Besides Birds, NFC East pretty dysfunctional


Besides Birds, NFC East pretty dysfunctional

Each week, we'll take a look at how the Eagles’ division rivals fared the previous weekend (in the historic words of Porky Pig, “That’s all, folks!”) and what they have upcoming.

With their humiliating loss at home on Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys were officially eliminated from contention, guaranteeing that no team from the NFC East (other than your beloved Philadelphia Eagles) will see this year's postseason. However, the dysfunction ran further than the football field this weekend for all the Iggles' rivals, so at this point in the 2017 season, it seems reasonable to ask: Which one of these teams is the most screwed up?

Here’s what happened, and what’s happening, this week in the NFC East:

New York Giants: (2-13)

What Happened: Just when you think this team can’t embarrass themselves further, the 2017 New York Giants do just that, getting shut-out by the also-eliminated Arizona Cardinals by a score of 23-to-nothing. The Eli Manning Farewell Tour gave the Cardinals plenty of reasons not to pursue him this offseason, as Peyton’s younger brother was responsible for a hat trick’s worth of turnovers; two interceptions and a fumble-six. In what will likely be his final game wearing a Giants road jersey, Eli scored more points for the opposing team via fumble than he did by playing quarterback. Why couldn’t this version of Eli show up last Sunday against the Birds?

Last week I wrote that the only positives Giants fans can take from this season is safety Landon Collins and tight end Evan Engram. So, naturally, they both immediately got injured. Adding insults to his injuries, Collins called his teammate Eli Apple a cancer, and not the zodiac-astrology kind. Keep in mind that of the Giants top corners (Apple, Janoris Jenkins, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), Apple was the only one not suspended this year for breaking team rules (though they did bench him for two games). Needless to say, the Giants secondary could use some therapy time.

Apple, by the way, is a Philadelphia native with a kick-ass mom. As a fellow Philly native whose Mom is cooler than he is, I’ll be fully onboard the Birds taking a flyer on this guy when the Giants new GM cuts him in two months if only so I can bring a sign to games that say “HEY LANDON, HOW YOU LIKE THEM APPLES!?” Hahaha… I’m so current.

Oh, and Odell Beckham Jr., who’s been out for months, has been linked to some high-stakes gambler, which is exactly the kind of news a (former) Pro-Bowler on injured reserve should be making. Great stuff, Giants!

Positive Spin: Only one more week and then the circus leaves town.

Negative Spin: To say this season has been a dumpster-fire is an insult to flammable trash. Literally, nothing has gone right for the Giants franchise, from the OBJ injury to the handling of franchise “legend” Eli to the complete and utter disarray from the front office on down. 

This franchise is pretty messed up. Take the Apple situation, for instance. This is a 1st-round draft pick from 2016 that the players in the locker-room are already turning their backs on. A year ago this guy was a potential star; now he’s a pariah. D’Angelo Russell’s fall from grace wasn’t this rapid.

Worth noting, the Giants only drafted Apple in the 1st round of the 2016 draft because Prince Amukamara didn’t work out with their 1st pick in the 2011 draft. And because they didn’t feel comfortable with the talent they have in the secondary, the Gmen are currently paying Jenkins and Rodgers-Cromartie a combined $25 million. To put that in perspective, it’s more than Howie Roseman is paying the entire Iggles secondary. Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, Patrick Robinson, the whole lot of them… they’re all being paid less than what the Giants have been forced to pay two guys, all because some draft picks haven’t worked out.

Sure, drafting two bad players five years apart doesn’t necessarily prove a franchise is in disarray (the Birds took Danny Watkins and Marcus Smith four years apart, for instance). But it’s clear this team's issues run deeper than the plays being called on the field. A mistake results in a mistake, which results in a mistake. It’s a pattern you typically see franchises like the Browns make, and it’s no wonder the Giants find themselves alongside Cleveland at the top of the draft order this year. It’s like seeing a Tim Burton movie coming out starring Johnny Depp; at a certain point, it’s safe to assume it will be bad.

What’s Next: The Giants finish off the season against their division rivals from D.C., and another defeat (or a Colts win!) would clinch them the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 Draft. 

