Eagles to players: if you ask for more money, we’ll try to trade you

Eagles to players: if you ask for more money, we’ll try to trade you

Is the Philadelphia Eagles’ motivation to trade DeSean Jackson based on his desire to renegotiate his contract after all?

Head coach Chip Kelly wouldn’t provide many answers beyond, “we’re always going to do what’s best for the organization,” at the NFL owners meetings on Wednesday. However, maybe there is a clue in the way the organization is handling another player who is suddenly asking for more money.

Ian Rapoport for the NFL Network broke the disappointing news that Evan Mathis has joined Jackson on the trade block. The common theme between the two stories: the All-Pro left guard is said to be seeking more money coming off of a breakout season.

Jackson’s drama-filled offseason all started with seemingly innocent comments about “deserving” a new deal.

The Eagles’ apparent reaction to both requests: no, but we’ll send you to a team that will renegotiate your deal.

To be fair, the front office has a point. Just like Jackson, Mathis is only entering the third of a five-year deal signed in 2012. Typically, contract renegotiations and extensions that include more money, more years and/or more guarantees occur when there is one year remaining on the pact, occasionally two.

Look no further than Mathis’ fellow offensive linemen Jason Peters and Jason Kelce, both of whom received large extensions from the Birds this offseason. Both also happened to be on the final year of their existing contracts as well.

But like Jackson, Mathis has no more guaranteed money coming his way. He’ll also be 35-years-old when the current deal expires, so the chances of breaking the bank down the line—with Philly or anywhere else—are slim.

The Eagles signed Mathis to a one-year deal almost as an afterthought during the freewheeling spending period of 2011. He wound up not only winning a job at left guard, but playing better than he ever had in his career.

When Mathis reached free agency the following year, there was some interest in the marketplace, but the body of work wasn’t strong enough to warrant an elite contract. He re-signed with the Eagles for five years, $25 million.

Now, Mathis is finally being recognized as one of the best linemen in football with his Pro Bowl invitation and All-Pro honors. Meanwhile, analytics site Pro Football Focus has been calling Mathis the best guard in football for years.

Mathis’ base salary currently makes him the seventh highest-paid guard in the NFL in each of the next three seasons.

It appears he’s not going to find a sympathetic partner in the Eagles though, who seem to be taking the hard-line position that players should honor their contracts.

Of course, that’s not exactly a new trick for this organization.

Where Mathis’ story again aligns with Jackson’s is what Philadelphia could expect in return for Mathis. CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reports the club is seeking a third-round pick, but might settle for a fourth.

That may sound like a low-ball offer for the consensus best left guard in pro football last season. The fact that Mathis is already 32 and asking for a new contract certainly hurts his value though.

Apparently, the Eagles would be happy just to add picks. As of now, they only have six heading into perhaps the deepest draft in a decade.

But is trading star players from a team that lost by two points in the first round of the playoffs last season really the right way to go about building for the future?

Probably not, but then would the Eagles even be looking to move either Jackson or Mathis had they just kept quiet about wanting more money?

In Jackson’s case, the answer is maybe, as he poses other potential distractions. In retrospect, regarding everything we’ve gone through with the diva wide receiver this offseason and in the past, it really shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise.

And while Chip belabored the fact that DeSean never actually approached the team about addressing his contract, that doesn't mean management isn't anticipating this becoming a battleground.

Mathis’ addition to the trade block came from way further out of left field. The loss would also hurt more. At least the Eagles have a deep set of weapons at the skill positions. If Mathis is out of the picture, management will be forced to embark on a search to find his direct replacement immediately.

Needless to say, the trade rumors are taking their toll on some of the goodwill the Eagles built up in 2013 and during the early portion of this offseason. The message being sent seems clear though: somebody might be willing to pay you more money, but not us.

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers began the season looking lost without Joel Embiid. Now they are finding ways to win when he is not on the court. 

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion in the second half of Friday’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see story). He was sidelined for the decisive 8:50 of the game (see Instant Replay).

The Sixers trailed, 81-78, when he subbed out for the second time because of the injury, and outscored the Trail Blazers, 15-11, from that point on.

So how was this team that battled with inconsistency and reliance on Embiid able to pull out a comeback win punctuated in the final seconds? Ask the Sixers and they’ll give varying answers, a sign they are getting the job done in multiple ways and aren’t relying on just one key to success.

The most glaring difference was the hero of the game. Robert Covington drained two three-pointers in the final 40 seconds. His trey from Dario Saric with 38.2 remaining cut the Trail Blazers' lead to just one, 91-90. With 4.5 to go, he nailed the game-winning three from T.J. McConnell to give the Sixers their eighth victory in 10 games (see feature highlight).

“That’s resilient Cov,” Nerlens Noel said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a good shot or a bad shot; he’ll pull it in your face. That’s the confidence he has and that’s the confidence we need him to have. He steps up and makes two big shots like that, that’s enough said. He won us that game.”

