The Eagles are clearly taking advantage of an opportunity to clear up big salaries without a salary cap penalty. Whether fans like it or not, the old school depth is getting run out of town.
Brian Westbrook was the first player to go. He's an Eagles' legend that has been no less exciting than the best the NFL has ever had to offer. In the wake of two injury plagued seasons that diminished his 2009 play and all but erased his productivity in 2010, the Eagles made the youth move and freed up salary cap space.
To a sentimentalist like myself, that one stung a bit.
Will Witherspoon was next on the chopping block. His five million dollar bonus due was too much for the Eagles to swallow. Regardless of the sub-par play of his fill-in and injury-riddled comrades (which may have contributed to his poor late season play) the Eagles decided he was just not worth the investment.
Witherspoon appeared to be a solid depth player at the least.
Reggie Brown netted a sixth round draft pick from Tampa Bay. Having been a non-factor in the last two seasons, a sixth round draft pick may very well provide more than the exploits of Brown. It's not that he didn't have his moments, he just didn't have enough of them.
Brown may have been good competition for the fourth receiver position.
The Eagles also traded away Chris Clemons with a draft pick to acquire Darryl Tapp. Clemons had some success in the NFL and made a couple plays for the Eagles during his stay, but he had a fairly big contract tagged to minimal productivity in a marginal role.
Shawn Andrews was next, but that was no surprise. He hadn't seen the playing field for two years. Depression, a bad back, and most recently weight gain have reduced the once elite offensive lineman to an afterthought. His release had nothing to do with money and everything to do with struggles in dealing with his own demons.
Andrews had a relatively modest payday coming in 2010.
Defensive end, Darren Howard had a big paycheck coming again. The Eagles once thought he was the guy to make an impact at left defensive end. Since then, he has been relegated to a passing down specialist. He has been fairly productive lining up in the interior to apply pressure in passing situations, but Howard was no spring chicken and his contract was sizable for a marginally used player.
Kevin Curtis briefly provided fans with some excitement. He had the speed to break plays, but injuries slowed him down and rendered him absent in 2009. Curtis was no inexpensive stop-gap. He commanded a sizable paycheck.
As a fan, one may say, "Why would the Eagles release these veterans in an uncapped year?"
The answer is very simple—forward money.
The average fan doesn't appreciate the business side of football and we don't go into the offices and cheer for the receptionist (although she is very nice). Still, this is how teams are built, with young talent competing for positions with younger talent.
The Eagles are clearly doing something right when they can re-sign players like Jason Avant and Leonard Weaver below market rate (less than what other teams were offering them).
After fielding a roster that challenged the best teams in the NFL over the last decade, the Eagles enter a new decade with a fresh and youthful roster that looks good enough to go farther yet.
That's pretty impressive.
The offseason signings to date may not be as sexy as those from last season, but the Eagles have put themselves in a position that is financially equipped to acquire more young talent.
More importantly, their new financial position is enabling their means to retain their young players when the salary cap and new contract talks come back around.
Still, they haven't just cleared salaries as it may seem.
To much scrutiny, the Eagles have brought in some interesting young players. If one of the new acquisitions pay off, it will seem like genius. Marlin Jackson, Mike Bell, and Darryll Tapp have all shown a flash of something special in their football journey and they are all young enough to step it up a level.
As I see it, the Eagles have addressed several needs in some part, leaving only linebacker and offensive line in need of a touch-up. If that remains the same on draft day, we may see the Eagles draft a first day linebacker, possibly even in the first round (Reid has never done that before).
Either way, the Eagles are now less dependent on the draft to fill a need and can more comfortably select the best player available—more so than before.
The only players left of a significantly down-sided age are Donovan McNabb, Sheldon Brown, and Quintin Mikkel. Brown and Mikkel do not have suitable replacements on the current roster.
The big questions are:
1. Will the Eagles use this budget surplus to land a player that will make an impact in 2010?
2. Who, when, and how will the Eagles acquire more talent to improve from last season?
3. Can the Eagles find a buyer for one of their veteran quarterbacks?
Prior to this recent run of action, the Eagles were looking for three or four veteran free agents to make an 80-man roster for training camp. Now they are going to have to dig deep to find another young player with upside and they absolutely need to add some cheap veteran depth to the linebackers.
A formerly valued group of veterans has been discharged and a thin group of top tier free agent stars have been ignored. But the down trodden feeling left in the pit of the Eagles fans' stomach will dissipate upon realizing that these moves will help ensure the longevity of the Philadelphia Eagles' success with it's current players.
Things are starting to happen now, so let's see where this goes.
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