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This has been a remarkable year in Philadelphia sports, as most of the professional teams are going from also-rans to title contenders seemingly all at once. For some, that transition has gone faster than others. The Eagles had a meteoric rise in 2017. The Sixers went from NBA bottom-feeders to playoff contenders, while the Phillies are at a critical point in their rebuilding process. The Union and Flyers seem to be more mired in mediocrity, though young players on both rosters make the future look bright.
No team in Philly, of course, is as successful as the Philadelphia Soul. The back-to-back champs have been the toast of the town for two years. And, sure, there are only six teams in the Arena Football League, but hey, a trophy is a trophy. Titletown!
And so, with all apologies to the braintrust in charge of the Soul, we took a look at the five men tasked with managing the rosters, coaching staffs and, in many ways, expectations of the professional teams in Philly.
Which GM had the best year in 2017? Here’s our ranking.
5. Earnie Stewart, Union
- Official title: Sporting Director
- Hired: October 2015 (Started January 2016)
- 2017 record: 11-14-9 in MLS, 1-1 in US Open Cup
- Signed Giliano Wijnaldum on a free transfer;
- Signed Oguchi Onyewu on a free;
- Signed Haris Medunjanin from Maccabi Tel Aviv;
- Signed Fafa Picault on a free;
- Declined options on Wijnaldum, Roland Alberg, Maurice Edu, Chris Pontius and Charlie Davies after the season;
- Brian Carroll retired;
- Re-signed Fabian Herbers, Fabinho and Ilsinho in December.
The Union are at a crossroads this coming season under Stewart’s leadership as sporting director. Much was made about the team’s new direction when he was hired, but they missed the playoffs again this past season — despite the most home wins in franchise history — and the roster was old, injured and uninspired. This is what happens when you fill an MLS roster with big names in hopes of getting people in the seats. The Philadelphia soccer fans are too smart for that, which is why most of those older notables are gone now.
That said, the Union opted to bring back several players in their 30s and have a weird roster of both youth and experience that, again, could take time to mesh. It doesn’t feel like the Union are done their moves this offseason, so the 2018 roster could be drastically different than it is now. What’s clear, though, is that the 2017 squad wasn’t good enough.
Not all of that can be dumped on Stewart. He’s shown faith in coach Jim Curtin despite the fanbase having lost theirs. But the ownership group, led by Jay Sugarman, doesn’t seem to have the dedication to success that other MLS owners have shown. That’s a polite way of saying he’s been cheap, and the value-based moves the team has made haven’t worked out.
At a time when TV rights fees have increased and new teams paying $150 million to join the league, this MLS 3.0 boom is going to leave teams like the Union in the dust if they continue to operate the way they have been.
4. Ron Hextall, Flyers
- Official title: Executive Vice President & General Manager, Alternate Governor
- Hired: May 7, 2014
- 2017 record: 19-19-6 last season; 15-13-8 as of Dec. 25 this season; 34-32-14 overall.
- Traded Mark Streit;
- Re-signed Michal Neuvirth to multi-year contract;
- Signed Shayne Gostisbehere to six-year contract extension;
- Signed G Brian Elliott;
- Drafted Nolan Patrick and Morgan Frost in the first round of the NHL Draft;
- Traded Brayden Schenn for two first-round picks and Jori Lehtera.
The Flyers missed the playoffs last season and got through Christmas in last place in the Metro division. Hextall is turning the Flyers roster over — Trust the Process, on ice — but fans have been frustrated for what feels like years about the stagnant nature of the roster, and the team’s lack of success.
Hextall recently had to come to the defense of head coach Dave Hakstol while the Flyers were mired in a double-digit losing streak that bled into December. The team has rebounded well in the last week, but the confidence in this staff has waned.
As of now, the Flyers are just mediocre. Hextall has brought in and called up some exciting young players, so it could take time for future success to manifest. There’s excitement around Patrick, injuries aside, so the future is bright. Plus, with seven wins in the last 10 (as of Christmas) they’re back on pace to fight for a playoff spot this season, which makes the push to end the year on an uptick a good sign.
3. Matt Klentak, Phillies
- Official title: Vice President & General Manager
- Hired: Oct. 28, 2015
- 2017 record: 66-96
- Called up Nick Williams, Rhys Hoskins and JP Crawford;
- Drafted Virginia outfielder Adam Haseley No. 8 overall;
- Hired Gabe Kapler as manager;
- Traded Freddy Galvis;
- Signed Carlos Santana to 3-year deal in December.
If the expression is you can’t judge a book by its cover, then it would still be unfair to judge the story of the Phillies rebuild under Klentak by just the first two chapters. And yet, with the signing of Carlos Santana, some baseball pundits are calling the Phillies rebuild over. It’s time to start winning again.
