Eagles Offseason Preview: Secondary

Eagles Offseason Preview: Secondary

This is the first in a four part series counting down the Eagles' biggest personnel needs, and how they realistically can be addressed this offseason. Share your thoughts on prospects, free agents, or other moves in the comments.

Hard to believe a unit with three Pro Bowl caliber players can be considered a serious area of concern, but the Eagles are in a pickle, and they're going to be in a pickle until they find at least a reasonably talented free safety.

Replacing Brian Dawkins remains priority one in the secondary. Safety doesn't necessarily need to be an impact position, but the trio of Demps, Harris, and Jones was a total catastrophe. Too many blown assignments, missed tackles, and stupid penalties, not to mention generally feeble run support. As a result, the play of the entire unit suffered, particularly Quintin Mikell.

The popular choice to fill the void seems to be Taylor Mays, the 6-3, 230 pound safety from Southern Cal. Experts believe he would have been a top ten selection had he declared for the draft last year, but his stock has fallen and he may be available when the Eagles are on the clock. He's expected to run a 40 time around 4.4, but concerns over his ability in coverage are pushing him down the board.

Which doesn't necessarily make him a bad fit for Philadelphia. Dawkins has been largely ineffective in man-to-man for years, but Jim Johnson schemed to his many strengths. He could be a blitzer or extra man in the box, but also play the part of All Star center fielder. Mays could satisfy a similar role in McDermott's defense, which is undoubtedly why he is such a favorite. It would be difficult to pass on this safety at number 24.

There are some persons of interest in the free agent market as well. Unfortunately they all have restricted negotiating rights, and most will be retained by their current clubs. The lone exception might be O.J. Atogwe. The Rams were unable to reach a long term extension with Atogwe last year, forcing the team to slap him with the franchise tag. If the two sides are unable to agree on terms, Atogwe will earn close to $7 million on a one year tender. At 29-years-old, and coming off a dislocated shoulder that ended his season, St. Louis could be willing to part ways without a deal in place.

Then again, it might not make sense for the Eagles to seek a trade for precisely those very reasons. It's still possible Atogwe re-signs anyway. Some lesser known players could be a realistic direction, though their respective clubs are likely to hang on to their services at discount prices. The Birds will almost certainly have to look to the draft for a fix.

There is one more possible solution, unlikely as it is, and that is converting Sheldon Brown to safety. For one thing, Sheldon just completed perhaps the best season of his NFL career at corner, even with a bum hamstring down the stretch. Taking on a new position also gives him one more reason to gripe about his contract. Finally, it may fill one one hole, but simultaneously creates another. The Eagles would be left scrambling to find another corner.

Which shouldn't imply cornerback isn't already a need too. Sheldon will be 31. Samuel recently turned 29. Joselio Hanson is too small to be an every down player, and Ellis Hobbs' suffered a neck injury. The Eagles are serious about replenishing their depth at this spot, so you can bet on some type of addition to this group.

It does not appear to be a situation they can upgrade in free agency either. The best players will wind up staying put. Further complicating the matter, there's not a ton of a first round talent in the draft. After Florida's Joe Haden, a probable top ten pick, it's unclear who even checks in as the number two prospect. Boise State's Kyle Wilson is drawing rave reviews for his performance at the Senior Bowl, and may have leapt ahead of the pack and into round one.

Assuming Sheldon stays put, corner is not the immediate need safety is. The Eagles can go into next season with Brown, Samuel, and Hanson, and they'll be fine as long as they're healthy. However if they go it with any combination of Demps, Harris, and Jones, they'll continue to get inconsistent results.

And even though it's not the most critical chink in the armor, it may prove the toughest to remedy. Mays seems Taylor-made for their defense, if you'll excuse the bad pun, but the talk about his freefall may be exaggerated, and he could be long gone before the Eagles draft. Veteran movement will be severely hampered by the new rules of free agency, which makes prying a quality player like Atogwe away from their club a challenge.

If neither of those come to pass, we're potentially looking at either a massive overhaul of the secondary, or the unattractive decision to stick with what they have now, plus maybe another random veteran to compete. There doesn't need to be a star back there, but if they don't find a suitable replacement at free safety, the secondary will continue to leak.

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

PITTSBURGH --- Vince Velasquez wasn’t able to stand the heat Sunday afternoon.

