Eagles

What Will Philly Sports Look Like by 2024's Leap Year?

The leap year, which happens once every four years, is a quirky construct. Sports, while fans take them very seriously for most of the year, are also quirky constructs.

With the latest Feb. 29 upon us, we decided to think about what Philly's sports world will look like when the next leap year rolls around. You will likely be a very different person, and your sports teams will have changed. It's a weird thing to think about, but also fun.

Here are nine questions we have, right now, about 2024:

How many days will be left on Bryce Harper's contract? (And how will we feel about it?)

By Feb. 29, 2024, the number of days remaining on Bryce Harper's contract will be down to 2,806. That's a lot of days. Harper will be 31, on the back end of his prime years.  Will Phillies fans still be as excited then as they were when Harper signed his mammoth, 13-year deal last February?

I think so. Harper took to Philadelphia immediately last year, and leaned into making himself one of us. He also, All-Star omission ignored, had a really good 2019, and will probably improve this season with a full spring training and no anxiety-inducing offseason still fresh in his mind. Baseball rewards patience, and so does Harper.

Who has the best chance to win a title in the next four years?

If you asked me this question back in August, I would've said the Eagles. If you asked me this question back in October, I would've said the Sixers. Right now, the Flyers are the best team in town, and the Phillies are one piece away from being yearly contenders. Who knows what'll change by 2024?

It'll be a close race, because all four major teams are currently exciting, but I'll say the Phillies. Harper is a stud, J.T. Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball, and the Phillies are a star third baseman (hello, Alec Bohm) and a consistent No. 3 pitcher (hello, Spencer Howard) away from being a contender. 

Baseball, with its plodding regular season and concise postseason, is a sport that rewards consistently good players, and the Phillies have the guys who should step up in big moments - like the World Series.

Will Claude Giroux still be the Flyers' captain?

This is tough. Giroux will be 36 years old in 2024, in the back half of his 17th NHL season. The NHL captaincy is such a delicate topic, because far be it from anyone to tell the face of the franchise that they should give up the "C", but sometimes it's the right move. 

You can refer to the Rod Brind'Amour-to-Eric Staal "C" change in 2010 on how to transfer the title to the next generation, although that one was facilitated by Carolina's struggles. I don't see the Flyers taking steps back in the next four years - in case you missed it, they're very good and very young - which might make it hard to ask Giroux to give up the title.

The conversation about the next captain probably starts with Travis Konecny and Sean Couturier, two young and productive forwards on the right side of 30 who seem to have the ears of the locker room. But it's entirely possible that the Flyers stay competitive for the next four years, and Giroux rolls into 2024 as the franchise's sage leader.

How many of the current coaches will still be employed?

Ah, coaches. From the #FireBrettBrown brigade to the Flyers' and Phillies' revolving doors - between the two teams, six full-time coaches/managers and an interim since the last leap year - it's almost a toss-up.

Barring some sort of monumental failure, I can't see Joe Girardi exiting stage right. He's a talented leader, a smart baseball mind, and he has the players in place to be competitive until 2024. Doug Pederson has a Super Bowl ring, something no other Eagles coach in history can say, which is a bit of a safeguard, though it's not a permanent protection: if the team can't piece together consistent regular seasons, he might eventually be on the rocks.

Alain Vigneault is on firm ground right now with his young, surging team, but it feels like Brown's time is approaching. I'll say Girardi, Pederson, and Vigneault are all here in 2024, but Brown isn't.

Will Carson Wentz still be viewed as a franchise QB?

Right now, for all his flaws and injuries, Eagles fans generally view Carson Wentz as the team's QB of the future. It's not really a question. He was incredible in 2017, and has flashed brilliance while struggling with consistency issues and incomplete supporting casts in the years since. 

The main question, really, is whether Wentz can become a consistently great quarterback, because nothing separates great QBs from fine QBs like consistency. Just ask Joe Flacco's career, or Matthew Stafford's career, or Cam Newton's career, or ... you get the idea.

I think Wentz has shown he can play a (nearly) full season of great football. Now, he needs help. If Howie Roseman can find a suitable WR1 for Wentz, he and the Eagles will make a run or two at a Super Bowl in the next four years, and this question will be a long-forgotten memory.

