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Eagles DC Jim Schwartz's handling of Eric Rowe a monumental blunder

Eagles DC Jim Schwartz's handling of Eric Rowe a monumental blunder

Remember that time Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz thought Leodis McKelvin was a better NFL cornerback than Eric Rowe?

Let's clear something up right away: Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman was absolutely correct to trade Rowe to the Patriots for a conditional fourth-round draft pick. It was the right move because Schwartz wasn't going to let the kid see the field. Barring an injury to another player, Rowe wasn't even going to be active on game day. From a GM's point of view, all keeping him on the roster would've accomplished was further diminish his value to a potential suitor.

Where this whole situation gets bungled is when Schwartz determined, seemingly very early into his tenure with the Eagles that began last year, Rowe simply wasn't going to play for him. The club signed McKelvin, signed Ron Brooks, re-signed Nolan Carroll, then drafted Jalen Mills, all no doubt under heavy influence from the defensive coordinator — especially McKelvin and Brooks, who played for Schwartz for one season in Buffalo.

Now, there's nothing wrong with a new coach asking for some of "his" guys, people who know the scheme and bring a certain level of comfort to the equation. The problem is when one of those guys is 31 years old and was never particularly good to begin with, and said coach insists on that person playing a large role, without so much as the appearance of a legitimate competition.

We watched when the Eagles opened OTAs with McKelvin and Brooks as starting cornerbacks, assuming their knowledge of Schwartz's system made them natural choices in April. We watched as Mills, a seventh-round pick, saw his opportunities increase while Rowe lagged behind on the depth chart, figuring they were pushing the second-year player. We watched in training camp as Carroll — finally recovered from an ankle injury — was added to the mix at the top of the depth chart, and still there was nary a sign of Rowe. We even watched undrafted rookie C.J. Smith start an exhibition game, and less than two weeks later, Rowe is on the field for almost the entirety of the preseason finale, typically an audition for players who are about to be released.

So Roseman traded Rowe, a 24-year-old defensive back the Eagles chose 47th overall only 16 months earlier. You already have some idea of how that worked out — Rowe earned a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots, while McKelvin was released on Wednesday — but let's look at the numbers.

According to Pro Football Focus, Rowe ranked seventh out of 109 cornerbacks with 61.9 opponents' passer rating when targeted in coverage (minimum 25 percent of regular season/postseason snaps). McKelvin ranked 97th with a 113.0 opponents' passer rating.

It's not even close. We can talk about the differences in schemes between the two teams, supporting cast, quality of opponents, you name it. We can discuss experience, mentality, locker room presence, whatever.

There is absolutely no situation, no world where McKelvin was a better option than Rowe.

How on earth did Schwartz manage to make such a woefully wrong evaluation? McKelvin wasn't a starter for most of his nine-year NFL career before he joined the Eagles — he was benched and later moved to safety during his final season with the Bills. He's also seven years older and three inches shorter than Rowe, which would seem a distinct advantage in terms of pure physical ability. Honestly, what did Schwartz see that laypeople did not? Because the ugly end result was nothing less than what was predicted.

Rowe appears to be developing into a fine NFL cornerback, McKelvin is likely one more shoddy season away from forced retirement, and the Eagles are left with a mess at the cornerback position. Don't blame this one on Roseman, either. All he did was what Schwartz desired.

If nothing else, the defensive coordinator probably deserves to lose some of his sway in personnel decisions. Signing a one-year stopgap at the expense of a promising, young talent like Rowe might turn out to be a catastrophic setback, and for once, everybody knows exactly where to point the finger.

Sixers can't replace Nerlens Noel with Emeka Okafor, Kris Humphries

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Sixers can't replace Nerlens Noel with Emeka Okafor, Kris Humphries

What's better than one Okafor? Two. Yes, the Philadelphia 76ers have hired Jahlil's big brother [photo not found] Emeka Okafor to help him hold down the middle in training camp this season, along with their annoying-but-always-around next-door neighbor growing up, Kris Humphries. (Kris of course would refuse to play Super Smash Bros. with the one slightly gimpy N64 controller, so Emeka and Jahlil would have to trade off so it wouldn't be A Thing, and they always won anyway.) 

Humphries, of course, has not had a relevant NBA moment since 2012, the year he both combined with Deron Williams to torture the playoff-hopeful Sixers in a 97-90 January home loss that still gives me hives a half-decade later AND inspired one of the coldest verses in Kanye West's illustrious frostbitten catalog. That's still probably better than Emeka Okafor, who has not had an NBA moment of any kind since 2013, where a half-decent season for the Wizards ended with his aching bones being shipped as cap filler to the Suns and him essentially never being heard from again. 

To put it callously, these are no longer players of consequence. They have no meaning to this current Philadelphia 76ers roster in any practical or even symbolic capacity. They will not steal a roster spot from Richaun Holmes or Amir Johnson or little bro Jah. They are merely players who are on this team at the moment and someday very soon will no longer be. Talking about how they might fit into the Sixers' roster this season would be like talking about how that free bag of potato chips you forgot was in your bag from weeks ago is going to fit into your dinner at The Continental. 

