Counting Down the Eagles’ Needs: No. 6, Wide Receiver

Counting Down the Eagles’ Needs: No. 6, Wide Receiver

Free agency is right around the corner, and the draft will be here before you know it. With the Philadelphia Eagles’ offseason in full swing, we’re examining where the roster stands at each position, counting down based on team need. Check out the previous installments on the offensive line, quarterbacks, tight ends and  running backs.

In case you’re not convinced wide receiver is a pressing need for the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason, now might be the time to reconsider your stance.

Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are both set to hit free agency in less than a month, and even general manager Howie Roseman admitted re-signing both would be “complicated,” which might as well be code for “not happening.” The Birds were second in cap space committed to receivers in 2013 according to Spotrac, and that was with Maclin and Cooper on rookie contracts far cheaper than what they will cost going forward.

Meanwhile, only DeSean Jackson is signed beyond 2014 at the position, and while we don’t anticipate it being a hot-button issue this year, he has made his desire for a new deal known. Contract is always a delicate situation with Jackson to say the least.

Regardless what you believe the front office should do about Maclin and Cooper or how you feel they should handle Jackson going forward, the Eagles must start working on getting out in front of what appear to be inevitable changes. Spending a draft pick on a wide receiver is almost mandatory. A first-round pick is not out of the question.

Fortunately, it’s a draft loaded with talent at receiver. We’ve seen one prominent mock-drafter had Philly taking Kelvin Benjamin from Florida St. in the first round, a 6’5”, 235-pound matchup nightmare. Penn State’s Allen Robinson reminds me of a poor man’s A.J. Green the way he catches the football at its highest point and could go in rounds one or two. Jordan Matthews looks the part as well, was highly productive at Vanderbilt and is creeping up draft boards after his performance at the Senior Bowl.

There are quality prospects available later as well, but the Eagles would be wise to consider one of these top talents. For one, at 6’3” and taller, any one of them would add some much-needed size to the Birds’ receiving corps.

More importantly, those three players would likely have a chance to contribute right away in 2014, if not replace somebody’s production entirely. Given the current state of the unit, that might be out of necessity.

DeSean Jackson

Jackson is scheduled to take up $35 million in cap space over the next three seasons, which isn’t a problem in itself. After all, he is coming off a career year where he came up 77 receiving yards shy of the franchise record.

For all the grief No. 10 takes from a segment of the Philadelphia fanbase, few wideouts have been as productive as Jackson during his NFL career. Since he entered the league in ’08, Jackson is one of only 11 players with at least 300 receptions, 6,000 yards receiving and 30 touchdowns. Of the players on that list, only Vincent Jackson has more yards per catch.

The issue with Djacc is something that could present itself going forward. While he isn’t likely to raise much of a stink about his contract this year, it’s not difficult to envision a standoff coming in ‘15 when he’ll have two years remaining. All of the guaranteed money from the five-year, $51 million pact has already been collected, so Jackson—somewhat rightfully—will be looking for security.

Should the Eagles play ball? Jackson will be 28 and still owed a nice chunk of change. He’ll be 30 when the current deal expires. You couldn’t blame the team for not wanting to increase its commitment with years to go, which could cause a rift between player and organization.

The way I see it, the Birds have two more years of Jackson—this one upcoming, while he’s still relatively quiet, and the following season when he starts to make his unhappiness known. After that, it’s either extend him into his 30s or trade him to a team that will.

If the decision is made to move on, the team better have a replacement already lined up by then.

Jeremy Maclin

It would be a real shame if Maclin were to depart now. I’m not sure the Eagles really know what they have in the soon-to-be 26-year-old.

Maclin hasn’t turned into a star like you might expect of a former 19th overall selection, but he’s been about as reliable a set of hands as they come. Since 2010, only 34 active players—32 wide receivers and two tight ends—have posted higher than Maclin’ 60.9 yards per game, while 26 have reeled in more than his 22 touchdown passes.

