The Two-Year Plan: Andy Reid's Game of Risk

The Two-Year Plan: Andy Reid's Game of Risk

A local columnist, somebody who covers the team regularly, once confided to me his belief that Andy Reid is here for as long as he wants, sensing no dissatisfaction in the coach's performance within the organization. The admission was surprising in that it mirrored the laments of many fans who find it increasingly difficult to envision the day when a head coaching change will be made.

Reid's most recent contract extension runs through 2013, so he certainly isn't in danger of being fired and replaced by, say, Jon Gruden, or anything outlandish like that in the immediate future. However, his job security is constantly open to outside scrutiny, and if we were to speculate when his contract might be up for renewal again, one would surmise it's before he reaches the final year on the current deal.

Except there is no certainty he will receive another, or even last that long.

Not now, not after consecutive first round playoff exits. His first two extensions came in '00 and '04, when the Eagles were clearly ascending as an NFL powerhouse. The most recent lengthening came in '09, on the heels of the Eagles' fifth conference championship appearance under Reid, and in the midst of an 11-win season. Like it or not, the organization could justify the decisions then.

It's highly irregular for an NFL head coach to enter a season as a "lame duck," even moreso when you're talking about the most tenured guy in the league. Essentially it leaves Reid with the next two seasons to make an impression on the higher-ups, unless you believe the franchise views their coach as infallable.

What's different this time is the way the table is set. Apart from the sheer length of time the Eagles have given Reid to complete his primary task, and some circumstances largely out of the coach's control, he already has or soon will make a series of decisions that could easily lead to the fall of the Eagles. Most prevelant is the quarterback situation, which by itself could make or break the head coach's reign.

Most observers see Mike Vick as the obvious choice to lead this team. Kevin Kolb is still sort of an unknown quantity. Vick is one of the most dynamic players in the league, able to flick the ball 70-yards downfield with ease, or maneuver past defenders as if they were standing still. Plus, he's a marketing machine. The Eagles will rake with this guy.

But it's not that easy. Vick is all of those things, but he's also going to be 31-years-old—fine for a conventional pocket passer, but worrisome for a smallish runner. There's also the fact that Vick has yet to prove he is consistent enough to win three or four consecutive games in the post-season, which is significant at his age. Look no further than 7-9-22, or the number of interceptions, fumbles, and sacks he accumulated over his last seven games this season.

Which of course is not to say he can't win. This would be the first season with the Eagles where Vick entered as the starting quarterback. He'll have the full attention of the coaching staff and put in work with the first stringers. Vick already proved he has, and therefore can continue to improve.

There is an inherent risk no matter which direction they go, but it will ultimately fall on Reid. If the Eagles are still spinning their wheels with Vick two seasons from now, and Kolb goes on to begin a promising career elsewhere, it will be hard to reconcile with the front office.

That's just the beginning. Andy can maybe be forgiven for choosing the wrong quarterback when both are very talented. Tabbing an offensive line coach as the Eagles' new defensive coordinator, particularly somebody who hasn't coached on that side of the ball in 20 years, will be a little harder to explain when it doesn't pan out.

What's so strange about Juan Castillo's promotion is how tenuous the situation is on defense. There isn't any one fault with this unit. The entire group requires something between a tune-up and an overhaul. The abundance of young players enterting their second seasons as professionals need a coach who will figure out what they do best and be able to utilize them in that capacity.

Obviously we haven't got the faintest clue whether or not Castillo can do those things, but it invites the head man to increased criticism. Many felt Sean McDermott's firing was in part due to his lack of experience, yet he was replaced by somebody with none. Castillo suddenly is the person charged with shaping and molding young players, putting a system in place, oh and he better do it soon, because the offense is ready to win now.

As if Reid didn't have enough issues to sort out internally, this tiny disagreement between players and owners only complicates matters. If a lockout steals the off-season, the Eagles will feel the negative consequences in more ways than one. The time to spend a full spring and summer focusing on coaching up Vick? Gone. The opportunity to teach new techniques and install new schemes on defense? Wasted.

Forget about improving the personnel, too. Some speak as if free agency would be bypassed entirely after an extended lockout. Even if it's not, good luck indoctrinating signees into a new system in time for the regular season when they only came aboard in August. Don't worry about the quarterback situation, either. It's not like they will be able to trade Kolb or Vick for picks this season.

What do you think the Eagles are going to be in the next two seasons, while labor strife limits their ability to improve the roster, a total newbie calls the defense, and a quarterback whose ceiling is unknown takes snaps from center? There really are only three options.

The first is the Eagles do what they frequently seem to do: answer doubts and become contenders. You can see how, with just a few minor tweaks—a cornerback here, a right tackle there—and the development of their own young players, they could jump into back into the mix of elites.

The second is the quarterback and defensive coordinator situations completely backfire, and management is left with zero choice but to start over. Is it such a stretch to believe those moves could result in the spawning of the post-appocalyptic Birds?

The third is the Eagles continue winning between eight and 10 games per season, just enough to sneak into the playoffs most of the time, but not enough to ever do any real damage.

Most people will probably go on believing the third scenario would be enough for Andy to earn an extension, despite any assurances to the contrary. After what would amount to four straight seasons running in place, and 14 without winning the ultimate prize, it might be time to finally rethink that position. We will know within the next two years whether Reid's gambles paid off, and if they haven't, you can bet it will cost him his job.

