Week One: What the Eagles Could Do When the NFL Re-opens for Business

Week One: What the Eagles Could Do When the NFL Re-opens for Business

Whenever the NFL lockout ends, the Eagles will be thrust into a bloated free agent market, while they attempt to take care of unsettled situations for many of their own players. In this two-part look, we predict what steps the front office will take once it's time to get back to work.

See part two here.

While most of the reports about a potential conclusion to the NFL labor crisis being within sight can be described as cautiously optimistic at best, we are checking our watches with frequency while our feet tap away impatiently. We've arrived at the proverbial two-minute warning before it becomes insanely difficult to start the season on time, and both the players and owners are at least giving the appearance they mean business. Since it's clear nobody on either side of the table wants to lose any money, we tend to think—admittedly a little too confidently—they will get this right, and soon.

Then we will be dropped into a scenario unlike any we've ever seen. 32 teams will scramble to sign free agents, get their draft picks under contract, and open training camps all pretty much simultaneously. The market is abnormally large, the window to take care of everybody painfully small. Luckily the Eagles have a plan, or so they say anyway, and Andy Reid, Howie Roseman, and Joe Banner seem up to the task. As we (hopefully) close in on this post-lockout world, we can't help but wonder what an abbreviated off-season could have in store for Philly's football club, so we went to the crystal ball for a glimpse into the future of the Birds.

Of course, this is all entirely speculation, but also our best estimate of a rough timeline of the action beginning from the day the league officially opens for business. Some of the specifics, namely the whos, might wind up different, but we think this is a decent approximation of just how active the front office is going to be. We took a stab at some unforeseen developments too, which honestly may be way off, but we're comfortable with the outcomes either way. Let's get to it.

1. The Eagles rescind David Akers' transition tag
This one is sort of obvious, but it's important nonetheless. When the Birds used a fourth round pick on Nebraska kicker Alex Henery, Akers immediately became expendable. While Henery could theoretically serve as the punter instead—the club currently has none signed for the 2011 season—it seems unlikely even for one year after such a large investment. Plus, the front office can't count on the idea that Akers will eventually sign the offer sheet, and we really doubt they would match another team's tender.

Meanwhile, even though Akers was none too pleased by the move back in February, it may ultimately benefit him to sign it now. It was recently reported the Pro Bowler ran into some financial trouble, and while we can only speculate how bad it actually is, he sounded eager to get back to work as the lockout lagged. Plus, kickers could get lost in the shuffle once the looming free agent frenzy begins, and he may not receive an offer as significant as the transition tag, which will pay him the average of the highest 10 players at his position. Remove the tag before he quick puts his signature on it, and officially end an era.

2. Trade Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals for next year's first and third round picks
It's hard to say whether this will happen before or after the first round of big name free agents come to terms, but all signs currently point to Arizona as Kolb's landing spot, to the point where a deal may even be on the table. There were rumors one team already offered a first round pick, which suggests at least a preliminary discussion occurred at some point. And since Arizona is where the bulk of the noise is coming from—which should not come as a surprise given their stable of quarterbacks—we'll use the old smoke/fire metaphor. Even if another team were to jump into the fray, say Seattle or Buffalo, they would have to act fast or want to for that matter while there was an element of surprise.

As for the compensation, while there has been much debate as to what the Eagles will ultimately get in return for Kolb, we still think it will be picks. The populist theory wishfully swaps the quarterback for CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromarties, thus killing two birds with one stone. That would leave the Cardinals perilously thin at corner themselves though, and it's based on the assumption the Birds even want DRC. Therefore, we think the deal will involve the traditional picks, and a team desperate to land a franchise QB will be willing to send a package that is headlined by a first.

