June 20, 2016
When Howie Roseman reached an agreement with Fletcher Cox on a monstrous $103-million contract last week, the Eagles GM reinforced one of the most amazing rebirths in recent Philadelphia sports history.
And yet, this comeback will ultimately succeed or fail because of one player, and one player only: Carson Wentz.
Since returning to the role after the Chip Kelly disaster, Roseman has signed 14 contracts worth $280-million – twice the amount of any other NFL team so far in 2016 – he has secured his best player (Cox) for six more years, filled major holes with seven free agents, and managed the salary cap astutely.
And none of it will matter if Wentz is not the franchise quarterback, and soon. What has been lost in Roseman 2.0 is that he didn’t just risk hundreds of millions of dollars, he also gambled the immediate future of the Eagles by handing over 2017’s first-round draft pick, a 2018 second-rounder and two selections from the most recent draft.
In other words, Roseman made 14 moves, but really only one. He prioritized the quarterback position like no team ever has, investing $22-million in guaranteed money to Sam Bradford, $12 million more in backup Chase Daniel and $27 million already committed to Wentz. That’s $61 million guaranteed just to quarterbacks.
Add that total to the $63 million now in Cox’s pocket, and you’ve got . . . a ton of money – an amazing amount for a team once run by the most frugal man in sports, Joe Banner. Obviously, when owner Jeffrey Lurie reinstated Roseman, he gave the reborn GM a blank checkbook.
The good news is that Lurie has made a huge commitment not just to Roseman, but also to the fans. The favorite pastime of some billionaires is to count their money; Lurie is spending his, at an unprecedented level. The bad news is, there will be a huge price to pay for Roseman if the new plan fails.
And that’s where Carson Wentz comes in. If the North Dakota kid with a bazooka arm and a high IQ morphs into the next Donovan McNabb (or better), Roseman will have completed his improbable journey back. The GM talked about his new appreciation for quarterbacks – and Wentz – this morning on my WIP radio show.
“When we look at successful football teams over a period of time, no one’s going anywhere without a high level of play from the quarterback position,” he said. “So I think that (perception’s) fair.”
In his professional life, nothing means more to Roseman than having personnel power on an NFL team. He has called it his “dream job” from his early days as an intern and a number cruncher in the Eagles organization. At 40 (his 41ST birthday is Thursday), there’s still plenty of time for him to make it as a GM.
Or is there? What happens if Wentz is the next Kevin Kolb, or the next Nick Foles? Roseman once was enamored with those young quarterbacks, too, and we know how those love affairs ended.
With Carson Wentz, Roseman raised the stakes as high as they can go, right near the top of the NFL draft. He placed the future of his franchise, and himself, in the hands of a young athlete who played football in North Dakota.
Eagles fans are already rooting hard for Wentz to succeed, but there is one person who cares more than any of us. Like it or not, Howie Roseman’s future is in the kid’s hands now.
Like most Philadelphia sports fans, patience is a virtue I do not possess. And when the man leading one of my favorite sports franchises says there no need to do anything, I tend to get upset. That’s why my frustration is growing quickly with new Phillies GM Matt Klentak.
When he finally emerged from his draft bunker last week – where he had been out of reach for months – Klentak sounded like someone who had never been a GM before which he hasn’t – and, at 35, appeared completely out of touch with the city where he works.
As expected, the main topic was Ryan Howard and the slugger’s ridiculous presence on the roster of a team in full rebuilding mode. Klentak said, after a careful weighing of the options, he was choosing to do absolutely nothing. Howard will be here for the rest of this gruesome season, it now appears.
The issue is no longer about a player long past his prime; now everybody is beginning to question the new Phillies hierarchy, with an invisible president Andy MacPhail and a painfully inexperienced Klentak. Do these guys have any idea that this is Philadelphia? Do they really expect fans to endure another season without hope?
No and yes are the answers to those questions, respectively. As a result, fans can expect no urgency to call up the young studs excelling at Lehigh (AAA) like Nick Williams and J.P. Crawford, nor – heaven forbid – the array of amazing prospects at Reading, where the AA affiliate has an astonishing record of 49-21.
