March 14, 2016
So far, Howie Roseman’s sequel as Eagles GM bears almost no resemblance to his bumbling previous tenure, when he squandered draft picks and alienated everybody except his boss, owner Jeffrey Lurie. This new, improved Howie Roseman is slicker, quicker, and far more open to his co-workers’ opinions.
As Al Michaels once said: Do you believe in miracles?
By any measure, what Roseman did in the first week of free agency was remarkable, especially given the team’s cap-space limitations created by the worst one-year GM in Eagles’ history, Chip Kelly. Brandishing his spite like a lethal weapon, Roseman undid several of Kelly’s biggest gaffes and provided real hope for the 2016 season.
In case you missed it, the reborn GM added three key pieces to the already potent defense, finally addressed the eroding offensive line, added a backup quarterback who has no reputation for butt-fumbling and dumped a backup quarterback who does.
Meanwhile, Roseman actually found a sucker — thank you, Miami Dolphins — for two of Kelly’s biggest busts, Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso — and even a taker for disgruntled has-been DeMarco Murray. The GM opened room under the cap and then spent the money on upgrades at no less than half a dozen positions.
Even a major skeptic like me had no choice at the end of the week but to bow to Howie Roseman 2.0. What he did was amazing. Because this is the same man who drafted Danny Watkins and Marcus Smith, his feat was incomprehensible. It was miraculous.
Is it possible Roseman spent his year in exile actually addressing his many shortcomings? Was he telling the truth when he said his demotion to a $1.7-million equipment manager truly changed him? Is this new persona committed to Lurie’s pledge for “collaboration”? Hey, after the past week, who’s going to say no to any of those questions?
Of course, the draft is about a month away, and that annual tradition has always been Roseman’s biggest downfall. His lack of football lineage becomes most apparent when he actually has to look at a player and project NFL success. Remember, Roseman was a lawyer before he was a GM, a bean-counter who learned from another bean counter (Joe Banner).
If the draft will jar Roseman back to his former life, he will fail even more spectacularly than usual, thanks to his own brilliance last week. Instead of screwing up the 13th pick in the first round, now he has a chance to blow the eighth selection. The story behind his heist was easily the best twist in the first week of free agency.
According to Roseman, the Eagles were situated — purely by chance — two hotel suites away from Miami’s brain trust at the NFL combine earlier this month, and the executives traded food and conversation during that week. Miami GM Mike Tannenbaum, the genius who drafted Mark Sanchez for the Jets, was looking to make a big move.
Somehow, Tannenbaum bought the notion that Alonso and Maxwell just needed a change in scenery — so much so that the Miami GM didn’t even ask to re-do Maxwell’s insane six-year, $63-million contract before agreeing to take the two players for a swap of first-round picks. Fans reacted with rage in Miami, and with confusion in Philadelphia.
Howie did what? He unloaded those busts and moved up five spots in the first round? Then he found someone (Tennessee) to absorb and rework the awful Murray contract? This is Howie Roseman we’re talking about, right.
Yes, it is. Clearly, anything is possible now. Sam Bradford is back, Chase Daniel is here to help him, the offensive line has a powerful new run blocker (guard Brandon Brooks), the secondary has a hard hitter (Rodney McLeod) and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has two players (linebacker Nigel Bradham and cornerback Ron Brooks) who prospered under him in Buffalo.
Whether this is the beginning of a fabulous new era with Roseman running the team or just one amazing week remains to be seen, but this is no time to question our sudden twist of fate. Let’s all just sit back and enjoy this astonishing new ride — for as long as it lasts.
He lumbers around the field as if he’s there for an old-timer’s game, but most of the players around him these days are barely old enough to shave. The first impression fans get when they look onto Bright House Field at Phillies spring training is that something doesn’t belong.
And that something is Ryan Howard.
After spending a few days in Clearwater last week, I can say with total conviction that one of the greatest sluggers in Phillies history has become a topic just about everyone would prefer to avoid. When I asked Pete Mackanin how he would handle the aging first baseman, the manager said: “Delicately.” And so is everybody else, with one exception.
