Eagles' wide nine likely to follow Jason Babin out the door

Posted: November 28, 2012

The wide nine: January 2011-November 2012.

We gather here to pay our last respects to the worst idea in Philadelphia sports history since Gene Mauch pitched Jim Bunning and Chris Short on two days' rest.

The wide nine, in theory and even occasionally in execution, can be an effective way to stop an NFL offense. But Andy Reid's decision to base his entire defense on Jim Washburn's defensive line scheme and then expect an unqualified coordinator to run it with the wrong personnel was a failure of epic proportions.

There are many reasons the Eagles are 3-8 and Reid is a five-game slog from being fired. But the team's unraveling over the last two seasons can be traced back to his decision to hire Washburn away from the Titans and then prop up offensive line coach Juan Castillo as the coordinator responsible for making the dang thing look like an NFL defense.

It didn't work, in spectacularly bad fashion - like a mock turtleneck - and Castillo was fired last month. Todd Bowles was promoted in Castillo's place and the Eagles defense has gotten even worse.

And then on Tuesday, Mr. Wide Nine himself, defensive end Jason Babin, was unceremoniously released by Reid.

Washburn remained and so, too, will the wide nine for the time being. But it's only a matter of time before the whole nine-mare is over.

Washburn will follow Reid out the door and he'll take his wide nine to the next town, selling the idea as if he were some football-crazed version of The Music Man's Harold Hill.

So was there a smoking gun in Babin's release? He played 40 snaps on Monday night against the Carolina Panthers, second most among defensive ends. Surely the Eagles could have simply cut into his playing time if they wanted to phase him out.

The last time Reid disposed of a veteran player of such note in the middle of the season was in 2005 with Terrell Owens. The big-mouthed receiver had split the locker room, but Babin wasn't anywhere near as divisive.

He wasn't especially popular amongst the players, even within Washburn's circle of rogue linemen. Reid wished Babin well after he fired him, but the coach has a long history of parting with players he did not care for, although he usually waited until the offseason.

But this season is different for obvious reasons, and Reid may not have been the one calling the shots on this one. Reid cited the opportunity to play younger defensive ends such as Vinny Curry, who shined in his NFL debut, as reason for the move.

Reid won't be here next season, so that explanation holds little water. In truth, Babin just wasn't playing very well this season. His grating personality and base salary ($5.575 million) made the move that much easier.

But there was likely a little of general manager Howie Roseman and owner Jeffrey Lurie in this decision. They have to start thinking about next season, and Babin's release and the promotion of Curry will be the first of many roster moves from now until the draft.

The Eagles aren't exactly in a position to start dumping players right now. Nnamdi Asomugha would seem to fit the profile as next on the hot seat. The high-priced cornerback is earning $11 million this season, but the Eagles are on the hook for $4 million of his $15 million base salary next season.

If they release him, they run the risk of no one claiming him. They don't necessarily have a viable option if Asomugha goes, either. Curtis Marsh, another dubious pick from 2011 draft, has not had his name called on special teams for good reason.

The Eagles could let Washburn go without missing a beat. Babin was really the only lineman who thrived in the wide nine. Trent Cole used to be one of the best run-stopping defensive ends in the NFL. The scheme made him one-dimensional last year, no-dimensional this season.

Washburn cited last season's 50 sacks as proof that the wide nine worked. But those numbers were a fa├žade. The Eagles had neither the linebackers nor the safeties to handle additional run-gap responsibilities, and the defense was bipolar half the time.

Sacks were down this season, but the back seven - with upgrades at linebacker - was solid through the first six games. Then Castillo was fired and the scheme, already hanging by a thread, fell apart.

Reid wasn't 61/2 up with 12 to go like Mauch, but he had reached the playoffs in nine of the previous 11 seasons. Since Washburn's hiring, the Eagles are 11-16. The wide nine was dead on arrival.

Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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