34 is admittedly a large number, but still puts him in very good company. The fact that only 22 pass-catchers have reached the end zone more frequently is impressive though considering he just missed an entire season.

The thing is, we haven’t seen what Maclin can do under ideal circumstances since 2010, when he posted his best season with 70 receptions, 964 yards and 10 touchdowns. Health issues erased his training camp and three games in ’11. Philadelphia’s offensive line was decimated by injuries and the offense predictably declined as a whole in ’12. He still posted over 60 receptions and 800 yards both seasons.

This past year, a torn ACL prevented us from seeing what he could do in Chip Kelly’s offense, with Nick Foles tossing him the football.

The thinking was a short-term deal would be best for both sides as a result of the injury. It would protect the team in the event he’s not fully recovered, while allowing the player to rebound and cash in again one or two years down the road while he’s still in his prime.

The problem is other teams are sure to have interest if Maclin is allowed to hit the market in less than four weeks, such as the New York Jets reportedly—and in their desperate need for a receiver, who knows how much they would be willing to pay. What we know is he doesn’t have a deal with the Birds yet, and if his Twitter feed is any indication, Maclin is feeling pretty unappreciated right now.

Riley Cooper

He’s slow, he has trouble beating press coverage and he had what amounts to three good games in 2013, but Philly fans sure do love themselves some Riley Cooper.

Cooper emerged as a big-play threat once Nick Foles took over under center, going over 100 yards in three of five games and hauling in six of his eight touchdown passes for the season. Few in the Delaware Valley seemed to take notice when he didn’t have anywhere near that kind of impact over the final seven weeks though. Cooper’s high the rest of the way was 74 yards and he found the end zone just two more times.

The surprising part about Cooper was he wound up being an adept deep threat, using his 6’3”, 222-pound frame to box out smaller defensive backs. With less than ideal speed though, it’s questionable whether he could match his 13 receptions of 20-plus yards.

The thing is, a team that doesn’t have a viable deep threat may be willing to pay for Cooper’s unique talent. There are multiple teams who didn’t have a single player with 13 receptions of 20 or more yards—the Eagles had three, and Maclin is perfectly capable of doing it as well.

The Eagles should only be interested in retaining Cooper if he comes cheap. He’s a replacement-level talent who profited from being in the right place at the right time after Maclin was lost to injury. The front office should be searching for an upgrade from Cooper, not extending him long-term.

Jason Avant

Avant was going to be on the roster bubble no matter what in 2014, but few people likely realize the front office may have to make a decision on the long-time Eagle soon. As Tim McManus wrote for Birds 24/7 last month, Avant is due a $1 million roster bonus on March 15, which means the team would have to cut him before then to avoid paying him at least that much.

$1 million represents roughly a quarter of Avant’s cap hit in ’14, so it’s a pretty big deal. Not so big the Birds couldn’t pay it and cut him later if they changed their mind, but it’s certainly a deterrent.

The decision may be based on what happens with respect to Maclin and Cooper in the coming weeks. If the Eagles don’t have either player under contract by then, Avant is probably a lock to be back out of necessity. If at least one is re-signed, the organization might take its chances.

It will be a sad day in Philadelphia when Avant is let go. He’s spent eight seasons in midnight green and was a good person both inside the locker room and off the field. He will be 31 though, and production-wise, ’13 was his worst year since ’08.

Brad Smith

Smith could be a legitimate option to take over Avant’s role in the slot next season. At $1.3 million in ’13, he’s a moderately-priced, short-term solution who can also contribute on special teams both as a dangerous returnman and on the kick coverage unit.

Given the importance Chip Kelly places on special teams, and the fact that Smith looked like their best kick returner on just four attempts, his roster spot seems likely.

Arrelious Benn, Damaris Johnson, Jeff Maehl

The expendables. Little to no shot at making the club next season. Will not be missed.

