If nothing else, Eagles are safe at safety again

If nothing else, Eagles are safe at safety again

When was the last time the Philadelphia Eagles had two reliable (let alone competent) safeties in their defensive backfield? We have to go back to 2008, when future Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins and uber-solid Quintin Mikell were patrolling the secondary.

With the re-signing of Nate Allen to a one-year contract on Monday, it appears if nothing else the Eagles will have stability at the safety position again going forward. Allen joins free-agent addition Malcolm Jenkins as the probable starters in ’14, with second-year player Earl Wolff, special teams ace Chris Maragos and likely a player in May’s draft pushing for a spot.

For five seasons, Philly fans have been forced to endure the likes of Quintin Demps, Sean Jones, Macho Harris, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Jarrad Page, Kurt Coleman, Patrick Chung and Allen bereft of his confidence. Now all of a sudden, this appears to be as deep and talented as the position has been since Dawkins departed as a free agent himself.

Have the Birds found the next Weapon X? No. As it stands today, is safety an area of great strength? Let’s not get carried away.

At least defensive coordinator Bill Davis can work with this group.

There was some debate as to whether or not Allen was even going to make the team one year ago. The 2010 second-round pick out of South Florida was already chalked up as a firm bust by the time the new coaching staff arrived. At best, he was a charity case. At worst, he was retained because there was literally nobody else.

Allen was shaky the first few weeks of the ’13 campaign, but grew increasingly comfortable in Davis’ scheme as time wore on. Anecdotally, it’s hard to recall a specific play in the second half of the season where he was burned on a passing play down the field, while the four-year veteran demonstrated immense improvement as a tackler as well.

Allen finished with a career-high 82 tackles to go with 1.0 sack, one interception and one forced fumble. If that’s the 26-year-old’s ceiling, the Eagles could still stand to upgrade. For now, they can get by.

Supporters would point to the fact that Allen has played under four defensive coordinators in four years in the league. Davis himself was critical of the scope of responsibility the previous regime’s Wide-9 front placed on the safeties. It’s unclear how rehab from a torn patellar tendon suffered his rookie season impacted Allen in the past as well.

Meanwhile, Jenkins has arrived in Philadelphia to little fanfare. Fans coveted some of the more expensive and theoretically superior safeties in the free-agent market, so anything less was going to be greeted mildly.

And the fact is Jenkins does have an unspectacular resume. A first-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in ’09, the 26-year-old has registered just 4.5 sacks, six interceptions and six forced fumbles in 63 starts over a five-year career. Metrics site Pro Football Focus ranked Jenkins at or near the bottom of safeties in such areas as tackling, run-stopping and coverage for the ’13 season.

Those questionably reliable measures aside, Jenkins seems like a perfect for Davis’ scheme. He can play either safety position, which means he’s comfortable either in the box or dropping back into coverage. A converted cornerback, the Ohio State product can also cover wide receivers and tight ends man-to-man, which the Eagles will ask of their safeties.

While there were arguably better players available, Jenkins was a five-year starter in New Orleans. He helped the team win a Super Bowl in ’09 and was part of the No. 2 pass defense in the NFL last season. Signed to a three-year contract with $8.5 million guaranteed, it’s difficult to envision this being a complete backfire.

Perhaps most importantly, none of these moves prevent the Eagles from selecting a safety in the draft, not even in the first round. In fact, given the relatively short commitments to Allen and Jenkins, such an addition within the first two days of the draft is likely.

Wolff also looked as though he could be a potential starter during his rookie year. A fifth-round pick out of North Carolina State, he’s certainly still in the mix for a job, but there wasn’t enough tape that the team would feel comfortable going into this season with his name at the top of the depth chart.

A four-year veteran with zero career starts, Maragos appears to be here strictly for his special teams. However, he may have an opportunity to contribute more than he did coming from the Seattle Seahawks, where Pro Bowlers Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor were firmly entrenched as the starters.

