Stay or Leave: Early look at Eagles’ 2014 free agents

Stay or Leave: Early look at Eagles’ 2014 free agents

While it came too early this year—as it does too often around these parts—the offseason is one of the best things about the NFL. Organizations construct their rosters through free agency and the draft, and we get to play along as fantasy general managers, dissecting each decision along the way.

As always, we'll be examining each position and several players on their own in-depth as we dig in for a long winter. First thing's first though, and that is the Philadelphia Eagles will have decisions to make on some of their own free agents before they start signing players away from other teams.

For this preliminary look ahead, we simply asked which Birds free agents will be back next season

Nate Allen

Went from looking like a surefire bust to the Eagles’ most-improved player. Took his lumps early in the season, but wound up being a rock at safety in the end. Still wasn’t much of a playmaker, recording one sack, one forced fumble and one interception in 16 games.

At 26, the question is whether what we saw was Allen’s ceiling. If it is, you could do worse back there, but it’s a deep free-agent class at safety if the front office is willing to invest. Somebody will probably make him a starter again, it just shouldn’t necessarily be the Birds. Leave

Colt Anderson

The Eagles only have two safeties under contract heading into 2014 (and one of them is Patrick Chung), so they should probably re-sign somebody for some continuity. Colt has the least ability of the impending free agents. He does have a reputation as a strong special teams player, but he’s a liability on defense. Leave

Kurt Coleman

A two-year starter at safety, I’d be more comfortable with Coleman back there than Anderson in a pinch. Plus, according to metrics site Pro Football Focus, Coleman actually had a better season on special teams. As reserves go, the Eagles could do worse. Stay

Clifton Geathers

Was part of the rotation along the defensive line this year, but he had minimal impact. At 6’8”, 340 pounds, his build is almost too awkward for the NFL. It’s too easy for offensive linemen to get under Geathers’ pads. Can’t see him ever improving. Leave

Phillip Hunt (restricted)

One of the defensive ends attempting to make the transition to outside linebacker in the Eagles 3-4, Hunt missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL suffered at training camp. I would expect the team to tender him, but he’s a long shot to make the roster, so maybe they give him a shot to catch on somewhere else. Whether he’s back in camp this summer or not, his days are likely numbered. Leave

Donnie Jones

Has anybody ever used the franchise tag on a punter before? I’m not joking. Jones won the Eagles some games with that fine left leg of his, putting 33 punts inside the opposition’s 20-yard line in 2013—a franchise record. Arguably the club’s most important free agent. Stay

Jeremy Maclin

Imagine how much better the Eagles’ offense would’ve been with a healthy Jeremy Maclin to take pressure off of DeSean Jackson. Riley Cooper picked up some of the slack in the wake of Maclin’s torn ACL, but let’s not forget we’re talking about a wide receiver who was widely considered a top-10 talent back in the ‘09 draft.

Maclin has never quite reached the proverbial next level, posting career highs of 70 receptions, 964 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2010. Then again, we just saw Jackson and LeSean McCoy reach new highs under Chip Kelly, and at 26 years old, Maclin could do the same. Philadelphia can possibly retain him on a two-year “prove it” deal. Stay

Riley Cooper

Was useless for the first five weeks of the season, catching all of eight passes. Over the next five games, he posted all three of his 100-yard performance and hauled in six of his eight touchdowns. Down the stretch, he was ordinary at best.

The 2010 fifth-round pick exceeded most people’s expectations by becoming a competent No. 2 receiver in Maclin’s absence. You could see Cooper has a rapport with Nick Foles, and is a willing blocker which is vital in Chip Kelly’s scheme. Somebody is going to throw a lot of money and years at a 26-year-old wide receiver that stands 6’3” and just posted an 800-yard/eight-touchdown season, but he’s too feast or famine for my taste. Leave

Cedric Thornton (exclusive rights)

Exclusive rights basically equates to a restricted free agent, only better. As long as the Eagles tender him, they own his rights in 2014. According to Pro Football Focus, Thornton was one of the top run defenders in the league this season. He’s completely one-dimensional, but very good at that dimension. Stay

Michael Vick

Vick’s future is really out of his hands. He’d like to start, but there might be just a few organizations left that will consider a 34-year-old signal-caller with two career playoff wins.