3. Sign CB Johnathan Joseph, NOT Nnamdi Asomugha
The Eagles won't waste any time filling their need at corner once free agency begins, but they won't wind up with the big fish on the market. Asomugha turns 30 in July, and figures to become the highest paid defensive player in the league. If he was the only decent option available, that probably wouldn't stop the front office from kicking the tires. In this case, they might see Johnathan Joseph as a more sensible solution. Joseph is 27, and while he certainly won't come cheap, it shouldn't quite take top player money to get him under contract.

While some might label the team's refusal to sign the absolute best player as cheap, it will give them greater flexibility to make other moves in an unusually crowded field of free agents. As for Joseph, he doesn't get as much attention after playing for the Cincinnati Bengals the past five seasons, but he would instantly solidify the right corner position, maybe even reach a new level playing opposite Asante Samuel. It won't make headlines the same way Asomugha would, but it would still be a major upgrade for the secondary.

4. Sign RT Doug Free, and later trade Winston Justice for a mid-round pick
One thing fans should be prepared for once free agency begins is a signing or signings that seemingly come out of left field. Just looking at the sheer number of players out there makes it nearly impossible to pinpoint who any team will actually target once the curtain goes up. Now watch as the Eagles—perhaps engaged in a little misdirection with names like Asomugha, Plaxico Burress, and Reggie Bush floating around—pull the carpet out from under the division rival Cowboys and improve their offensive line in one fell swoop.

Free is coming off a quality season playing left tackle for Dallas, but ideally they'll move him back to his more natural right side after using the ninth overall pick on USC's Tyron Smith. That likely means they'll want to pay Free less money as well, which may make it difficult to find a middle ground. Of course, the Eagles would stick him on the right side too, but they might be willing to pay more to protect their left-handed quarterback, not to mention the opportunity to weaken arguably the biggest threat in the NFC East. The signing suddenly gives the Birds one of the best offensive lines in the conference, and they are free to unload Justice for a moderate return.

5. Agree to an exte
nsion with DeSean Jackson
Originally, this looked like it could be the final piece of the puzzle. Take care of DeSean right before the regular season begins, then go to work. While the Eagles would probably like that, the fact is the talented wide receiver could press the Birds into action sooner. DJac has been lobbying for this contract for almost two years now, and with a base salary pegged at $565,000 for 2011, it's difficult to see him playing another game in midnight green until this is resolved.

If Jackson is seriously injured during training camp or while playing a preseason game, it will hamper his ability to get a fair a contract this year or even when he becomes a free agent in 2012. He knows that, and if he and agent Drew Rosenhaus have any sense, they will take a stance that keeps him out of harm's way until an extension is in place. On the other hand, the Eagles had plenty of time to hear his demands, so the essentials of an agreement should already be fairly understood by both sides. Therefore, we believe DeSean's extension could come very quickly once the CBA is finally in place.

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And that about covers, oh, the first week or so (maybe). The pace will be furious, and as you can see, filled with surprises. They don't end here though. Tomorrow we'll look at the rest of a summer that is still jam packed with a pair of re-signings, plus two more major acquisitions.

See part two of what the Eagles could do once the lockout ends here.

Photo of Johnathan Joseph by Joe Nicholson-US Presswire. Photo of Doug Free by Matthew Emmons-US Presswire.

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

BOX SCORE

MIAMI -- For struggling pitchers, facing the Phillies has become like a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
 
Another rival pitcher searching for a cure got it Monday night when the Phillies suffered their 23rd loss in the last 29 games. This time it was Miami Marlins right-hander Edinson Volquez. He pitched six shutout innings and allowed just three hits in leading his club to a 4-1 win over the Phillies, who fell to 6-20 in May (see Instant Replay).

Volquez had gone 16 starts between wins.
 
"Every loss stings, I don’t care who's pitching," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're just in a rut. We've got to battle our way out of it. We have to show up tomorrow and get after it. We've got to get more than three or four hits in the game."
 
The Phillies had just four hits in the game. It was the fifth time in the last nine games that they've had four or fewer hits. Only one of the hits was for extra bases and one of the singles was an infield hit.
 