It finally feels safe to say that we’re a long way from the days of desperately plugging in a Macho Harris, reaching for a Jaiquawn Jarrett, praying a Jarrad Page would take the right angle to the ball-carrier and wincing as a Patrick Chung took out his own teammates. By no means is the rebuild at safety complete, but at least it should be good enough to compete.

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

The Phillies made a couple quiet additions as the winter meetings ended, signing veteran outfielder Daniel Nava and lefty reliever Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts.

Nava, 34 in February, is a left-handed hitter who can play the outfield corners and first base. He came up with the Red Sox and became a fan favorite in Boston in 2010 as a 27-year-old rookie. Some Phillies fans will remember him for hitting a grand slam off Joe Blanton in his first major-league plate appearance.

Nava had a few decent years in Boston, the best of which was 2013, when he had 536 plate appearances and hit .303/.385/.445 with 29 doubles, 12 homers and 66 RBIs. 

Nava's numbers and opportunities have dropped every year since. He was designated for assignment by Boston in 2015, latched on with the Rays, signed the next year with the Angels and was traded late in the season to the Royals.

Over the last two seasons, Nava has hit just .208, albeit with an on-base percentage 99 points higher because of his 30 walks and 10 hit by pitches.

Burnett, 34, has spent five of the last seven seasons in the Nationals' bullpen. He had a 2.85 ERA in 283 appearances from 2009-12 and parlayed that success into a two-year, $7.25 million contract with the Angels. However, he barely pitched in 2013 and 2014 for the Halos because of an elbow tear. He returned to the Nats last season and allowed two runs in 5⅔ innings.

Burnett, perhaps more so than Nava, has a chance to fill a role with the Phillies if he can stay healthy. He's shown he can get outs at the highest level, posting a 2.38 ERA in 2012 with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.14 ERA with 8.9 K/9 in 2010. That was a long time ago now, and Burnett's fastball has dipped from averaging 90-91 mph to 88.

According to Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith, Burnett will receive a $1.25 million salary if he makes the team and can earn another $1.75 million in incentives based on his number of appearances.

Burnett has an opt-out date of March 26, meaning he can become a free agent a week before the regular season begins if it looks to him like he isn't in the Phils' plans.

Nava's chances at cracking the opening-day roster seem longer because the Phillies are expected to make more depth signings between now and the start of camp. They've prioritized finding some offense in the corner outfield and that could come in the form of more minor-league deals, a guaranteed contract or trade. One potential fit I examined last week was Mariners outfielder Seth Smith, a hitter more proven than Nava (see story).

These minor-league deals were commonplace for Phillies general manager Matt Klentak last offseason, when the only free agent he signed to a major-league deal was reliever David Hernandez. 

Last season, three players who were signed to minor-league deals with invites to spring training made the team on opening day: outfielder Cedric Hunter, utilityman Emmanuel Burriss and reliever James Russell.

Others, such as former closers Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri and Andrew Bailey, failed to make the team out of camp. Bailey eventually earned a call-up; the other two didn't.

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixers point guard and Meek Mill collaborator Lou Williams is enjoying quite the run off the bench for the Lakers recently.

Over Los Angeles' last four games, Williams has posted totals of 40, 38, 24, and 35 points. 

The six-man is averaging 34.5 points per game over the stretch, and his 137 points are the most off the bench in a four-game span by any player since 1970-71, when stats were first recorded, per Elias Sports Bureau, via ESPN. Williams is now averaging 19.3 points this season, which is 4.4 more than his highest average with the Sixers.

Williams isn’t the only player who used to play for the Sixers that is playing well for the Lakers this year. Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who also comes off the bench, is averaging 13.3 points per game. Just a few weeks ago, Swaggy P stole a pass intended for Lou Williams, and then proceeded to hit a game winner against the Thunder. Swaggy P, however, is currently sidelined with a right calf strain, but is getting closer to a return.

"Lou Will" was also talked about last April during Kobe Bryant’s final NBA game, when he was beefing on Twitter with another former Philadelphia athlete, LeSean McCoy.