Eagles' silence is about to be shattered

Posted: July 18, 2011

It's a shame, really. This NFL labor war will apparently end before any really serious collateral damage is inflicted or any unexpected positives develop. That's good news if you're just looking forward to football season starting on time, but it's a bit disappointing for those of us who imagined Andy Reid trying to drive his frigate-sized SUV past (through? over?) a picket line of his players on Pattison Avenue.

Once upon a time, the Buddy Ryan-coached Eagles became a unified team because of strong leadership through the 1987 strike. Then, it seemed as if Philadelphia was at the center of things. In this spat among lawyers, you haven't heard a peep from the Eagles. Not from owner Jeff Lurie and not from any of the players.

The leaders are elsewhere. Jerry Jones and Bob Kraft and other owners are getting out of limos at the negotiating sessions. Drew Brees and Tom Brady are out front for the players. You only hear from the Eagles when Michael Vick gets a new endorsement deal or DeSean Jackson says something stupid.

In the great labor war of 2011, the Eagles are sidelined with flat feet.

That may turn out not to matter if, as expected, the whole thing fizzles out this week. For all the chest pounding, courtroom posturing, tweeting, gag orders and cameo appearances by various judges, there will be training camp and preseason games and a full season.

Fans will suffer only a minor annoyance, especially since this could have been done a year ago. Only ego and the need to create a deadline prevented that.

Seven years ago, the National Hockey League shut down for an entire year. That was a labor war. When it was over, the new roster and salary-cap rules forced teams to shake up their teams in a flurry of trades and signings. Fans who swore they'd never watch another NHL game were dazzled by the shiny objects and immediately forgot why they were angry.

The NFL seems poised to follow that example. If this new collective-bargaining agreement is approved by players and owners this week, there will be a day or two for everyone to study the rules. Then the free-agent bazaar will open and teams can rush through, haggling on a cornerback here and bidding on a running back there. For those fans who TiVo the NFL Network's scouting combine feed and spend weeks preparing to watch the draft, this compressed offseason will be more fun than watching the actual games.

The long dormant Eagles can ill afford to sit out this part of the process. Indeed, they have helped foster the public belief that they are going to crash the bazaar, waving a huge wad of bills around.

Nnamdi Asomugah? Sure. Reggie Bush? Sounds good. Albert Haynesworth? New defensive line coach Jim Washburn can flip the switch that turns his apathy into effort. Plaxico Burress? He can improve Reid's recidivism rate and red-zone percentages. Vince Young to replace Kevin Kolb as the No. 2 QB? Why not Steve Young?

The Eagles are unlikely to come home with every name on the wish list. But they do have some serious work to do. By going to Vick as his starting quarterback, Reid sacrificed any slack he might have had with the developing Kolb. The coach and the team are, and should be, back to the Pass/Fail status that prevailed during Donovan McNabb's last seven seasons.

Reid changed defensive coordinators after last year ended with another Fail. He is now obliged to give Juan Castillo some talent to work with. A legitimate starting cornerback, at least one impact defensive lineman and some security at safety aren't options. They're basic necessities if Castillo is going to have a chance.

The Eagles, like most relatively smart teams, prefer to build through the draft and use free agency only when exceptional players become available or a hole must be plugged. They are in the position of having to plug so many holes, though, precisely because they haven't drafted well enough on the defensive side. The defense that collapsed last year was the product of a decade of Reid's personnel decisions.

With Vick in his prime and a potentially explosive offense, this is the perfect time for a spending spree that shores up the defense. The Eagles time is now, which is why the Eagles must move Kolb if they're able to get any kind of value. He won't be a promising young man for much longer and a reliable backup can be found somewhere in the bazaar.

While other teams have been active in the process of ending the lockout, the Eagles say they have been quietly preparing to spring into action when it counts. It's the dead of summer, but spring time is almost here.

Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his past columns at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.


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