It has always been my philosophy that the best players need not become overripe in the minor leagues – like Chase Utley and Howard himself – before getting a chance in the big leagues. Early failure in Philadelphia will not lead to extinction, at least not with players who have the mental fortitude to overcome adversity.
Nick Williams should be playing in the Phillies outfield right now, and Crawford should be at shortstop. Outfielder Dylan Cozens (19 homers) should be in Lehigh, as should catcher Jorge Alfaro (.301).
This is a time for action, not for paranoid conservatism. This is not a time for patience – not in Philadelphia. Never in Philadelphia.
The last month has been like watching a brushfire get closer and closer to the Sixers, a disaster becoming more inevitable by the day. They are going to do it. They are going to draft Ben Simmons with the No. 1 pick on Thursday, and then they – and we – will regret it for decades.
How can I be so sure, especially since I am hardly regarded as an expert on the NBA? It’s simple, really. It’s the old red-flag theory. If a top draft pick has enough red flags – enough negatives to outweigh his positives – it becomes insane to take him. Simmons is the king of red flags.
The most obvious one is, he can’t shoot. On a Sixers team with no genuine scorers, the last thing they need is another bricklayer. Simmons also doesn’t see the importance of defense, a reflection on his overall blasé court presence. And then there’s his effect on LSU, which had a better record the year before without him.
Oh, yeah. By most accounts, he quit trying late in his one college-basketball season, he has declined to play for his Olympic team, he didn’t want to play in the NIT, he has refused to work out for any NBA club and his Aussie background suggests a laid-back demeanor that will not blend at all with intense Philadelphia.
Even some of his plusses are worrisome. For example, his father once played for Sixers coach Brett Brown, who has remained close to the entire Simmons family. On my WIP radio show this morning, Brown said he saw no concerns about Simmons’ makeup at all. He sounded more like a family friend than an objective coach.
Sure, Simmons is a terrific athlete with excellent basketball instincts, but a young player needs to offer a lot more than that to be worthy of the top pick. Brandon Ingram of Duke would be a smarter choice, as would trading down a few spots and claiming either Kris Dunn of Providence or Buddy Hield of Oklahoma.
But there are no indications the Sixers will come to their senses in the next three days. Ben Simmons will be bound for Philadelphia on Thursday night.
The brushfire is going to burn the Sixers – and all of us.
And finally …
• LeBron James’ block of a possible game-winning shot by Andre Iguodala was one of the greatest plays in recent memory, but am I the only one still thinking about how the NBA orchestrated this epic moment by suspending Draymond Green in Game 5 and jobbing Golden State with some hideous officiating in Game 6? The Cleveland Cavaliers are NBA champions – with a big assist by the league office.
• Congratulations, Jayson Werth. After years of bad behavior, the ex-Phillie has now taken over the lead as the biggest jackass in American sports. His tirade last week after a game-winning hit – telling his critics to “kiss my ass!” – was final proof that he has no appreciation for the fans paying his $126-million salary.
• Ichiro Suzuki is a wonderful player, but it’s idiotic to suggest that he’s the all-time hits leader in baseball with 4,258. Ichiro got his first 1,278 hits in Japan, which plays a level of baseball comparable to Triple-A here, at best. If he really wants to pass Pete Rose, he will need 1,278 more hits. Good luck.
• There is a growing belief in the NFL that going for a two-point conversion will be more productive than kicking the extra point, and I agree with them. Ben Roethlisberger has converted 12 of the last 15 two-pointers, and he’s lobbying for more attempts next season. So is Drew Brees. Good for them. I hope the Eagles try it, too.
• The funniest story of the week was Carson Wentz getting locked in a gas-station restroom last week, requiring someone to kick down the door to complete his rescue. The new Eagles quarterback called the wrong audible there. Lesson one in the Delaware Valley: Never – I mean under no circumstances – use a gas-station restroom.