If the Eagles are serious about winning a Super Bowl in the next year or two though, having a veteran backup around would be wise, and Vick is clearly the best option. He knows the offense and is great in the locker room. Plus, No. 7 might be at his most dangerous when he’s coming off the bench against a team that wasn’t preparing for him. Would love to see him back for another year. Stay

NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

Dragan Bender

Position: Power forward
Height: 7-1
Weight: 225
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.

But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.

Strengths
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.

He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.

Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.

Weaknesses
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.

In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.

Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.

How he’d fit with the Sixers 
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.

The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.

NBA comparison
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.

Draft projection
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.

Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

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Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

Another day, another mailbag. 

I hope you're enjoying your Memorial Day Weekend. If you're reading this on the beach or at a BBQ, well done. 

Yesterday, I answered the first round of your questions about Doug Pederson, Brandon Spikes and the possibility of adding another running back. 

Today, I'll answer some more: 

At times, Jordan Matthews will still be in the slot this season. But he won't be there all the time. 

In Doug Pederson's offense, the receivers will move around quite a bit, which means we'll see Matthews lining up out wide on both sides and in the slot. He has the ability to do both. Either way, he's going to be on the field. He's clearly the Eagles best receiver and they're not going to take him off the field. 

I think there's a good chance we'll see some Josh Huff in the slot this year, which would make a ton of sense to me. Huff is at his best when he gets the ball in his hands and can make something happen. He's shifty enough to play in the middle. 

The idea that slot receivers are just small, shifty guys is outdated. It's all about matchups and Pederson won't be afraid to move his receivers around to find the best ones. 

Good question. I'll give you two names. One on offense and one on defense. 

Now, I didn't just pick the best players, I picked the best players with the biggest drop off to their backups. So on offense, it's Jason Peters and on defense it's Jordan Hicks. 

The scary thing: it wouldn't be shocking if either of these two go down in 2016. 

If Peters goes down, the Eagles will be fine at left tackle, because Lane Johnson will shift over. But that means either Dennis Kelly or Halapoulivaati Vaitai will come in. We all know what's happened in the past when Kelly comes in, and Vaitai is just a rookie. Not a ton of great depth at tackle. 

As for Hicks, we saw what happened to the defense when he went out last season. And this year, the team has virtually no depth at linebacker. If Hicks went down, either veteran special teams player Najee Goode or rookie Joe Walker would need to fill in. Yikes. 

I understand it's kind of a cop-out to just pick the top running back on the depth chart, but that's what I'm doing. I know Ryan Mathews has a lengthy injury history, but I can't see Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood or Kenjon Barner being the team's leading rusher. 

And when healthy, Mathews was the team's best running back in 2015, going for 539 yards on 106 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. If he manages to play 12 games this year, I think he'll be the team's leading rusher. 

Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

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Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

Mark Appel, whose fastball velocity was down considerably in the first inning of his last start, was placed on the disabled list Friday with a shoulder strain.

Appel, 24, is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in eight starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley in his first year in the Phillies' system. He's struggled his last four times out, allowing 18 runs (15 earned) in 16⅓ innings on 20 hits and 11 walks.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2013 out of Stanford, Appel has had a disappointing pro career to this point. In 62 minor-league games (61 starts), he has a 5.04 ERA. The Phillies acquired him from Houston as part of the Ken Giles trade this past winter.

Appel's trip to the DL creates an opportunity for right-hander Ben Lively, who was promoted from Double A Reading to Triple A to take Appel's place in the IronPigs' rotation. Lively, acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, is 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA this season.

Rehab updates
Leftfielder Cody Asche and left-handed reliever Mario Hollands had their rehab assignments transferred to Triple A Lehigh Valley. 

Asche is 5 for 34 (.147) with two home runs and 12 strikeouts during his stints with Clearwater and Reading. 

Hollands has been sharp, posting a 1.04 ERA in 8⅔ innings with 12 strikeouts and one walk.