Previously:

No. 10, Running Back
No. 9, Tight End
No. 8, Quarterback
No. 7, Offensive Line

Pete Mackanin: Like Chicago Italian beef, Freddy Galvis is the best

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Pete Mackanin: Like Chicago Italian beef, Freddy Galvis is the best

CHICAGO – Other than the Italian beef sandwiches from Portillo’s that he loves so much, Pete Mackanin hasn’t had much to feel good about during his trip to his hometown.
 
Mackanin’s rebuilding Phillies have been bulldozed by the powerful Chicago Cubs two days in a row (see game story) and have lost four of five games on a road trip that ends with one more in Wrigley Field on Sunday afternoon.
 
As difficult as it was to see his club get roughed up on Saturday, Mackanin was able to find a sliver of something good in the rubble of a 4-1 defeat.
 
“The highlight of the day was Freddy Galvis -- all day,” Mackanin said.
 
Mackanin listed all the things his 26-year-old shortstop did, from a tremendous relay throw to the plate to stop a run from scoring, to his two hustle plays that led to the Phillies’ only run in the ninth.
 
Galvis, who made several outstanding plays in the field on Friday, vowed to cut down on his errors after making 17 last season. He has just one in 48 games this season and Mackanin is more than impressed with the improvement.
 
“He’s making every play there is,” Mackanin said. “To me, if he’s not the best shortstop in the league, I’d like to see the guy that’s playing as consistent defense as he is.
 
“I’m thrilled with the way he’s playing. He’s playing hard and kind of taken a leadership role just with the way he goes about his business.”
 
Galvis has improved his defense by committing himself to concentrating for 27 outs and not getting careless on routine plays.
 
“I’ve been working with Larry Bowa on trying to set my feet and make the routine plays,” he said. “Don’t try to do too much. Just throw the ball, catch the ball and that’s it. So far, so good.”
 
Mackanin has made it clear that he expects his players to play hard and hustle. He made a huge statement to that effect when he benched his best player, Odubel Herrera, for not running out a ground ball in Detroit on Monday night.
 
So it was not surprising to see Mackanin heap praise on Galvis for his hustle in the top of ninth inning Saturday.
 
Galvis led off the inning with a pop up to right field. Outfielder Jason Heyward and second baseman Ben Zobrist got their signals crossed and the ball fell in. Galvis, running hard the whole way, ended up on second with a fluke double.
 
“That was huge the way he ran that out,” Mackanin said.
 
Galvis then moved to third on a ground ball and scored the Phillies’ only run on a risky base running play. Ryan Howard whiffed on a dropped third strike. As catcher Miguel Montero threw to first to complete the out, Galvis sprinted down the line and slid safely into home. He was able to get a huge jump because the Cubs shifted Howard and left third uncovered. Had Galvis been out at the plate, the game would have been over and it would have gone down as a bad play. But he made it and Mackanin loved it. 
 
“He hustled on a routine fly ball that turned into a double, advanced and scored on the throw to first after the strikeout – it made my whole day,” Mackanin said. “It burnt the shutout. I like to see a guy like that play with that kind of energy.”
 
Earlier in the game, Galvis was hit by a pitch on the right ankle. The pitch got him good and he hobbled to first base. But his dash for home in the ninth inning proved he was OK. Still, he wore an ice pack on the leg after the game. It was a noticeable enough ice pack that Galvis had to be asked whether he expected to play on Sunday.
 
“(Bleep) yeah,” he said.

Once again, Phillies can't measure up to rampaging Cubs

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Once again, Phillies can't measure up to rampaging Cubs

CHICAGO –- For those who called this a measuring stick series, well, you’re going to need a bigger ruler.

The Phillies are still miles upon miles from being able to match up consistently with baseball’s elite clubs.

They’ve encountered one of them the last two days and the results haven’t been pretty: Two losses to the Chicago Cubs by a combined score of 10-3. The Cubbies have pounded nine extra-base hits in the two games and four have been home runs. The Phillies have just three extra-base hits, all doubles, and one was a pop-up that dropped in because of a communication breakdown in the Cubs’ outfield.

