A Defense of the Philadelphia Eagles' Personnel Moves

Bob Cunningham@BCunningham215Senior Analyst IMarch 11, 2009

The Philadelphia Eagles front office has caught a lot of heat this offseason, but is it all deserved?

Joe Banner, Andy Reid, Tom Heckert, and Howie Roseman have taken the heat before, but have always come out cooler than ever.

Will that be the case this year in an extremely emotional offseason?

Emotions aside, let's take a look at the departures from the Eagles' 2008 roster.

RT Jon Runyan, 35 years old, Starter

The Good:

I hold the highest respect and admiration for Jon Runyan. I believe Runyan may have been more important to the Eagles' success this decade than even Donovan McNabb.

Runyan set the example for all other linemen to play alongside him for the rest of his years here in Philly. He brought a certain attitude to the Eagles that they had been lacking.

He was mean, tough, and reliable. He was intelligent and always a catalyst along the line.

While Tra Thomas (who we'll get to later) was the first piece to turning around what was a revolving door for Philadelphia's offensive line, Runyan brought the attitude that Reid wanted.

The Bad:

Age. At 35, Runyan may have slowed down just a bit. While that may not be a big deal elsewhere, linemen have to be quick on their feet in the NFC East.

The pass rushers in Washington, Dallas, and especially New York are simply too fast and too talented for a lineman not to be at his best at all times.

The injuries to Runyan's knee and back are also cause for concern. A 35-year-old man of his size will have a tough time coming back from knee surgery at 100 percent.

Do I believe Runyan is done in this league? No. I still think he could play a couple more years. However, I do think the last remaining link to the Houston Oilers' best days are behind him.

LT Tra Thomas, 34 years old, Starter

The Good:

Thomas has always been extremely reliable during his career in Philadelphia. He has only missed eight games since coming into the league as a first round pick in 1998.

Thomas has always given McNabb piece of mind and was huge to his early success. It helps a young quarterback knowing that he'll never have to worry about his blind side with such a great player looking out for him.

Thomas is a three-time Pro Bowl player who has done more for this team than most. He's arguably the best left tackle the Eagles have ever seen and will always be remembered as a Philadelphia Eagle.

The Bad:

Like Runyan, Thomas seems to have lost a step or two.

Concerns with blood clots in his legs have prevented him from working on his footwork like he should have been, and that area has suffered.

For those who do not know, there are typically two types of linemen and, more specifically, left tackles.

1.  Those with good, quick feet who can get in front of the end OR

2.  Hip-benders. Typically, they don't have great feet but are long enough to get in front of an end by simply bending to his direction.

Thomas started his time in the league with quick feet and a fantastic ability to get in front of even the fastest ends.

Unfortunately, due to leg problems mentioned before, he has become more of a hip-bender and has therefore suffered against faster ends.

As he gets older, he will become slower; the ends he faces are only becoming faster.

FS Brian Dawkins, 36 years old, Starter

The Good:

There are no words to describe what this Clemson grad has meant to the city of Philadelphia and to the Eagles.

Not only will he be missed on the field because of his leadership, intensity, and the fear factor he caused opposing offenses, but also because of his work in the community.

He was the runner-up to this year's Walter Payton Man of the Year (Kurt Warner, QB, Arizona Cardinals) for his work in the city of Philadelphia.

Dawkins is a great football player on the field and will be missed from a talent standpoint.

However, his greatness on the field pales to the greatness he shows as a human being and as a mainstay in the Philadelphia community.

The Bad:

While we all loved Dawkins, the reality was that he was becoming a liability in the passing game.

He gave up two big plays against division rivals this year while allowing a touchdown reception by Terrell Owens in a Week Two game, a game decided by five points. The other was a pivotal touchdown reception to Plaxico Burress in a game with playoff implications.

Like older vets, Dawkins' speed began to suffer, and in a young man's game speed is essential.

L.J. Smith, 29 years old, Second String

The Good:

Smith had good chemistry with McNabb, which led to some decent years in Philly.

Smith was, for the most part, sure-handed when going up for the ball. He showed incredible potential and flashes of brilliance that had many believing he could grow into a top tier tight end in the NFL.

The Bad:

Smith was plagued with injuries during his stay with the Eagles. He constantly either missed vital games or his play suffered because of lingering injuries.

L.J. also fumbled the ball fairly often—too often. For every big play he had, he negated it with silly mental mistakes.

Smith has the talent, but seems to lack the work ethic.

Dawkins was once quoted as saying, "Flashes of brilliance simply mean you're not working hard enough."

While this was directed towards former Eagles' safety Clinton Hart (now of the San Diego Chargers), it holds true for a player like L.J. Smith.

S Sean Considine, 28 years old, Second String

The Good:

Considine was a starter here for a short time before losing his job to Quintin Mikell after an injury.