Washington (7-8)

What Happened: In what might be his final home game for the Washington Football Team, Kirk Cousins put on a steady audition for his next potential employer, leading his team to a 27-11 victory over the once-feared Denver Broncos. Cousins was so impressive that he earned praise from Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, who just proved he doesn’t have a future in NFL scouting.

Jay Gruden’s offense got off to a slow start, but his two-time-tagged franchise QB ended the day with three TDs to his name and a bunch of questions as to whether his days of playing in Landover were over. For all those counting at home, Cousins went 19-of-37 on the day. Nick Foles, meanwhile, was 19-of-38. I’m not saying Foles played better than Cousins this weekend (I’ve got a pair of socks in the bottom of the hamper that was more inspiring than Foles Monday night), but the suggestion that Cousins (who also had an INT in the back of the end zone) is the next coming of Drew Brees just seems short-sighted. Though I guess if you spent the year watching Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, and Paxton Lynch, like Miller has, the socks in my hamper probably feel like an upgrade.

Anyway, it was a nice win for Washington, which may save the job of Gruden, who allegedly has a potential landing spot in Cincinnati when Marvin Lewis makes his exit. As per usual, there will be plenty of intrigue coming out of the nation’s capital in the coming months, and that’s not #FakeNews.

Positive Spin: Okay, I’ve got one; because they were swept by Dallas earlier this season, Washington is now locked into the 2nd-worst-record in the NFC East, which means their schedule will be slightly easier than the Cowboys next year. Oh, and the Wizards beat the Celtics in Boston on Christmas! Who doesn’t like it when New England loses, amirite?

Negative Spin: You ever come back from a long night out, immediately get into bed and think “Man, I really should get out of bed and brush my teeth before I fall asleep”? That’s what Washington is doing here by winning games; they know they should be tanking, they’d be better off by tanking, but they just can’t will themselves to do it. And hey, that’s their prerogative. Not everybody brushes their teeth. 

These wins are only hurting them down the road. With Cousins departure feeling more and more a certainty, one can’t even argue the extra reps are a good thing. All they’re doing now is giving the future Jets / Broncos / Cardinals / Bills QB some extra playing time. It’s no easy thing to do, but Washington would be better off by throwing in the towel. Embrace your Hinkie!

What’s Next: Washington heads to New York for Week 17. The fact that the Eli Manning Era in New York and the Kirk Cousins Era in D.C. will end at the same time is like if Cersei Lannister and Euron Greyjoy end up dying on a boat together. Sure, they’re both bad guys, but one has been around a lot longer and has been a much bigger thorn in the side of this fan. But either way, I’m all good, just so long as they’re both making an exit. 

Dallas Cowboys (8-7)

What Happened: Following the Iggles NFC East rivals this year has been like tracking the other kids in Willy Wonka’s Factory, and this week it was the Cowboys turn to go the way of Veruca Salt. With their playoff lives on the line, ‘dem Boys fell to Seattle 21-12 despite some Cowboys assistant coach giving Russell Wilson a stiff-arm. Ezekiel Elliott returned but fell well short of the 200-yards rushing he reportedly predicted, Dak Prescott threw a pick-six that would have made Eli Manning wince, and Dez Bryant gave up a fumble to Byron Maxwell that the former-Eagle only went for because he had zero interest in trying to make a tackle.

The Seahawks D actually scored more touchdowns than the Cowboys on Sunday. In fact, someone on Twitter pointed out that since tearing his ACL, Wentz has literally thrown more touchdowns than Prescott (which feels like saying since Smarty Jones lost the Triple Crown, he’s been killing it with the mares). The final nail in the coffin came from the formerly-reliable Dan Bailey, who missed a pair of field goals in the final ten minutes that iced any chance Jason Garrett’s crew had of making a comeback. Ballgame over, season over, everybody wins.

Then, things got weird.

Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, who wishes he was as impactful as Brandon Graham, was seen yukking it up with Garrett after the game. If the Iggles do get eliminated from the playoffs in the coming weeks, and Doug Pederson is seen giggling with an opposing safety, you can bet I’ll be sending Jeffrey Lurie a sternly-written letter. I still hold a grudge against Asante Samuel for smiling after Arizona beat us in the 2008 NFC Championship game, and I KNOW I’m not the only one.

