The Replacements: Eagles Draft Sends Message About Upcoming Free Agents

The Replacements: Eagles Draft Sends Message About Upcoming Free Agents

Quintin Mikell and David Akers have been in the news a lot lately. Two of the final three remaining members from the 2004 Eagles team that reached the Super Bowl become free agents whenever the new league year begins, and they both say the writing is on the wall.

"I talked to Dawk after he left, and he was pretty upset about it," Mikell said. "For me personally, seeing how upset he was, I think I started preparing for that back then. Mike Lewis and Dawk, seeing those guys go, I was like, 'Mentally be ready for that day, because it's going to happen, and it might happen sooner than you think.'

It's typical Eagles, casting off aging veterans in favor of their younger counterparts, and it's a model the front office has been very successful with, often parting ways at precisely the right time--except this time, it's not just the old guys. Virtually every player the Eagles selected in this year's draft should be viewed as a direct replacement for a scheduled free agent, several of them only finishing out their rookie deals.

The lack of a collective bargaining agreement has caused uncertainty over who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. A provision in the old agreement resulted in an uncapped year in 2010, during which the years of service required for unrestricted status jumped from four to six. Because nobody knows exactly what will happen, this led to the belief free agency could continue to operate under those rules.

In all honesty, that was always an unlikely premise. The rule changes triggered by the final year of the expired CBA were put in place as a feeble attempt to prevent a labor dispute. The thought process was the threat of an NFL with no salary cap would keep the owners honest, while a series of obscure rules limiting player movement would put pressure on the union.

We may not make it back to status quo, but there is no way the players will agree to anything that lengthens the wait until free agency. If you still need convincing though, take a closer look at the Eagles' draft class, and the list of players who would be unrestricted in a normal year.

2011 Draft: (1) running back, (1) fullback, (2) guards, (1) center, (3) linebackers, (1) cornerback, (1) safety, (1) kicker.

2011 unrestricted free agents: (1) running back, (3) guards, (1) defensive end, (4) linebackers, (2) cornerbacks, (1) safety, (1) kicker, (1) punter.

In case you are having trouble reading between the lines, the Eagles are preparing as if nobody will re-sign, and it's not just veterans like Mikell and Akers, or moving parts such as Dimitri Patterson and Ernie Sims. It's Max Jean-Gilles, a starter in 10 games last season; Jerome Harrison, who they swindled from the Browns in a trade last October; and Stewart Bradley, only two seasons removed from being a rising star at middle linebacker.

Prior the draft, I would have considered the return of several free agents likely, unrestricted or not. I really did not foresee the Eagles drafting another safety in the second round, Akers was tendered with the transition tag, and I hoped Bradley would show progress in his second season following an ACL tear. Now, none of their services are necessary.

Sure, anybody could come back... if the price were right. It has to be on the Eagles' terms though. Mikell should command top dollar as arguably the top safety on the market, not to mention years management would never match with Jaiquawn Jarrett in the fold. The transition offer to Akers may as well be rescinded, unless they are really going to have Alex Henery punting in his rookie season. Bradley probably has the best shot of all to don midnight green in '11, but only if he is willing to compete for a job.

We could do this all day. Curtis Marsh, a corner for all of one season, couldn't be any worse than Patterson. Why waste valuable instruction on the 28 year old Harrison when they have 20 year old Dion Lewis? Jean-Gilles, Nick Cole, and Reggie Wells are expendable now that they have Danny Watkins, Julian Vandervelde, and Jason Kelce, as are Sims, Omar Gaither, and Akeem Jordan to their Casey Matthews, Brian Rolle, and Greg Lloyd.

Obviously it's too soon to call anybody's draft a success, but it's enough to make you wonder how anybody could term the Eagles' haul bad, much less comically so as the Inquirer's John Gonzalez suggested the other day. They merely sought to replace players who are already out the door.

And are they losing anybody who is irreplaceable? A good kicker can be difficult to find, but Akers turns 37 this year, and the drama that unfolded over the winter--after he missed crucial field goals in the playoffs no less--hardly seems worth the trouble. Mikell is the most valuable of the bunch, and even he is somewhat one dimensional; one of the best in the box, but just average in coverage. And again, it's worth repeating he has a nice payday coming.

The Eagles passed on the household names in the first round, and failed to address seemingly obvious holes in the process. However, it would be incorrect to conclude they failed to draft for need, when if the roster holds up without any of their 15 upcoming free agents, they drafted out of practically nothing but immediate need. As a result, don't be surprised by the impact this year's class plays in the season ahead.

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

NEW ORLEANS -- The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans' tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn't keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players' first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists (see full recap).

LeBron triple-double powers Cavs past Knicks
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday's trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Pistons rally from 18 down to beat Hornets in OT
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 33 points, including three 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter during a pulsating Detroit rally, and the Pistons outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 114-108 in overtime Thursday night.

Caldwell-Pope scored Detroit's last 11 points of regulation, and his 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play tied the game at 100. Kemba Walker scored Charlotte's final nine points of the fourth, but the Pistons forced him to give up the ball on the last possession, and Marco Belinelli missed a 3-pointer that could have won it.

Detroit, which was behind by 18 in the third quarter, never trailed in the overtime. Caldwell-Pope's 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining put the Pistons up 110-102.

Charlotte led 85-70 at the start of the fourth but missed 14 of its first 15 shots in the period, enabling Detroit to cut into the lead.

Walker scored 34 points. Tobias Harris had 25 for the Pistons (see full recap).