Critics have called out Covington’s up-and-down performance from three all season. (They’ve made their feelings known with loud boos at home games.) Covington shot 5 for 12 behind the arc on the night but his 2 for 3 performance in the fourth was what mattered most. 

“I am a fighter, that’s what I have been my whole life,” he said. “Just because fans are booing me at one point doesn't mean anything. I just keep working. I am not going to let that deteriorate my game. It goes in one ear and out the other.”

Without Embiid in the game, the Sixers had to rely on a total team effort. After he went to the bench, the final points were scored by a combination of Covington, Gerald Henderson, Noel, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and McConnell.

“Ball movement,” head coach Brett Brown said. “We had 25 assists out of 36 made baskets. It’s not like we’re going to give the ball to Damian Lillard (guard for the Blazers). That’s not who we are. Whatever we do, it has to be done by committee, by a group, by a team. It’s even more exposed when Joel isn’t in the game. They did that. Unlikely people ended up with the ball sometimes in unlikely spots. … You have to move the ball. That’s what the team has learned without Joel.” 

Several of the players on the court in critical moments were from the second unit. Since Brown locked in on his rotation, the reserves don’t have a drop-off in confidence from the starters. 

“It’s the mentality,” Covington said. “Everybody has that swagger about us right now because once Joel comes out, the next person steps in and fills that void. It’s a matter of that contagious feeling that trickles into the second unit that’s making us that much more valuable.”

Then there's always defense, the foundation of any solid NBA team and a focal point for the Sixers. Noel saw that as the difference-maker when subbing in and out. The Trail Blazers scored just two points in the final 1:56. 

"The second unit goes there and does a great job guarding the yard, not letting up easy baskets," Noel said. "The offensive side is fluid motion. Guys get shots, pick-and-roll, it opens up open threes for guys, driving lines, pump fakes, it’s a great unity."

Embiid liked what he saw from a distance. He will not travel with the team to their game on Saturday against the Hawks in Atlanta. 

"I’m just happy we’ve been closing out games, and the main thing I’m really happy [about] is they’ve been able to do it without me," he said. "That’s going to give us a lot of confidence when I’m missing back-to-backs. My teammates are going to have more confidence to come in and play the same way."

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Of the nearly 20,000 people in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, Joel Embiid was seemingly the least concerned when he came down and injured his left knee. 

Fans held their breath and the Sixers looked on anxiously as the standout big man got up in visible discomfort and limped off the court (see highlights). Embiid, however, wasn’t worried. 

“I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way,” he said after the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see Instant Replay). “I’m great. The knee’s fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good.”

Embiid ran off the court on his own, was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and was cleared to return to the game. He aggravated his knee again driving to the basket and this time, the team held him out to be careful.

“The review is that he hyperextended his left knee,” head coach Brett Brown said. “There was a minor tweak again, and for precautionary reasons only, the doctors did not allow him to return. There will be more information given as we know it. But quickly, that's what we know.”

Embiid understood the team’s decision to sideline him for the final 8:50 while the Sixers went on a comeback run (see feature highlight). He still finished the game with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, five assists and four blocks in only 22 minutes.

“Obviously those guys, the front office, they care about my future, so they just shut it down,” Embiid said. “But I was fine.”

Embiid will not travel to Atlanta for Saturday’s game against the Hawks (pre-scheduled rest). He expects to be available for Tuesday’s home matchup against the Clippers. 

"You know how tough he is," Nerlens Noel said. "If it isn’t anything serious, he’ll be right back. At the end of the game, he was telling me was he was feeling great and there was no pain. He wanted to come back in the game … he’s a trooper. He always gives it his all and always plays hard."

Injuries to any player are worrisome, especially a franchise centerpiece with two years of rehab (foot) behind him. The Sixers have been methodical and cautious with his playing time. Embiid is on a 28-minute restriction and can play in only one game of a back-to-back series. 

The same player who is so closely watched, though, also plays with sky-high energy that doesn’t have a brake pedal. 

“You're concerned,” Brown said of seeing Embiid get injured. “It's clear to all of us that he plays with such reckless abandon. I think that we're all going to be seeing this and feeling this regularly. From flying into stands to stalking somebody in the open court to block a shot to the collision he often is in trying to draw fouls. That's just who he is. 

“I think that as he just plays more basketball and continues to grow, to not necessarily avoid those situations, just to perhaps manage them a little bit more. Right now, he's just a young guy that's just playing that doesn't know what he doesn't know and has a fearless approach underneath all that attitude.”

Fearless is an accurate description considering Embiid's trouble-free reaction to the awkward way his leg bent (he hadn’t seen a replay). 

“I kind of had that in college, too,” he said. “I think I’m flexible, so it’s supposed to happen.”