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.

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers lost Jahlil Okafor for the final 23 games last season because of a small meniscus tear in his right knee. Now they are being cautious as he prepares for his second year.

As part of the Sixers’ prescheduled load management for Okafor, he participated in a portion of practice and then worked out individually with head strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright.

“They just told me to relax once I did what they wanted me to do today,” Okafor said. “I was off to the sidelines. I feel fine. I’ll be good tomorrow.”

Okafor learned during his first NBA season that he should speak more openly with the staff about his body.

“Communication is key,” he said. “I think last year I didn’t really communicate how I was feeling, so I wasn’t able to get the help I needed.”

The team held three practice sessions in the first two days of training camp. Okafor said he knew the Sixers would be cautious with his workload. He is poised to improve upon his rookie year in which he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games last season.

“I’m 100 percent healthy,” he said. “I’m all good.”

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- With Joel Embiid's excitement to be on the court following two years of injuries comes the reality of his lengthy setback.

Embiid is participating in his first NBA training camp this week. While he has impressed with his natural abilities and improved skills, Embiid is facing challenges as he gets accustomed to the league.

"Everything is kind of off right now as far as catching the ball or shooting," Embiid said after practice Wednesday. "I've still got to get in the flow of the game."

Embiid has yet to play since being drafted in 2014. For the past two years he has worked out individually and in controlled settings. Practices, even in training camp, are different. 

"You see all the time when you realize he hasn't played basketball for a long time," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. "He's trying to gather his feet and find his balance, he's trying to figure out stuff in real time speed on defensive assignments and rotations."

On Wednesday, Embiid went through practice without any minute restrictions and was feeling healthier from the cold and virus he had been battling (see story). Teammates have praised his physical presence and eagerness to compete. He makes an impact with his 7-foot-2 presence alone, but there is more he wants to improve. 

Embiid is adjusting to the speed of the game. He has been facing challenges with getting the ball in the post and spoke to the coaches about his frustrations. The staff explained they are focusing on pick-and-roll defense and getting out to run during training camp, but he will get that desired location in game situations. 

“You continue to see the size of Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “He's a big man and he's got a mindset to back up his physical gifts. He really wants the ball. He wants to get deep catches. He wants to dunk on people.”

Embiid always has been realistic about his transition to his rookie season. He has pointed out many times that he is a fast learner, and is anxious to soak up new knowledge and apply it to the court.

"It's really frustrating," he said. "But like I've said, you've got to trust the process, which I've been doing."