In fact, the most relevant quality that these two tall men share in Sixers terms is that neither of them is Nerlens Noel. Remember him? He was on the 76ers for about three and a half seasons, until the Colangelim decided that he was a ticking time bomb and decided to cut both the red wire and blue wire by trading him to the Dallas Mavericks for Justin Anderson, Andrew "Nah B" Bogut and a first-round pick only redeemable at out-of-state locations within the first half-hour of purchase. And as we all remember, we had to trade him because he was a restricted free agent that was Definitely Going to Demand a Max Contract in the Off-Season and he was Definitely Going to Get It and we were Definitely Not Going to Be Able to Match. 

Of course, astute NBA offseason headline watchers may also have noticed that the contract Nerlens ultimately signed was merely the qualifying offer with the Dallas Mavericks, for one year and $4 million -- or, roughly $80 million less than most assumed he was bound to get as a free agent. With The Eraser too many millions away with the Mavs to re-sign long term (and without a credible counter-offer to force their hand with), he elected to play out the the string in Big D and hope for a more resounding return next season. Turns out, the market was pretty soft for raw, defensive-minded, athletic big men with proven potential but not a long track record of on-court success. 

But there is at least one team that out there that could really still use such a player: The Philadelphia 76ers! Despite the presence of these two new bigs, and all the other dudes on our roster who have to crouch when they get on the subway, there's still nobody who can credibly anchor a defense when Joel Embiid isn't playing. And despite his many tremendous on-court skills, not playing is still what Joel Embiid does best: With the Sixers' home opener less than a month away, there's not even a timetable for JoJo playing 5-on-5, and Embiid has himself laughed off the possibility playing 82 games this season -- as if it would mark a Ripkenesque streak of endurance and perseverance. Because it would. (Bryan Colangelo says he believes Embiid will be ready for the season opener, which is better than him saying he believes he won't be, I suppose.) 

In a world where Embiid misses a bunch of games over the course of the season and can't play that many minutes even when he's active -- that's this world, btw -- it's almost invaluable to have a backup who can do a bunch of the most important things JoJo does, helps maintain roster continuity and still has the chance to unlock worlds of possibility within his own potential. Would it be worth $4 million for one year -- roughly 1/3 of what we're paying Amir Johnson, for the exact same contract length? I'd reckon. 

It may seem petty to continue beating this drum like a one-armed Keith Moon while so many other 76ers things seem to give cause for optimism -- from a reduced Sauce Castillo to Markelle Fultz living in the gym (like Worm in Rounders!) to J.J. Redick pander-trolling his way into the cholesterol-laden hearts of Philly fans worldwide. When will it be time to finally let this go? Well, when I run into Bryan Colangelo at the 76ers' championship victory parade in 2019, we can begin to have that discussion. Until then, Nerlens Noel Was Traded for a Fake Draft Pick and no Sixers moment will be sweet enough for me to get over my saltiness. 

The Giants targeted Eagles CB Jalen Mills a historic amount

The Giants targeted Eagles CB Jalen Mills a historic amount

If it felt as though Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills was involved in every other play against the Giants on Sunday, well, that’s actually not too far off.

We knew Mills saw a lot of action. He was shadowing Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for most of the afternoon, which is usually a sure sign a lot of footballs are going to come your way. One look at the box score can tell you Mills finished with a game-high 12 tackles.

That only tells part of the story. The Giants went after Mills so much, it made history.

Mills was targeted 21 times in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus — the highest number any cornerback has faced in over 10 years. PFF’s numbers only date back to 2006, but even if it’s only the most in the last decade, and not all-time, that’s still saying something in the increasingly pass-happy NFL.

To put that in perspective, Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw 47 passes total, so nearly half went to Mills’ man.

And how did Mills fare? Predictably, it was a mixed bag. Manning completed 71.4 percent of those attempts for 119 yards. Thirteen of those targets alone were for Beckham, who finished with nine receptions for 79 yards and two touchdowns.

When you put it like that, it sounds bad. However, the Eagles — Mills included — were playing a lot of off-man coverage and conceding routes underneath. So while Mills allowed a high volume of completions, those plays only amounted to 5.7 yards per attempt.

Granted, Beckham found the end zone twice. More often than not, Mills was limiting Giants receivers to short gains. In fact, the longest completion the second-year defensive back allowed went for 14 yards, as well as only 23 total yards after the catch.

"Besides those (two touchdowns), you always want them back in the red zone," Beckham said. "Both were contested. Both were short. For the most part of the game, I think I played pretty well."

PFF described it as “death by a thousand paper cuts,” but it wasn’t Mills’ death at all. All things considered, he did pretty much what the banged-up Eagles defense needed him to do to secure a victory.