Really, there is only one logical move for the Phillies to make, but so far no one has been willing to make it. Howard needs to be released, $25-million contract and all. He will not be part of a much better team next season, and he is only blocking younger players — primarily, Darin Ruf — from having a real chance to show what they can do.
Don’t take my word for it. Listen to the most honest voice in the Phillies organization, advisor (and manager of the 1980 champions) Dallas Green, who said on my WIP radio show: “The days are over. I heard (GM Matt Klentak) say, you know, obviously, performance is what it’s all about. Well, he hasn’t performed ... It would be best if he moved on.”
So why hasn’t he, the way Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels and so many of the 2008 champs have? Because he has been untradeable for years, with a huge salary and bad legs, and because he is still a vestige of the sentimentality that kept the best players of that era together longer than was wise.
Dave Montgomery is not the president of the team anymore, but he still has a voice in the front office, as do the old-guard owners and the many old-guard advisors. It is no secret that Klentak and Mackanin would prefer a respectful exit for the big slugger, right now, but they have not gotten their way yet.
Ryan Howard was a great player during an exhilarating era of baseball in this city, and now it’s time for him to take a final bow. As Dallas Green said, it’s over for the beloved first baseman of the 2008 Phillies. Holding onto to this last major hero of the past is doing no one any good.
The Flyers are mounting a spirited run for the playoffs right now, but this is one bandwagon I have no desire to join. The current team is like so many others before it — a pretender, a tease.
The good news is, they are also providing an exciting preview of coming attractions, like the 2005 Phillies. Not only are these Flyers showing a surprisingly potent final kick to the season, they are promising far greater accomplishments just ahead.
Shayne Gostisbehere is the next superstar in our city — everybody with a brain realizes that by now — but I have been informed by hockey fans with far more knowledge than me (a very large group) that the Ghost is only the first ripple in a tidal wave of new talent on the way.
In fact, I was informed by a renowned expert last week (who prefers anonymity) that Gostisbehere may not even be the best young player in the talent pipeline. That honor may belong to Ivan Provorov, a defenseman who is solid beyond his age (19) and on the cusp of joining the Ghost.
The names after that are a bit of a blur: Oskar Lindblom, Travis Sanheim, Travis Konecny, and a bunch of other kids not named Travis. Now, some of these prospects will inevitably fade from the picture, but it’s safe to say no Philadelphia team has had this kind of buzz since the Rollins-Utley-Howard-Hamels Phillies juggernaut more than a decade ago.
Fans here always love to speculate about which pro team will hold the next parade in Philadelphia. Well, for what it’s worth, here’s an early vote for the 2019-20 Flyers.
And finally ...
• Most baseball managers are required to speak out of both sides of their mouths, but Pete Mackanin is one of very few who can do it in two languages. The Phillies skipper said last week that he often talks to his many Latin players in Spanish. This approach is far different than Mackanin’s predecessor, Ryne Sandberg, who communicated in no languages.
• Jahlil Okafor is done for the year with a torn meniscus in his right knee. Add his shortened season to two years of Nerlens Noel’s endless ailments and Joel Embiid’s chronic foot problems, and a question emerges: Does GM Sam Hinkie’s analytics approach ever account for players prone to injury? Hey, I’m just asking.
• While on the subject of people who prefer not to talk, wouldn’t you love to know how Chip Kelly feels about Howie Roseman’s purge of most of Kelly’s handpicked Eagles? And you will find out, too — when Kelly is mandated by the NFL to speak at the NFL owners meetings next week. And not one minute sooner.
• How far have the Denver Broncos already fallen? Their recent Super Bowl champions had Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler as quarterbacks, and, at least for the moment, all they’ve got now is Mark Sanchez. At this point, they would be better off activating the team’s vice president, John Elway, 55. Hey, he’s got to be better than Sanchez.
• The agents for Johnny Manziel say three teams contacted them right after Cleveland released the NFL’s biggest jackass last week. OK, I give up. Obviously, Dallas is one. What other teams are that stupid?