Best of NHL: Canadiens score 10 goals in rout of Avalanche

Best of NHL: Canadiens score 10 goals in rout of Avalanche

MONTREAL -- Max Pacioretty had four goals, Brian Flynn scored twice during a six-goal first period and the Montreal Canadiens routed the Colorado Avalanche 10-1 on Saturday night.

Flynn, Pacioretty and Artturi Lehkonen each scored against Calvin Pickard in the opening 7:12, and then Pacioretty, Paul Byron and Flynn each had a goal among the first four shots on Semyon Varlamov.

Pacioretty completed his hat trick in the second period and added another in the third to give the captain seven goals in his last four games.

Alexander Radulov and Jeff Petry also scored for Montreal, which has shown no drop-off without injured scoring leader and first-line center Alex Galchenyuk. Montreal outshot the Avs 36-16 (see full recap).

Malkin, Crosby lead Penguins past Lightning 4-3
TAMPA, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby had another eventful night.

The Penguins star returned after passing concussion protocol following a first-period hit to get his 20th goal, and that stoked Pittsburgh's rally for its latest victory.

Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both scored their second goals on third-period power plays, helping the Penguins come back to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 on Saturday.

Crosby was shaken up by Luke Witkowski's check with eight minutes to go in the first but returned for the start of the second period (see full recap).

Late barrage helps Blue Jackets beat Islanders 6-2
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jack Johnson, Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones each had a goal and an assist as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the New York Islanders 6-2 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

Josh Anderson, Brandon Saad and Lukas Sedlak also scored for Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky had 25 saves.

Josh Bailey and John Tavares scored for New York, which had earned a point in a season-high five straight games (4-0-1). Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves until he was pulled after the Blue Jackets scored four consecutive goals in the third period.

Anderson put Columbus ahead 3-2 at 2:19 when he picked off a defensive pass and banged it in from the slot seconds after coming onto the ice for his shift (see full recap).

Matthews, Hyman score in 2nd, Maple Leafs beat Bruins 4-1
BOSTON -- The Toronto Maple Leafs found a way to overcome a poor opening period.

Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman scored in the second period, Frederik Andersen made 32 saves and the Maple Leafs beat the Boston Bruins 4-1 on Saturday night.

"The last three games the first period kind of did us in," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. "We didn't start on time. We were able to hold on. It still wasn't the first period we wanted, but we didn't give up the goals and we were able to execute a little bit."

After managing only two shots on goal in the first, Toronto was happy to get to the dressing room with the game scoreless (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Marc Gasol and Tony Allen scored 19 points each and the Memphis Grizzlies rolled over the Golden State Warriors 110-89 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

The Grizzlies led by as many as 30 points in the second half - the biggest advantage by any Warriors opponent this season. Seven Memphis players finished in double figures.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 21 points, while Stephen Curry added 17 points and Ian Clark finished with 10 points. Curry and backcourt starter Klay Thompson (eight points) were a combined 8 of 28 from the field, including 3 of 14 outside the arc.

Memphis built a double-digit lead early, led 61-38 at halftime and kept building in the third quarter (see full recap).

Butler, Wade lead Bulls to 105-100 win over Heat
CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler scored 31 points, Dwyane Wade added 28 against his former team and the Chicago Bulls held off the struggling Miami Heat 105-100 on Saturday night.

Butler scored Chicago's final 10 points to help the Bulls come out on top after Miami pulled within one.

Wade keyed a big third-quarter run in his second game against the Heat, and the Bulls hung on after handing San Antonio its first road loss two nights earlier.

Goran Dragic led Miami with 21 points and 11 assists. An energetic Hassan Whiteside added 20 points after being benched for part of Friday's blowout loss in Cleveland. Tyler Johnson scored 15, but the Heat dropped their fifth straight (see full recap).

LeBron scores 44, reaches assist mark as Cavs down Hornets
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 17 of his season-high 44 points in the fourth quarter and reached another career milestone as the Cleveland Cavaliers won their fourth straight, 116-105 over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night.

James did it all, adding 10 assists and nine rebounds in 43 minutes. He took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 straight during one stretch to help the Cavs hold on.

As the final seconds ticked off, James stood at midcourt and spun the ball on his index finger as the crowd roared.

James, who moved into ninth place on the career scoring list Friday, recorded his 7,000th assist in the first half, becoming the first frontcourt player in NBA history to reach the plateau. James is the only player with 27,000 points and 7,000 assists (see full recap).

George has 37 points to lead Pacers over Blazers 118-111
INDIANAPOLIS -- Paul George scored a season-high 37 points to lead the Indiana Pacers over the Portland Trail Blazers 118-111 on Saturday night.

George made five 3-pointers, and Thaddeus Young hit six 3s while getting 24 points and nine rebounds. Myles Turner added 14 points for the Pacers, who had lost five straight regular season games to Portland.

C.J. McCollum made a career-high seven 3-pointers and had a season-best 34 points for the Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard had 33 points behind five 3s.

George scored 13 straight points in the fourth quarter for Indiana. He was fouled on the go-ahead basket with 4:36 remaining and completed the three-point play to give the Pacers a 108-105 lead (see full recap).