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August 14, 2017

Unlike other Philly GMs, Howie Roseman has silenced his critics (including me)

When Howie Roseman returned to power in the Eagles front office 19 months ago, the howls of protest shook the very foundation of our passionate sports city. I should know. I was leading the dissent.

Back then, the logic was sound. Roseman had had his chance as GM for five years, 15 in the organization. He was too close to owner Jeffrey Lurie. Smitten with the spotlight, he was the only NFL GM with his own radio show. He was awkward, indecisive, mistake-prone and unproven.

Did I mention he was a lousy GM, too?

Listen closely today. This is no outcry against Roseman now, not from fans frustrated by 57 years without a championship and not by a blowhard radio guy (me) who was so certain Roseman 2.0 would be more of the same. It isn’t. Roseman is one of the most dynamic GMs in sports right now, and by far the best one in Philadelphia.

He proved it again last Friday when he made another bold move to help the Eagles at a time when most experts said there was no way to improve the biggest weakness on the team – cornerback – three weeks before the season opener. He gave up his most productive wide receiver, Jordan Matthews, for cornerback Ronald Darby and a third-round draft pick.

Not everyone agrees with the Buffalo deal, especially those who had become fond of Matthews’ accessibility and class, or those who overvalue draft choices. Everyone has to agree, however, with the aggressive way Roseman approached the cornerback issue, and with just about everything else he has done since he resumed power after Chip Kelly was fired.

Remember, Roseman is the one who double-jumped the draft board in 2016 to snatch franchise quarterback Carson Wentz, a decision that will define Roseman’s second tour of duty. Wentz is an ideal building block for a team still in transition, a smart, talented, coachable player with no discernible drawbacks. He has a brilliant future here.

And now, believe it or not, so does Roseman. I was the first critic to mock the world tour he took during his year-long exile, an exercise he described as a new way to learn how to develop a championship roster. At the time, it sounded like more Roseman spin hiding the fact that he had politicked his way back into power. Apparently not.

Since he got back, Roseman has spent hundreds of millions on new contracts for the top Eagles (Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson, Jason Peters) and for a couple of busts (Vinny Curry, Sam Bradford). He has swung and missed a few times since his return, but he keeps swinging, keeps trying to make the Eagles a playoff team again.

No one can say the same about the other three GMs in Philadelphia. Ron Hextall’s idea of brilliant strategy is replacing one mediocre Flyers goaltender (Steve Mason) with another (Brian Elliott). Bryan Colangelo is merely cashing in the chips of three years of Sixer tanking. And Matt Klentak has absolutely no idea what he’s doing with the Phillies.

The Matthews-Darby trade last week was something none of the other GMs would have had to backbone to make. Despite a lack of speed and unreliable hands, Matthews is still a valuable commodity. Sometimes heart can overcome major obstacles; Jordan Matthews has heart.

Ronald Darby has something even more important right now for the Eagles, though – speed. In a division with elite athletes like Odell Beckham Jr., Dez Bryant and Terrelle Pryor, the Birds were in danger of losing big games on big plays. Now, finally, the have a defender who can run with those gazelles.

Still, the fact that the trade makes perfect sense is not the most impressive part. It’s that Roseman once again moved boldly to fix what was wrong with his team, his critics be damned.

Listen closely. Nobody’s complaining about Howie Roseman anymore. Not even me.

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The announcement last week that the Sixers would be playing a game against the Boston Celtics in London on Jan. 11 did not include all of the facts behind how owner Joshua Harris found a brand-new way to screw his fans and season-ticket holders. I guess that’s why we’re here.

One of the worst owners in Philadelphia sports history, Harris gave up a home game for the honor of playing overseas. The Celtics did not. That’s your first clue that there’s more going on here than expanding the Sixers brand. Why was Harris so willing to give up a home gate just when fans actually want to see his team play?

With Harris, it’s always smart to follow the money. After all, he’s a billionaire hedge-fund genius, so the ultimate scoreboard for him will always be his bankroll. It’s the same reason why he refused to use the Wells Fargo Center name for a while; because no one was paying him to do it.

In the end, Joshua Harris always gets paid, and he will this time, too. How much is anybody’s guess; the NBA doesn’t share their internal compensation plan for overseas games. All we can say for sure is that the NBA will reward Harris, with favors and cash. Remember, Harris caved to the league’s demand to dump Sam Hinkie two years ago. He’s flexible.