Having said that, it’s unlikely anyone will look at the 2018 Phillies roster and think Klentak’s rebuild is anywhere near complete. The Phillies should be better next season, but it’s all building to 2019 and 2020, and the Phillies seem smartly willing to wait out an overpriced market to find roster-building value. There’s still time for the Phillies to make a splash in 2017 — the team is in desperate need of starting pitching — and with Santana coming to play first base and Rhys Hoskins moving to left field, a young outfielder is probably available via trade.
For now, the Phillies are wait-and-see for 2018, with a lot of Klentak’s trust going to Kapler to steward the Phillies into this next phase. As for the job Klentak did in 2017, it was solid. He brought in low-cost players like Howie Kendrick to flip for prospects. That said, the Clay Buchholz signing was a disaster. Klentak also extended manager Pete Mackanin before removing him a few months later for a job in the front office, which was odd. But none of his moves have hurt the team’s longterm rebuild progress, as he set the franchise up well for the near future.
Currently the Phillies’ entire roster outside of Santana, recently re-acquired Pat Neshek and Odubel Herrera are either arbitration eligible (and under team control for the next three years) or in pre-arbitration. All that’s to say this team is young and cheap and in position to make a splash. Soon.
2. Bryan Colangelo, Sixers
- Official title: President, Basketball Operations
- Hired: April 2016
- 2017 record: 20-30 last season; 15-18 as of December 26 this season; 35-48 overall.
- Traded Ersan Ilyasova and Nerlens Noel in February;
- Traded No. 3 pick and a future first-round pick to move up to No. 1;
- Drafted Markelle Fultz;
- Signed Furkan Korkmaz;
- Signed free agents Amir Johnson and JJ Redick;
- Signed Joel Embiid to 5-year, $148 million contract extension;
- Signed Robert Covington to a 4-year, $62 million contract extension;
- Traded Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas to the Nets for Trevor Booker.
This has been a fascinating year for the Sixers as Colangelo continues to pull the franchise out of The Process era of tanking to win and into The Process era of, you know, actually winning.
He could be first in our ranking if only because he was finally able to get rid of Okafor and didn’t have to settle for cutting him or getting a late second-round pick. No, Booker isn’t making any All-Star teams, but he’s a solid veteran at a position of need. And Stauskas had fallen out of Brett Brown’s rotation, so adding him to get that deal done won’t hurt the Sixers.
Fultz’s absence has, however. And while it’s not fair to blame another injury to a prominent Sixer on Colangelo, the manner in which the team discloses those injuries hasn’t instilled very much trust.
Johnson has been a solid addition and the team probably overpaid for Redick but certainly needed a shooter to put them into an upper-echelon of NBA teams. So Colangelo’s moves thus far in 2017 have been good. And yet the Sixers are close to ending 2017 on one of the worst runs of The Process era, even back to when they were trying to lose.
Locking up Embiid was a signature move, as he and Ben Simmons will form the core of this team for the next decade. But Colangelo’s legacy in Philly, and certainly how we look back on 2017, all comes down to what Fultz becomes as a pro, and if moving up to No. 1 was worth it.
1. Howie Roseman, Eagles
- Official title: Executive Vice President of Football Operations
- Hired: Began with the Eagles in 2000, became GM in 2010, took over again in 2016
- 2017 record: 14-2 (with 1 game to play in 2017 season)
- Released Connor Barwin;
- Signed Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery;
- Signed Nick Foles;
- Signed Chris Long and Patrick Robinson;
- Traded for Timmy Jernigan;
- Drafted Derek Barnett, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas and Mack Hollins and signed Corey Clement;
- Signed LeGarrette Blount;
- Traded Jordan Matthews for Ronaldy Darby;
- Signed Jake Elliott;
- Traded for Jay Ajayi;
- Signed long-term extensions with Jeffery and Jernigan.
2017 has been the busiest calendar year in the Howie Roseman era. Look at that list of transactions, and know that those are just the notable ones! In his second full season back in charge of the roster after the Chip Kelly debacle, Roseman and his personnel staff, led by Joe Douglas, have shaped the Eagles roster into a title contender this year, and for years to come. Add in the amazing NFL Draft experience in Philly this season and 2017 has to be considered one of the best non-Super Bowl calendar years in Eagles history.
It began with a win over Dallas in last season’s finale, and this season could end with the same result against the Cowboys on the year’s final day. The Eagles clinched home field advantage in the playoffs with a game still to play in 2017. They have the best record in football, a dominant — at times — defense and one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. Certainly health is an issue for any team, but it’s hard to blame Roseman for that. If anything, his ability to construct a roster that has been able to withstand season-ending injuries to Darren Sproles, Jason Peters and Jordan Hicks is remarkable. And while there is no replacing Carson Wentz, Nick Foles led a comeback win over the Rams and is 2-0 as a starter this season.
Overall, it’s hard to think of a general manager or front office executive who had a better year than Roseman. Not just in Philly, but in the entire country.