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.

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Vanek, Nielsen lead Wings over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski push Sharks past Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in OT, Oilers edge Panthers
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers weren’t supposed to beat the Raptors, were they? This was going to be an “easy” game for the visiting team, which was coming to Philadelphia on a back-to-back that started in Brooklyn. The Raptors are a playoff team, and second in the Eastern Conference at that. Not to mention, they had defeated the Sixers in their last 14 meetings.

Maybe easy would have been the case the last time the two teams played back in mid-December. For the Sixers, though, things have changed since then and a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday proved this recent success is not fleeting (see Instant Replay).

“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Joel Embiid said. “We’re competing. We’re winning games. We’re playing great defense. We finally found what we’ve been looking for.”

The Sixers had been missing clearly-defined roles and a defensive identity (see story). Now that Brett Brown has whittled down his roster to 10 players and laid out a starting five and second unit, the team has been gelling in those two aspects. The Sixers have won seven out of their last nine games, with the Raptors being the highest caliber of competition.

The Raptors entered the game averaging 111.5 points per game, first in the East and third in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Rockets. They had scored less than 100 points in just seven games this season. Additionally, the Raptors had been held to under 90 points by a single opponent: the Spurs. Not bad company to be in. 

Embiid led all players with 26 points (including 12 for 14 from the free throw line) to go with nine rebounds (see highlights). The Sixers staved off 25 points (11 for 21 from the field), six assists and three rebounds from DeMar DeRozan and 24 points (11 for 16 from the line), four rebounds, four assists and five steals from Kyle Lowry, who fouled out. The Raptors shot 25 percent from three and 65.2 percent at the free throw line.  

“We’re playing with a spirit, we’re playing with a defensive mindset,” Brown said. “There is a belief within each other amongst the team that is the best that it’s been since I’ve been here.”

The Sixers' winning stretch began against subpar teams, opponents who earlier in the season some would look at the schedule and say, the Sixers could probably take that one, as they tried to project a batch of victories. The Sixers turned those wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Nets into momentum and carried it into a matchup against the Knicks.

Even though the Knicks are looking lost this season, they still have veteran offensive firepower that can take over a game against a struggling opponent. The Sixers made noise by beating them at the buzzer, then escalated their performance against the postseason-hungry Hornets and Bucks. 

The Raptors are different, though. There is no questioning their success and potential to make a deep playoff run … again. Nonetheless, the Sixers handled this well-seasoned opponent with composure and confidence down the stretch. 

They stayed together when DeRozan hit a jumper with 1:53 to play to give the Raptors their first lead since the second quarter. The Sixers responded to the one-point deficit with a 7-0 run to push the edge up to six points with 20.7 seconds to go.

“I think it says we’re for real. It shows our consistency that we’ve built throughout the year,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re relentless. We have a young group of guys that know how to play the game and play it the right way and will come out there and compete against anybody in this league. I think the perception should be a whole different one now.”

The Sixers showed they can compete with top talent. Their wins aren't just coming from teams at the bottom of the standings. 

"That gives us a lot of confidence," Embiid said. "Coming into the game, we had a lot of confidence. Winning against the second-best team in the East is just amazing. We’re going to keep on working."