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News » Trying to stay competitive may cost Eagles

Trying to stay competitive may cost Eagles

Trying to stay competitive may cost Eagles
BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Eagles coach Andy Reid really doesn't like discussing contract headaches, although he grudgingly accepts them as a part of NFL life.

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"Every team seems to have something like we're going through," Reid said. "You just can't let it consume you."

Philadelphia made a dramatic move in the offseason when it signed New England cornerback Asante Samuel (his six-year contract will pay him $29 million over the next three years) in order to give the defense more options against the Cowboys and Giants in the highly-competitive NFC East. Samuel's contract typifies the price of doing business in the NFL, but it also went against the grain of how the Eagles negotiate with their own players. Eagles executive Joe Banner and Reid prefer to designate gifted young players and offer them long-term deals before their first contract expires, which tend to offer both the team and the player some sense of security and stability.

"Every team in this league has their own philosophy," said safety Brian Dawkins, who is entering his 13th and potentially final season with the Eagles. "Our team picks and chooses and most of the deals have been smart business deals (from the team's perspective). They came to me when I signed my second contract, and it came before I was a Pro Bowl player. My nice deal was my third contract. I signed that when I was 30 and that usually is not the case around here."

The Samuel contract has caused problems. Brian Westbrook, possibly the most valuable Eagle of all, wants a huge raise. Lito Sheppard, who plays the same position as Samuel, was one of those designated young players. Sheppard accepted an $8.7 million signing bonus in 2004, but now he can't see himself playing for Philadelphia for the next four years for basically $13 million in total base salaries. He wants a raise or he wants out!

"Nobody really saw salaries jumping the way they have," Dawkins said. "A lot of agents didn't anticipate it, either, and that's who players have to count on. There has been an explosion of big-money contracts in the last year or so."

To give you an example of how other teams operate, consider the Patriots, winners of three Super Bowls in this decade. They have been a dominant team and through the years they have allowed three great secondary players to leave: Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy and now Samuel.

Dawkins believes Sheppard will play this season even without a new deal. "I have always told young guys to do what's best for you at the time," Dawkins said. But in Sheppard's case, he feels his deal has backfired on him. He came up with a new word this past week; he says he is "disappreciated" by the Eagles.

Sheppard's new agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has been talking with Banner and Reid, hoping to get some new money because no team seems to have been interested in making a trade with Philadelphia since Samuel arrived in March. Now, Samuel has his second hamstring injury and camp just entered its third day. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's dream has been to play a nickel scheme with three cornerbacks —Samuel, Sheppard and Sheldon Brown — with Dawkins.

There is no better defensive schemer than Johnson, who is excited about his secondary depth, plus the addition of three relatively young linebackers who are all big and fast. Omar Gaither, the veteran of the group, started as a weak-side linebacker as a rookie before moving into the middle last season. He has returned to the outside in order that Stewart Bradley, who physically looks a little like a younger Brian Urlacher, can play the middle. Chris Gocong, a former college defensive end, will play the other outside linebacker spot. He will also be used as a situational rusher.

"This may be the best young group of linebackers I have ever had," Johnson said. "I'm pretty excited about what we can do on defense with them because they are all so athletic while also being pretty smart players. I mean, Gocong has an engineering degree."

All three linebackers are in the 250-pound range, something Johnson and the Eagles haven't always had. They tended to have one big dog like Jeremiah Trotter and then quick, undersized outside backers who could run. But physically some of those players wore down late in the season. Granted, this young trio doesn't have the experience of a player like Trotter, but Johnson believes they have the size and spirit to be very productive on the field.

Remember, the Eagles face three very physical running backs in the division: Clinton Portis of the Redskins; Marion Barber of the Cowboys; and Brandon Jacobs of the Giants.I asked Gaither what was best way to tackle Jacobs.

"With all 11 guys," Gaither said, laughing. "That guy is a freak. He's as big as some defensive linemen. I mean you hear stories about Christian Okoye and how big and strong he was, but Jacobs has more moves than Okoye had. He's nifty and quick besides being so big."

If Samuel can stay healthy and Sheppard's contract issues can be resolved, the Eagles feel very good about their defense. "I'll leave the scheming up to coach Johnson," Gaither said, "but you know he's got to be thinking all the time of what we should be able to do.""Everyone talks about how smart we are, but you can't be thinking out on the field all the time," Gocong said. "You have to be instinctive and just play. That's where we're trying to be."

Dawkins sees the potential, believing that his front four has the ability to stuff the run while applying enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

"I can't say this is potentially the best defense I've played on," Dawkins said. "We've had some great defenses here through my years. I like a lot of the new players, and I know coach Johnson is going to put us in some elaborate schemes. The bottom line is that I'd really like to win this season. Go to a Super Bowl and win it."

Dawkins missed six games last season, five with a neck injury. When the season ended, he went to the weight room and started to rebuild his body like he was becoming a body builder. He appears to be in great shape without losing a step or his flexibility."This could be my last season here," Dawkins said. "I've always said when the time comes, I want it to be one of the hardest decisions (the Eagles) ever have to make."

Pay him for a 14th season or get rid of him.

Dawkins will be 35 this year.

"I'll leave this game when I have to start cheating on my coverages or when I can't cover the deep pass anymore," he said. "My goal is for them not to have to worry about the free safety position. That I have it under control and allow them to worry about some other position."

For right now, the Eagles' only worry seems to be cornerback and how to keep Westbrook happy.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: July 29, 2008

Todd Herremans Name: Todd Herremans
Position: OG
Age: 25
Experience: 4 years
College: Saginaw Valley
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