Of course, if he can't figure out how to make the easy throws ... it might get ugly by 2024.

Who has the best chance at a regular-season MVP?

Philly's sports teams have a lot of exceptional big-name players right now. The five most likely names to win their respective leagues' MVP awards, to my eye, are Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Bryce Harper, Carson Wentz, and Travis Konecny.

Embiid and Simmons, staggering talents, are both limited by one big thing: Embiid by nagging injuries, and Simmons by his jump shot. If either one goes away, these guys can put together MVP-worthy seasons as they enter their prime years between now and 2024.

Harper already has an MVP under his belt (2015) and, as he gets more comfortable with his new home, his decision to play in a friendly ballpark should pay off. His biggest challenge, frankly, will be the onslaught of young talent around the National League.

Wentz was already on pace for an MVP award in 2017 before he suffered a torn ACL late in the season, and his playmaking abilities put him at the top of any list when he's healthy and given wide receivers who can catch. If the Eagles can adequately fill out the roster, Wentz should be a threat every year.

Konecny feels like the longest shot here, but he has 22 goals and 57 total points in 60 games as a 22-year-old this year, which is insane, and it feels like he improves with each coming game. He might need an extra year or two, but the talent is clearly there.

Right now, give me Harper, but don't count out Embiid.

Which 5-year contract feels better in retrospect: Zack Wheeler or Tobias Harris?

Contract-watching has turned into its own sport in the last decade, as the internet age has helped negotiations become more and more transparent: lots of fans now watch players through the lenses of their contracts.

Tobias Harris's five-year max deal this offseason has been a nightly discussion since October. A poll of MLB execs ranked Zack Wheeler's five year, $115 million deal as the the offseason's third-worst signing. So... who comes out ahead by 2024?

My guess is Wheeler. Harris receiving a max contract doesn't just mean his performance will be evaluated based on his pay; it also means his money obstructs the Sixers from pursuing players because of the NBA's salary cap. In baseball, the luxury tax exists, but it's ignorable when teams want to win. The Phillies are entering a window during which ownership should (in theory) be willing to spend to win, and Wheeler's deal won't get in the way.

And, look: Harris isn't a bad player. He's good! But Philadelphia will probably never accept making him a max player, and it's hard to disagree.

Will Zach Ertz be viewed as the best Eagles TE ever? (And will he still be here?)

Plenty of Eagles fans probably already think Ertz is the best Eagles tight end ever, and he'll have a case soon, but Pete Retzlaff still holds the title for now. 

Retzlaff has 1,669 yards and 12 touchdowns on Ertz, and leads Ertz by 5.5 yards per reception, but Ertz already has 73 more receptions. They both have a championship to their name (Retzlaff in 1960, Ertz in 2017). It's going to be close.

The argument for Retzlaff is that he put up those insane receiving numbers in a run-first era, while Ertz is piling up volume stats in a pass-happy league. The argument for Ertz is that he's a walking mismatch, the prototypical receiving tight end leading the explosion of catch-first tight ends across the league, and he's going to finish his career with bigger numbers in every important volume stat.

I don't think Ertz will still be an Eagle by 2024 (look out, 2022 offseason) but I think he'll be regarded as the team's best ever. That is, until Dallas Goedert starts making his push.

Between the Union and the Fusion, which team will have a bigger following?

Let's end with a curveball: who grabs Philly's coveted (?) No. 5 spot? The Soul are out of the picture, gone too soon, which should leave the door wide open for the Union to keep growing their local influence.

But eSports are growing at an astronomical rate, and with the Fusion actually playing matches in Philadelphia (see story) instead of Chester, plus the impending opening of Fusion Arena in South Philly, it's not unreasonable to think the Overwatch League squad could grab hold of Philly sports fans' attention.

Okay, maybe it is. Because some sports fans will never call eSports actual sports. But the MLS is a far cry from the uber-popular Champions League-level soccer that has captured U.S. fans' attention, and while the Union are a fun and cool team, the interest has just never arrived.

Give me the Fusion, even though I know next to nothing about Overwatch, because the kids are the future.

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