Plan B free agency is about one thing: m-o-n-e-y. Brooks did not work out and subject himself to physicals in Philly, Buffalo, Minnesota and Cleveland
because he wanted to stay close to home and compete with Browns starter Kevin Mack for playing time next season.
He did it to sell his outside speed, tremendous work habits and considerable skills - yes, skills on the decline at his age - to the highest bidder.
The Eagles, sources told the Daily News last night, were not even a close runner-up opposite the $1.4 million, one-year package that Brooks formally agreed to yesterday in Cleveland.
Harry Gamble, Eagles president, said the club just was not prepared to go crazy trying to meet the exorbitant asking price for the 33-year-old, four- time Pro Bowl running back.
Apparently, owner Norman Braman's season-ending vow to "do whatever it takes" did not apply here. (It's early).
"Obviously, he could've helped us or we wouldn't have been involved," Gamble said from the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix. "But in determining the value of any player, you have to draw the line somewhere, based on the return you think is possible.
"I thought we made a very fair offer, but as I said before, I was not going to get into a bidding war for James Brooks, an experienced guy, but one who's been around a while, and who may have or may not have been what we were looking for. It just reached a point where to go any further would not have made a lot of sense."
Neither Braman nor Eagles head coach Rich Kotite returned phone calls last evening from Phoenix.
Broken down, sources said Brooks's new deal will earn him $1 million in base salary ($875,000) and signing bonus ($125,000), with the potential for $400,000 more for leading Cleveland in rushing. The base is identical to that of Mack's, the Browns' leading rusher, with whom Brooks will compete. Mack has the same $400,000 bonus written into his contract, which should make that competition on Lake Erie interesting.
The Eagles, sources said, were "several hundred thousand dollars" shy of the Cleveland offer.
Brooks, in a teleconference yesterday, said that unlike the Browns, the Eagles never made him feel like a man on their Most Wanted List.
"Cleveland showed they really wanted me," Brooks said. "Cleveland said they needed me, and I think Philly just didn't try hard enough. They never talked about me being the guy to get them over the top or making a big difference. I just never felt like they really wanted me."
Brooks, the Eagles responded, must have bad ears or bad eyes, failing to see that James Joseph, a seventh-round rookie, led a 19th-ranked rushing attack last year with 414 yards.
Even Jim Ferraro, Brooks's agent, disputed Brooks's comment.
"I wouldn't say that," he said. "The Eagles made it clear to us that James would be a vital part of their offense. They always talked Byars-Brooks, Byars-Brooks, so we knew James would have had the opportunity there that he wanted.
"Philadelphia just didn't make as serious an offer as Cleveland. The Cleveland offer was clearly enough of a difference financially from what the Eagles were offering that it just didn't make sense for us not to go to Cleveland.
"The Eagles are running their business and they made it clear that they had made a decision that they were only going to spend 'X' amount of money on Plan B and 'X' dollars for James Brooks."
Though the Eagles are big proponents of incentive packages, talks with Ferraro never progressed to the sweetening stage, sources said.
The loss of Brooks and Bruce Reimers, the former Bengals starter at left guard who signed with Tampa Bay, leaves the Eagles scrambling to fill their most glaring needs. The club, after outbidding Tampa Bay, actually was more disappointed to see Reimers go elsewhere, because head coach Rich Kotite and management view the offensive line as the No. 1 area that needs addressing.
The Eagles are left negotiating with Tampa Bay's 27-year-old John Bruhin, a 6-3, 285-pound right guard, who was a backup and part-time starter; and the San Diego Chargers' Frank Cornish, a 6-4, 285-pound center, who also has played guard. The Eagles think Bruhin could be a starter at right guard, which would prompt the move of second-year man Rob Selby to the left side, where he played at the end of last season. Neither Bruhin nor Cornish are anywhere near the class of Reimers, the most coveted Eagles Plan B free agent, who will be rejoining his former coach, Sam Wyche, in Tampa Bay.
The only other Plan B running back who has sparked Eagles interest is unknown Detroit Lions reserve Don Overton, a 6-foot, 221-pounder who was cut by the New England Patriots and signed as a Detroit free agent last year. Whooooo?
The Eagles no longer have any interest in Pittsburgh free agent running back Warren Williams, who appears headed back to the Steelers.
The Eagles, if serious about filling holes with dependable veterans, will have to do so via the trade route, most likely for a package of draft picks or a veteran and picks.
"We're not considering trading any one of our players at this time," Gamble said. "Before the draft, the day of the draft, you don't know what can happen, but we're not interested in trading any of our front-line players. We've got a second rounder, a third and two fourths, and what we would do with those depends on the player and the circumstances.
"But we'll explore every option available aimed at improving the football club."