The London game also serves Harris’ interests in bringing together two of his disparate sports holdings. In addition to owning the Sixers, he owns a piece of the Crystal Palace Football (Soccer) Club in London. It should be really cozy for the owner to bask in his two major teams on one trip. Good for him.

For the fans, as usual, not so good. They lose a Celtics home game at a time when the rivalry finally has some hope for revival, and it gives fans one less chance to watch Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and top draft pick Markelle Fultz play together.

There is some good news for those fans, however. The Sixers actually said they have no intention of charging them for the game. If they already paid for season tickets, the team will either give back the money, use it for playoff tickets or apply it to the next season. How kind of them.

And if fans want to travel all the way to London for the game, they will have a chance to buy tickets just like everybody else. No word yet on the price, or on availability. They are guaranteed nothing, even though they committed to a full 41-game home schedule months ago.

The Sixers and Joshua Harris would like to thank the fans for buying 14,000 season tickets this year. This is just one small token of their heartfelt appreciation.

See you in London, suckers.

* * * 

Six days after he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Jerry Jones is biting the hand that has fed his oversized ego for the past 28 years. Jones’ complicity in the Ezekiel Elliott scandal is precisely the reason he never deserved the ultimate NFL honor in the first place.

The league undertook a 13-month investigation into allegations that Elliott had physically abused his then-girlfriend Tiffany Thompson before finally suspending the star running back six games for violating NFL policy. Since the guideline for domestic abuse is six games, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the judgment.

Except, these are the Jerry Jones Cowboys we’re talking about, so inevitably the proper decision was followed by improper behavior. Elliott released a statement saying he was “surprised and disappointed” by the suspension, and promising an appeal that could eventually lead to the courts.

Meanwhile, Jones – who has made it known he is furious about the ruling – has been working behind the scenes for months trying to bully his way out of discipline for his star player. According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Jones “verbally accosted” NFL investigative chief Lisa Friel last October – during the investigation – and has threatened a war with commissioner Roger Goodell if the league suspended Elliott.

Jones doesn’t care that the probe proved, with photographs and testimony, that Elliott attacked Thompson three times over a four-day period and caused injuries to her arms, neck, shoulders, face, wrists and hands. The Dallas owner has offered a haven for outrageous acts like this for years, all in the bogus name of rehabilitating lost souls.

The biggest lost soul of all is Jones himself, of course. 

The fight that lies ahead over Ezekiel Elliott will simply serve as more proof of how ridiculous it was that Jerry Jones was inducted into the Hall of Fame. The truth is, he should be suspended himself for disgracing the NFL for nearly three decades.

And finally ...

•  Over the weekend, the Phillies bounced back from the Pete Rose mess with a brilliant display of affection and respect for their former stars, and especially the recently deceased Darren Daulton, Dallas Green and Jim Bunning. Mike Schmidt honored them with a touching eulogy during Alumni Weekend festivities, and Dan Stephenson brought tears and smiles with a poignant video tribute to Daulton. Good job by all.

•  Derek Barnett is going to be a terrific pass rusher for the Eagles, starting right now in his rookie season. His two sacks in the preseason opener are just a preview of what’s to come. He’s fast, strong, has great instincts and is very coachable. Experts say the over-under for Barnett this season is four sacks. Ha, ha. My number is 10. The kid is that good.

•  How can a multi-billion-dollar industry like the NFL continue to tolerate such a lousy representation of its sport during the preseason? The games are all pretty much unwatchable, with the possible exception of the third one, when the starters actually stay on the field for more than a cameo appearance. Four preseason games is ridiculous. Two is the perfect number. Why hasn’t the NFL adjusted to this new reality?

•  Now that Jordan Matthews is gone, Nelson Agholor will get the first chance to win the slot-receiver job in the Eagles offense. Mike Quick, one of the greatest wide receivers in team history, reiterated on my WIP radio show last week that Agholor is the most talented receiver on the roster. But then Quick added this: “I can’t reach into his chest and give him a heart.” Uh, oh.

•  Spike Lee has every right to defend Colin Kaepernick with the rally he is planning for Aug. 23 in New York. However, the filmmaker would be a more credible supporter of Kaepernick, an unemployed anthem protestor, if he actually bothered to learn how to spell the ex-quarterback’s name. It’s K-A-E-P-E-R-N-I-C-K, Spike. Remember the first E.