Saturday’s 4-1 loss was the Phillies’ sixth defeat in the last eight games and fourth in five games on this challenging trip that started in Detroit (see Instant Replay). Like the Cubs, the Tigers can mash the baseball. The Phillies can’t and it’s catching up with them. They are averaging just 3.22 runs per game, second-worst in baseball. Saturday’s loss marked the 18th time they’ve been held to two or fewer runs in their 49 games. It’s a tribute to their pitching that they’re still three games over .500.

Something must be done to spark the offense. Management has basically said it wants to take more time to evaluate the team and its place in the standings before it decides whether to pursue a bat in the trade market. And even if club officials decide to pursue a bat, they won’t compromise the rebuild — i.e. trade away the prospects it has worked to accumulate — to get one.

So what you’re looking at in the short-term is more of Tommy Joseph — that’s a move that has to be made as Ryan Howard is down to a .154 batting average— and maybe Cody Asche, who could join the club during the coming homestand.

Not too long ago, the Cubs were a rebuilding team, just like these Phillies. Now, they are baseball’s best club, leading the majors with 33 wins and outscoring opponents by 126 runs. (The Phillies, by the way, have a run differential of minus-38.) The Cubs have one goal for this season: Snap their 108-year World Series drought. Anything less will be a disappointment.

There’s more to this Cubs team than offense, though. The Phillies have seen that over the last two days. Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs two starting pitchers, have allowed just two earned runs in 15 1/3 innings.

Hendricks came within one out of a shutout Saturday. The right-hander was not overpowering, but he threw a lot of strikes and the Phillies did nothing with them. He scattered five hits, did not walk a batter and struck out seven. The middle of the Phillies' order — Maikel Franco, Howard and Cameron Rupp — went 0 for 12 with four strikeouts.

Manager Pete Mackanin tipped his hat to Hendricks.

Sort of.

“Let me say this,” Mackanin said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Hendricks because he’s a damn good pitcher and I like him a lot, but I feel like we took pitches we should have hit and we swung at pitches we shouldn’t have swung at. He gave us just enough, not a lot, but just enough, pitches out over the plate to hit and we didn’t capitalize. We took too many pitches that were hittable. That being said, I really like the kid. But I think we should have been more aggressive early in the count.”

Why weren’t the Phils more aggressive?

“Who knows?” Mackanin said. “They just didn’t look aggressive at the plate.”

The Cubs, in turn, were aggressive. They came out of the gate pounding baseballs. Leadoff man Dexter Fowler homered in the first inning against Jerad Eickhoff and Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist both had doubles as the Cubs took an early 2-0 lead.

Eickhoff got better and gave the club six innings, but the bats couldn’t bail him out.

“Eickhoff started off real shaky and didn’t show command,” Mackanin said. “The ball was up in the zone and it looked like it might get ugly when they scored early. But after the second inning, he settled down and pitched well, the way we’ve seen him pitch, using all his pitches.”

Said Eickhoff: “They’re a good team, but all good teams can be manipulated and controlled. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that.”

Vince Velasquez gets a chance to try to control the rampaging Cubs on Sunday.

Andrew Bynum's new hairdo will haunt your dreams

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The Associated Press

Andrew Bynum's new hairdo will haunt your dreams

Of all the questionable decisions in Andrew Bynum’s career, this might just take the cake as the worst. No, it definitely does. 

Just look at that hair. What was he thinking? Was he even thinking at all?  

Bynum, who is no stranger to bad — I mean really bad — hair, looks to be enjoying his retirement. But let’s dig a bit deeper. Put on your polarized sunglasses and look past that bright yellow hair, because there is much more going on in this picture.

Forget his time as a member of the Sixers, smiling in a picture with a Penguins’ fan might be the biggest travesty Bynum has committed against the city.

And where was this picture taken? It appears to be a casino or arcade. Wherever it is, for the sake of Bynum’s precious knees, let’s hope it’s not a bowling alley