However, during his time as a starter, he played fairly well. He showed versatility in being able to play at the free and strong safety positions.

With the emergence of Mikell, Considine settled into a backup role while becoming a special teams standout.

He played very well on special teams, earning the praise of then-special teams coordinator Rory Segrest.

The Bad:

Considine had a tendency to get caught looking in the backfield, which led to giving up some big plays.

The biggest one came this year in Week Two against the Cowboys on Monday Night Football.


He got caught trying to read Romo's eyes while T.O. blazed past him, exposing Considine's weak execution of the Cover 2 defense.

In the end, Considine was no longer needed because of the play of rookie Quintin Demps, who took favor with defensive coordinator Jim Johnson in the latter half of the year.

RB Correll Buckhalter, 30 years old, Second String

The Good:

Buckhalter was underused by the Eagles in Reid's pass-first offense. However, when given a chance, he lit it up.

He is explosive into the hole and can make moves or plow someone over once he gets through. He's a tough runner, as made evident by his near five yard per carry average for his career.

He's an above average receiver out of the backfield and recently had career highs in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns this year while spelling Brian Westbrook.

In one start this year against San Francisco, Buckhalter had 18 attempts rushing for 93 yards, 5.2 per carry, and one touchdown to go along with seven receptions for 85 yards.

Impressive numbers for a guy who rarely gets a chance.

I see Buck as a 1,000-yard rusher next season in Denver if given the carries...and if he can stay healthy.

The Bad:

After a sensational rookie season, Buckhalter spent the next three of four seasons on the IR due to knee injuries.

Even this past season, with Westbrook hurt, Buckhalter could not stay healthy enough to play in his stead.

The knee injuries may linger and could cause concern for him going forward in his career.

CB Lito Sheppard, 28 years old, Third String, Left Via Trade to NYJ

The Good:

In his early years, Sheppard was a superstar.

He helped the Eagles, along with Sheldon Brown, seamlessly transition from two mainstays at the corner position in Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor.

He gave Eagles fans not one, but two 100+ yard interception returns for touchdowns against the Cowboys, and came up with a late interception against the Carolina Panthers in 2006 to springboard the Eagles into the playoffs.

Sheppard was a Pro Bowl talent who always seemed to come up with the big play.

The Bad:

As is the trend with most players the Eagles have sent packing, injuries were key.

Sheppard has been oft-injured, finishing only one complete season.

Recently, Sheppard's play had fallen due to injuries and his public unhappiness with his contract situation. This led to his demotion and the emergence of Joselio Hanson, whom the Eagles retained before free agency to the tune of a five-year contract.

In the end, Sheppard drove a wedge between himself and the Eagles, merely waiting to be traded elsewhere.

WR Greg Lewis, 29 years old, Fourth String, Left Via Trade to NE

The Good:

Lewis made the Eagles' roster in 2003 as an undrafted rookie free agent and quickly gained the respect of Andy Reid and the rest of the coaching staff.

He was a hard worker for the Eagles who, while he didn't play much, seemed to make the most of it when he did.

His career highlights came in a game against the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football when he caught a career-high two touchdowns in a single game.

He also made a catch that few die-hard Eagles fans will ever forget.

With under two minutes left in Super Bowl 39 against the New England Patriots and trailing by 10, Lewis went on a post into the end zone, catching a McNabb pass high in the air to bring the Eagles within three...a difference they proved unable to overcome.

Lewis also contributed heavily on special teams and was well-liked in the locker room.

The Bad:

There aren't many bad things to say about Lewis except that he simply wasn't as talented as other wide receivers in the NFL.

He was always fourth or fifth on the depth chart, but he always contributed in any way he could to help the team.

He was a hard-working guy for the Eagles who, frankly, wasn't all that talented.

As far as I'm concerned, he was this decade's Vince Papale.

Looking back on it, the Eagles are only losing three starters—three starters who are all between the ages of 34 and 36.

The Eagles have never been known for bringing in big time free agent guys, but are famous for knowing when to let go of a veteran player before his time runs out.

Signings of Stacy Andrews and Sean Jones will prove to be more significant than fans understand right now, and something tells me the Eagles have something up their sleeves.

They have 12 draft picks, but there isn't room for 12 players on this roster. The Eagles will get something out of them; what they will get is yet to be seen.

In all, the Eagles are returning nine starters on offense and 10 on defense; that's still a solid core group of guys for a team that seems to be headed toward a youth movement.

I look for the Eagles to pull off one more move, perhaps in the coming weeks or maybe not until the draft.

But even if they don't, Philadelphia will be in good position to see their football team succeed for years to come.

So, stay patient. We've gone through this before with the departure of guys like Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Jeremiah Trotter, Hugh Douglas, and so on.

The front office knows when it's time to let go and move on. Now is that time.

(However, with emotions in play, I'm real pissed to see Dawk in orange.)


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