It was later revealed Thomas was telling Garrett to come and get him in free agency. This is hilarious for a number of reasons, the most notable being that Garrett has zero control over the Cowboys personnel decisions. It’s like going to the genius bar at an Apple store and asking for a pastrami on rye. You’re asking the wrong guy, bro. They don’t control that.

Then, speaking to the press afterwards, Dak Prescott (who now leads the league with four pick-six’s on the year) appeared to take a shot at Dez Bryant (who has had zero 100-yard receiving games this entire season, one less than Torrey Smith), and that may be the beginning of the end for Dez in Big D. You’ll likely hear rumblings about his departure throughout the offseason (but don’t count on it, Jones is loyal to a fault), however if Dez and Dak can’t figure it out in 2018, it could be the end-of-the-line for the Cowboys career leader in touchdown receptions.

Finally, Jerry Jones said this week that Garrett’s job is safe, despite calling him out publically more times than Donald Trump has done to Jeff Sessions (and that political reference is even funnier ‘cause Jones and Sessions sound alike). Having Garrett back could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you rate a career record of 66-53. It’s worth noting that Garrett’s .555 winning percentage is below the .562 of Wade Phillips (who was actually at .607 during his four years in Big D). But hey, maybe the eighth time's the charm for Jason Garrett.

So as the Cowboys go quietly into the night, I leave you with this fun stat from Sir Reuben Frank, because anytime we can get a Hoying shout-out, we should take advantage.

Positive Spin: There is no positive spin here, and it’s fantastic! The Cowboys treaded water through the Zeke suspension, only to drown once he returned. The franchise QB took a massive step back in year 2. The best wide receiver in franchise history appears to be on his way out. The top offensive lineman, still just 27 years old, may be breaking down physically*. The star linebacker, who has never played a full season his whole career, will be 32 at the start of next year*. Even the Pro Bowl kicker is now a question mark! I’m as excited about this Cowboys season as Carson Wentz is about fresh hunting gear. 
*Please note, I’m not excited because Cowboys players are hurt. I’m excited because plans the Cowboys have to be good at football appear to be backfiring. Nobody is rooting for injuries here, and I’d appreciate you leaving your “YOU JERK, I BET YOU BOOED SANTA CLAUS!” messages out of my Twitter feed.

Negative Spin: On top of it all, Jones appears to be getting slower in his old age. The guy who once forced out a two-time Super Bowl winning head coach has now stubbornly stuck with Garrett through seven (and a half) seasons, only two of which were over .500 and with just a single stinkin’ playoff victory. To put that in perspective, by Andy Reid’s seventh season in Philly, he’d already won seven playoff games (and lost his only Super Bowl). Even Richie Kotite won a playoff game. This guy is a joke.

But the jokes on Dallas, as long as Jones keeps him in charge. Here’s hoping the Cowboys owner keeps his trigger-finger light.

What’s Next: It’s hard to imagine an Eagles/Cowboys game at the Linc not meaning anything, so maybe that’s why Nick Foles looked so terrible on Monday Night; he wants the season finale to MEAN SOMETHING. With the Cowboys officially eliminated and the Birds having clinched home field advantage, the only good that can come out of Sunday’s game would be the Iggles offense clicking on all cylinders. Let's see if the Cowboys can deliver one more gift this 2017 season...

Mask-wearing pioneer Rip Hamilton has advice for Joel Embiid

Mask-wearing pioneer Rip Hamilton has advice for Joel Embiid

Detroit Pistons star Richard Hamilton wasn't the first player to wear a mask in the NBA but sometimes it feels like he was.

Newsweek caught up with Rip this week to talk about his mask-wearing days and to see if he had any words of wisdom for Joel Embiid. Hamilton first wore a mask for breaking his nose, but he continued to wear it for the remainder of his career.

Embiid made his first playoff appearance of his career last night in Miami while rocking a new mask complete with a custom visor to protect his eyes. It was clearly bothering him but he didn't let it dictate his play.

