As free agency opens, remember the Eagles are not one player away

As free agency opens, remember the Eagles are not one player away

General manager Howie Roseman has spent much of the offseason preparing Philadelphia Eagles fans for a cautious approach to free agency. He stressed the organization is not going to overpay for talent and was even caught dropping an S-bomb—“stop-gap.” I feel dirty just repeating it.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped fans from clamoring for both Jairus Byrd AND T.J. Ward, or analysts from projecting the Eagles as the best fit for Darrelle Revis. It’s as if people want them to build another Dream Team or something.

That’s not to say Philadelphia can’t or won’t spend money on a superstar player now that the new league year has finally begun and free agency officially gets underway at 4 p.m. on Tuesday. Then again, it wouldn’t necessarily be in the team’s best interest, either.

I get it. People are stoked for the Birds coming off of an improbable 10-6 season and division championship, and rightfully view this as a franchise on the rise. Nuts to building painstakingly through the draft over multiple years. The future is already here.

Only it would be a massive overestimation on everybody’s part to view this roster as a quick fix or two away from competing in the Super Bowl. That’s simply not the case. Doesn’t mean Philly couldn’t find itself in the big game next February, but dropping an expensive Pro Bowl player into the defense won’t suddenly solve all of the club’s problems.

The Eagle needs at least one, probably two starters at safety. They could use upgrades at cornerback and outside linebacker, but are already financially committed to Cary Williams and Trent Cole for 2014. The entire defensive line is still very much a work in progress. Oh, and they need to seriously improve depth across the board.

Management can’t do all of that with an estimated $24 million in salary cap space no matter how much you may want them to.

$24 million isn’t even what’s actually available to spend. Set aside a couple million to sign draft picks. As of now, there’s no punter on the roster, and assuming Donnie Jones returns, that could be another $2-3 million. A kicker other than Alex Henery wouldn’t hurt, either—that might take some coin.

Philadelphia could stand to sign backups at quarterback, wide receiver, defensive line, outside linebacker, cornerback and safety this offseason as well.

Plus, because the salary cap is a fluid number, you must also take into account how money will be spent in the years ahead. Next offseason, Nick Foles, Fletcher Cox, Michael Kendricks and Brandon Boykin are all up for extensions—Foles alone could cost nearly $20 million. Any unspent cap space from ’14 can be rolled into the future, which could go a long way toward getting deals done.

Sure, expensive contracts such as Williams’ and Cole’s could come off the books next year and offset some of those costs. But then, there’s no telling exactly what the new costs will be.

Aside from the potential short- and long-term ramifications, there’s one more far, simpler point to consider. Not only are the Eagles not just one player away.

Nobody is ever really just one player away.

That’s just not the way this works. There are too many moving parts. People get injured. Their performance declines inexplicably and unexpectedly. Draft picks bust. Free agents don’t fit new schemes. Everything can and probably will change on a dime.

The only way to truly prepare a team for a championship run is to build a strong 53-man roster from top to bottom, not one that’s top-heavy on stars.

The Eagles have a plan. Williams and Cole could be upgraded, but it would force the team to eat a bunch of dead money when it can get by with that for now. Bringing in a stop-gap at safety wouldn’t be the sexiest move, but it gives the defense a competent starter at least. In the meantime, the front office continues drafting talent behind all of them, behind everybody.

Maybe the Birds make a splash in free agency, maybe they don’t. They certainly don’t have to though. Other than acquiring a starting-caliber safety, they really don’t need to make any big moves in free agency at all—and that certainly is not something to be disappointed about.

Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

NEW ORLEANS — Nerlens Noel made another step toward his return from arthroscopic left knee surgery by joining the Sixers in New Orleans for their game against the Pelicans.

Noel arrived on Wednesday with Robert Covington, who is slated to start after missing the last three games with a left knee sprain. Noel is not cleared to play, but Brown doesn’t think it will be long until he suits up. 

“I don’t think far away,” Brown said of Noel’s regular season debut after shootaround.

When asked about the possibility of Noel playing this weekend when the Sixers face the Pistons on Sunday in Detroit, Brown replied, “Maybe.” 

Noel has missed the entire regular season recovering from elective surgery for an inflamed plica in October. He completed the first phase of his rehab in Birmingham, Ala. and has been continuing his work with the Sixers. This trip to New Orleans is the first time he has been with the Sixers on the road. 

“[He is] integrating with the team, studying a lot of tape, scripting with his teammates with the understanding that we have a chance to see him soon,” Brown said. “All that trying to ramp it up where he can go to an NBA court more comfortably.”

Noel spoke out about his displeasure with the Sixers crowded frontcourt at the start of the preseason. He recently stuck with his stance, saying, “I don’t think the roster’s changed.”

Brown is working to keep the team moving forward as a unit while still being aware of and recognizing Noel’s perspective. 

“It does,” Brown said when asked if Noel’s open frustration concerns him as it pertains to team cohesiveness. “But I feel like it’s so much a part of what we try do around here that it’s not like you’re going to blink and you’ve forgotten something that equals camaraderie, that equals team, that equals trying to keep this together, and you’ve left it for a week … 

“It’s a day-to-day focus for me and it’s a very candid conversation with me and the player. The team hears it, the individual hears it, we all understand it … We need to coexist and we need to understand the reality of it all, too. There’s a human side you understand. It’s also pride, it’s competitiveness, it’s do your job, it’s nothing is given, you’ve got to take stuff, draw your own line in the sand, competitors rule the day.”

Last season Noel averaged 11.1 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game. The Sixers will look forward to having him back on the court in that once-crowded frontcourt that is now shorthanded. Jahlil Okafor remained in Philadelphia with gastroenteritis. Ben Simmons still is rehabbing from a right foot fracture. 

"Soon you’re going to see Ben Simmons coming to a team bench where he doesn’t come out with boots and have to push him in some type of wheely apparatus," Brown said. "We’ve dealt with so many injuries trying to find that balance of dealing with their health and so on, and then trying to integrate them back into a team is part of growing a program."