The game-time temperature was 89 degrees with humidity to match at PNC Park. The Philadelphia Phillies right-hander admitted he didn’t handle the weather well.

"You're going to go through various conditions, and it's something that you've got to really take into consideration --- to really lock in, stay hydrated because it can mentally drain you,” Velasquez said. “It kind of took a toll on me but I have to make the best of what I've got.”

Velasquez wound up pitching six innings in the blistering heat but did not factor in the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 5-4 on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his first in the major leagues, off fellow rookie Edubray Ramos.

Velasquez had his worst of his five starts since coming off the disabled list June 26, allowing four runs and seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He threw 107 pitches, 64 for strikes.

In his first four outings after begin activated, he was 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA to raise his record to 8-2.

“Just looking at his body language, he showed that he was struggling to find the strike zone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn't have his best location. He did a good job; he just made a couple bad pitches when they scored the two runs. Obviously, he wasn't at his best, but he kept us in the game.”

While that kind of outing can breed confidence in a 24-year-old pitcher, Velasquez took no consolation in it. He was bothered about not being able to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up a tying two-run home run to Matt Joyce.

“I knew it was my last inning when I went out there and I have to be able to close it out there,” Velasquez said. “I’m disappointed in that. I need to better in that situation.”

Joyce’s blast came on pitch after Starling Marte doubled on an 0-2 pitch. That, too, annoyed Velasquez.

“That's just a matter of finishing at-bats,” Velasquez said. “You've got to lock in on 0-2 counts when you're ahead. You've got to finish the at-bat. Knowing that that was my last inning, that's where you have to bear down and give it all you've got.”

Ramos then gave up the game-winning homer to Frazier an inning later, the first long ball given up by the 23-year-old right-hander in 14 career outings. The Phillies wound up losing two of three games in the series and are 3-7 since the All-Star break to drop to 10 games under .500 at 45-55 through 100 games.

“It’s a game we should have won but I put us in position to lose it,” Velasquez said.

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

KINGMAN, Ariz. -- Four people were killed Sunday when bus carrying Dallas Cowboys staffers but no players collided with a van on a northwestern Arizona highway.

The fatalities were passengers in the van, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Quentin Mehr said. But the bus occupants emerged uninjured.

"All on the bus came through OK with some bumps and bruises," Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple (DAHL'-rimp-ul) said in an email.

Dalrymple said the bus was only carrying members of the franchise's staff but would not say how many. There were no players on board.

The two vehicles collided in the afternoon on U.S. 93, about 30 miles north of the city of Kingman, according to DPS.

The crash shut down at least one lane of the highway that serves as the main route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The bus was on its way to a Dallas Cowboys fan event in Las Vegas. Charles Cooper, manager of GameWorks entertainment center in Vegas, said the session with 50 to 75 fans was scheduled for 3 p.m. PDT. People were already waiting when the president of a Las Vegas Cowboys fan club called to relay news of the accident. The event was subsequently canceled. Cooper says the team mascot was supposed to appear.

After the Las Vegas stop, the bus was scheduled to go on to Oxnard, California for the team's training camp. Members of the organization typically take a bus two weeks before the camp starts and make stops along the way.

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Jeremy Hellickson may be staying in the NL East past the trade deadline. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Phillies are scouting the Marlins' minor league teams in advance of a possible Hellickson deal. 

This comes on the heels of a report from a radio host in Miami that Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen may need Tommy John surgery. Chen left with an elbow sprain during Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and was placed on the disabled list. Ironically, Chen was starting against Hellickson, who will face Jarred Cosart in place of Chen on Monday.

Hellickson's value rebounded significantly this season after struggling in Arizona and Tampa Bay the last few seasons. After dealing with a shoulder injury, Hellickson pitched to ERAs above 4.50 in each season from 2013-15, leading to the Diamondbacks trading him to the Phillies for limited value. 

However, in 20 starts, Hellickson, who will be a free agent after the year, has anchored the Phillies' rotation, bringing a 3.84 ERA over 119 ⅔ innings into Monday's scheduled start. He also has a nearly career-best strikeout rate and has regained his signature command that made him a strong performer with the Rays.

The Phillies are aided this trade deadline by a lack of starting pitching options available on the market. With many teams in contention looking for an additional starter, Hellickson is an attractive piece who could help a team in a pennant race.