“It was difficult,” Embiid said of the mask. “But to me it wasn’t really about getting used to it because at the end of the day, no matter how much it bothers me, I’ve still got to be a basketball player."

Hamilton has famously said that he embraced the mask to the point of it becoming his "Batman cape" which allowed him to be more aggresive.

"Over a period of time I started to get used to it. As basketball players, a lot of times you go to the basket and it’s a lot of elbows being thrown, guys are getting poked in the eye," he told Newsweek this week. "You tend to clench up because you don’t want to get hit in the face. Once I started wearing that mask I wasn’t clenching up no more. I was willing to take contact more. I was able to get to the free throw line more because now I’m not scared of getting hit in the face. It kind of made me into a more aggressive and better basketball player."

Hamilton's message to Embiid prior to the series?

"Embrace it. Make it cool. Make it fun. Make it like a prop. Don’t get caught up in saying like, 'I got a piece of plastic on my face. I’m worrying about how I look, I’m worrying about my perception when I shoot.' When you’re out there in, like, shooting drills, don’t be so caught up in putting the mask on and trying to worry about how you shoot with it on. Put it on in the game and just wear it because our game is a non-thinking sport. React. You gotta read and react as quick as possible. The less thinking you do, the better you’ll be."

Rip also took notice of Embiid's frustration with the mask following the game. He encouraged Jo that it only gets easier.

I’ve thrown my mask off numerous times lil bro @joelembiid ...It will get more comfortable game by game ..Trust The Process. #MaskOnMaskOff#YouGotTheJuiceNow #Holdat #Yessir#Mask #TnT #nba #nbaplayoffs #sixers#sixersvsheat #LoveThisGame

Eagles players with the most to gain at OTAs — S Tre Sullivan

AP Images

Eagles players with the most to gain at OTAs — S Tre Sullivan

The Eagles don’t hit the practice field as a team for another five weeks, yet each year coaches point to players who distinguish themselves during the months of April and May. These are the players with the most to gain in phases one and two of OTAs.

There isn’t an unheralded prospect in better position to climb the Eagles’ depth chart this spring than Tre Sullivan.

Never mind the fact that vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas just got done lauding Sullivan’s performance in a pre-draft interview on Thursday. The 24-year-old also happens to be one of only four safeties on the Eagles roster for the time being, creating a huge opportunity for an undrafted free agent from Shepherd College.

Competition will come soon enough, as safety is an obvious target for the Eagles in the upcoming draft. Even then, Sullivan could find himself in the mix for a big role with a good spring.

Last season, Corey Graham was the Eagles’ third safety behind Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Graham, a free agent departure, wound up playing nearly 40 percent of the team’s snaps.

This isn’t merely a backup job. There’s serious playing time at stake – and Sullivan can get a jump on the competition.

Sullivan made a name for himself in last year’s preseason opener against the Packers with a vicious hit on wide receiver Malachi Dupre. It was a scary moment, as Dupre was knocked out by the collision, but also a clean play and an example of the defensive back’s physicality.

Sullivan forced a fumble on the hit and finished with four tackles. He would go on to acquit himself well in three other preseason games, eventually landing on the Eagles’ practice squad.

Listed at 6-foot-0, 200 pounds, Sullivan is a relatively average size for a safety, but plays downhill and hits like a truck.

The Eagles liked the instincts and aggressiveness they saw on the field. Now, Sullivan has a chance to work out and learn from coaches in an environment where there really aren’t any other young players right now and he can be the focus of a lot of attention. Phases one and two of OTAs and the two weeks before the draft in particular could be a pivotal period.

If Sullivan impresses during these early stages, it could go a long way toward solidifying his place with the team.

Even if Sullivan is bested for the third safety spot, he could still wind up on the 53-man roster. The Eagles may opt to carry five since Chris Maragos primarily plays on special teams.

Sullivan will likely enter training camp as a player who’s considered to be on the bubble, and what he does when the pads go on will be most important. However, if he showed up and really nailed these workouts, that could go a long way toward how the team views him heading into this summer.