|Eagles have to replace several familiar faces|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 11 March 2009 11:35|
You only need one hand to count.
Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Sheldon Brown, Quintin Mikell and David Akers are the only holdovers from the team that fell three points short against the New England Patriots.
Just a few weeks ago, that number was 11. But several familiar faces have left Philadelphia since the NFL's free agency period began Feb. 27.
Seven-time Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins (Denver) and three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tra Thomas (Jacksonville) signed elsewhere. Two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard (New York Jets) and wide receiver Greg Lewis (Patriots) were traded. Running back Correll Buckhalter, who was on injured reserve during the 2004 Super Bowl season, signed with the Broncos.
Right tackle Jon Runyan and tight end L.J. Smith are unrestricted free agents and neither is expected back. Meanwhile, the Eagles have brought in offensive lineman Stacy Andrews and safeties Sean Jones and Rashad Baker.
adelphia is this: Are the Eagles rebuilding after reaching the NFC championship game for the fifth time in eight years?
Management says no way. They're simply retooling, not overhauling the roster. With a few more tweaks, they expect the Eagles to compete for the Super Bowl next season.
``We're going to return a very high percentage of our starters again next year, which we've been doing consistently,'' team president Joe Banner said on WIP-AM radio last week.
Many fans aren't buying it. They're angry that Dawkins, one of the most beloved athletes to ever play in this city, isn't going to finish his career in Philadelphia. They wanted the Eagles to pursue T.J. Houshmandzadeh - he got zero interest from Philly and signed with Seattle - or trade for Anquan Boldin or another big-name receiver. They don't understand how the team can let its longtime bookend tackles go, leaving McNabb without two of his best blockers.
The front office isn't worried.
like to add some elements.''
Fans can be impatient, especially when it comes to the Eagles. This franchise has the longest championship drought - 49 years - of the city's four major pro sports teams.
But it's still too early to evaluate whether the Eagles had a successful offseason. While they've lost some key players, no one is irreplaceable.
The Eagles have 12 picks in next month's draft, including two first-rounders (21 and 28). They still have a ton of money under the salary cap, though the free-agent crop is thin. They can use some of those picks to trade up in the draft or trade for established veterans since money isn't a concern.
There's plenty of options and quite a bit of time left before training camp starts to put together a championship-caliber team.
Dawkins' value to the team was immeasurable because of his leadership. However, he's 35 and his skills have declined. Jones or second-year pro Quintin Demps could end up being an upgrade on the field.
``The good news is we had the third-ranked defense last year and we've lost Lito Sheppard and Brian Dawkins. Lito didn't play that much so really we lost Dawkins,'' Banner said. ``We're really excited about the defense. ... We have no illusions that somebody is going to step in and be Brian Dawkins, but we do believe we'll have another quality player step in.''
use Thomas and Runyan were fixtures the last 10 years. Shawn Andrews, a two-time Pro Bowl pick at right guard, could move to left tackle. Todd Herremans, the starting left guard, is another candidate to fill the void. Or, the Eagles might draft a left tackle with one of their two first-round picks.
It's more likely they'll choose a veteran over a rookie to protect McNabb's blind side.
Runyan also is an outstanding player and team leader. But he had knee surgery after the season and it's uncertain whether he can return at the same level.
Whoever ends up playing those positions will have to fill big shoes, but the Eagles aren't necessarily downgrading. Thomas is an aging player who generated little interest on the open market. Runyan won't have any suitors until he's healthy.
The Eagles have a history of letting quality veterans go - Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Duce Staley, Hugh Douglas - at the right time, and they've kept winning.