What the Eagles Can Learn From the Flyers
Even though the nasty NFL lockout has passed the 100-day milestone, fans received a welcome blast of hope last week when talks between the billionaires and millionaires were described as “productive” and no one exited the site of the negotiations with a cleaver in his back. It’s entirely possible we could be celebrating the end of this nonsense in a couple weeks and looking forward to another season of high-speed collisions and joint degeneration in sporting cathedrals around the country.
Once the ink dries on the agreement, expect a run on free agents that will resemble the Oklahoma land rush of 1889. One can almost imagine NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s firing a cannon at the league’s Park Avenue headquarters, sending dozens of eager general managers and sundry executives charging to the doorsteps of coveted free agents with fat offers in hand.
Eagles fans should hope Joe Banner and Andy Reid are at the front of the pack, heading toward Nnamdi Asomugha, Barrett Ruud and the like. Check that, Banner and Reid had better be up front, because after what happened last Thursday, the Eagles have no choice but to become the league’s most aggressive team.
Say what you want about the Flyers’ blockbuster trades and giant free agent signing last week, but they demonstrate an absolute desire to take the chances necessary to create a championship contender. And if, as many expect, the Flyers aren’t finished, and a signing of someone like Steven Stamkos or Brad Richards is nigh, the Flyers will be viewed in the same way as the Phillies are: As a team willing to spend big money in pursuit of Nirvana.
In a way, the lockout has helped the Eagles, because they can now see how the Philadelphia sports landscape has changed. Say what you want about the Flyers and their relatively small, but loyal, following, but they consistently shell out big money in pursuit of excellence. Sure, those efforts have been misguided at times, especially when it comes to the goaltender position or in respect to the franchise’s previously tepid interest in European players. But trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to clear cap space for goalie Ilya Bryzgalov – and perhaps more – was a decisive move made to improve the position that was most vulnerable in the playoffs. And though Carter and Richards’ departures deplete the offense, the arrival of a big-time free agent like Stamkos (absolutely no sure thing) would counterbalance that nicely.
With the Flyers out there making big news, and the Phillies the Greatest Team in Baseball (for now), the Eagles have no choice but to make several aggressive and ultimately successful moves once the free agent derby commences. If they don’t, they run the risk of angering an already grumpy fan base further. Since Philadelphia fans now expect greatness, rather than excuses and owner Jeffrey Lurie’s “Gold Standard” hilarity, the Eagles can’t continue to pursue the same old course of action when it comes to building a team. In other words, they can’t go into a season with glaring weaknesses and expect everybody to look the other way. The Phillies’ gigantic payroll and the Flyers’ June 23 bombshells have made that completely an impractical strategy. (For now, I won’t talk about the Sixers, except to say that their spending sprees, while duly noted, have not been so productive these past few years.)
The Eagles have tried to convince fans for several seasons that they are the city’s fans’ preferred athletic distraction. They market themselves like the biggest of big dogs and do things like trade their starting quarterback the day before baseball season begins, just to remind the Phillies that they have the power to usurp the national pastime. But things are different now. Despite the team’s offensive explosion last year and the excitement generated by Michael Vick’s renaissance, the Eagles are in danger of looking more and more like a team interested in preserving a spot in the playoffs without making a real run at the top.
If Reid and Banner decide the team’s defense is good enough to win it all and then try to sell it to the fans, they will look foolish. Worse, when compared to the Phillies and Flyers, they will look cheap. Asomugha and Ruud – or even Albert Haynesworth, who is already signed to a fat contract and would have to come to town via a trade with the Redskins – will cost some serious money. They will also require a creative sales pitch that emphasizes that the franchise is trying to win it all, rather than just interested in hosting another playoff game and reaping the financial windfall.
So, it’s up to Reid, Banner and Lurie. Do they have what it takes to build a real winner, or will they continue to try to fool the fans with the same old bravado that has diluted their collective credibility? The Phillies have stepped up, no matter how anemic their offense may be. The Flyers proved they want it all.
Goodell is loading the cannon with gunfire. There could be a blast in a couple weeks. Saddle up, fellas, a city is waiting to see what you can get.
- It’s time for Charlie Manuel to start sitting down players who refuse to exercise some self-discipline at the plate. Watching the futility with men on third and fewer than two outs and seeing continued rotten at-bats is getting to be too much. We know you want another bat, Charlie. Try a little tough love with what you have, too.
- Nikola Vucevic will be a productive NBA player. He won’t, however, be a star. The Sixers did the best they could with the 16th pick in a rotten draft, but let’s face it: The team didn’t exactly close the gap between it and the Heat by drafting the USC center. There’s a lot more work to be done, and no one can be sure whether the Sixers can do it, thanks to their confining salary situation.
- The Red Sox come to town for a huge series Tuesday, and it would be great if all the people who jumped on the Sawx bandwagon last decade stayed away from the ballpark. You’re not wanted. Worse, you’re the kind of frontrunners who make local Cowboys fans look human.