid, dealing with a left knee contusion suffered in last Friday's win over Portland, is officially out tonight. He is also expected to miss Wednesday's game at Milwaukee before returning Friday vs. the Rockets.