"Once again, we need more offense," Mackanin said.
 
Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson completed a difficult month of May by allowing six hits, including a two-run homer, and four runs over six innings.
 
Hellickson surrendered a two-run homer to Derek Dietrich with two outs in the sixth and that was basically the ball game. Dietrich hit a high changeup. Back in April, that pitch would have been at the knees. But Hellickson has misplaced the pitch command that he needs to succeed.
 
Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. In May, however, he went 1-3 with a 7.04 ERA in six starts. He was tagged for 35 hits, including nine homers, in 30 2/3 innings.
 
"Command in general," said Hellickson, describing his problem this month. "The biggest thing is not getting strike one, falling behind too much. I'm not getting the quick easy outs I was getting early in the season. I'm trying to get ahead, just missing."
 
Volquez signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the Marlins over the winter, but it wasn't until this game that he delivered his first win. He entered the game 0-7 with a 4.82 ERA in nine starts.
 
The win was Volquez's first since Aug. 25, 2016, when he was a member of the Kansas City Royals.

Volquez isn't the first struggling pitcher to shine against the Phils recently. Eight days earlier, Pittsburgh's Chad Kuhl took a 6.69 ERA into a start against the Phils and pitched five shutout innings. In the series against Colorado, the Phillies were dominated by a pair of rookies. In the only game they won (in a late rally), they were held to one run over six innings by Tyler Anderson, who had entered that game with an ERA of 6.00. On Friday night, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Tim Adleman pitched eight shutout innings against the Phils and gave up just one hit in the best start of his life. He had come into that game with an ERA of 6.19.
 
So Volquez had to be heartened when he saw the Phillies on the schedule.
 
They are the get-well team for pitchers in need of a pick-me-up.
 
It's actually kind of sad.
 
With Odubel Herrera locked in the throes of the worst slump of his life and on the bench and Maikel Franco mired in a 2 for 21 slump and hitting .209, Mackanin is trying to push things a little. He gave Aaron Altherr the green light to steal with one out and runners on the corners in a one-run game in the sixth inning. Altherr was out at second on a close play and Tommy Joseph struck out to leave the runner at third.
 
The Marlins salted the game away in the bottom of the inning on Dietrich's homer.
 
"With our offense, I have to take chances," Mackanin said. "I can't sit around and wait for three hits in a row. We haven't been doing that."
 
The Phils have the worst record in the majors at 17-32.
 
They have lost eight of their last 10 and scored just 15 runs in the losses.
 
"It sucks," catcher Cameron Rupp said. "There's really no other way to put it. It's frustrating. But the only people that are going to help us are ourselves. Nobody's going to go out there and play for us, swing the bats, pitch, play defense. That's on us and we have to do a better job all around.
 
"We all want to be successful and get the job done. We just haven't been hitting the ball. There's no other way to put it. But the good thing about baseball is we play every day so we turn the page and come back tomorrow and try to get it done."

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins rarely tested the hottest goaltender in the playoffs in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against Nashville.

They beat Pekka Rinne anyway.

Rookie Jake Guentzel fired the puck past Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a back-and-forth 5-3 victory on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Matt Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in Final history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37 minutes at one point without a shot.

"I think at the end of the day we're up 1-0," Bonino said. "We had a good first, we had a terrible second and we were terrible in the third. I don't think it's Xs and Os. We've got to work harder, compete a little harder, but we got some timely goals."

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions, trying to become the first repeat winner since Detroit in 1998.

All the guys from "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

"The impact of that moment and then the chain of events that happened after that with the penalty kills I think changed the course of the game," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said.

The decision gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge. Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead, they rallied and took over the game.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second and Nashville kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history -- and the first such period by any team in a Final game since the NHL began tracking shots on goal in 1958.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

"We didn't do a great job of (shooting), but we made them count," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "But it was a good finish there to get that one from Jake."