Understand how this works, folks, please. As I write this -- and I am compelled to do so because I know there are so many Eagles fans who want to know what is going on -- nothing is official in free-agent land. We know this: Stacy Andrews is in town and hopefully will sign a contract with the team on Saturday morning pending physical exams and such. We know that several of the half-dozen Eagles unrestricted free agents found the market to be friendly on the first day of open shopping.
At the top of the list, of course, is safety Brian Dawkins. Reports say that Dawkins and the Denver Broncos have agreed to terms on a two-year contract, a stunning development for Eagles fans who never believed, not for a second, that Dawkins would be anywhere other than Philadelphia for the duration of his career. But, if the reports are true, Dawkins will likely finish as a Bronco.
The Eagles will explain this all, but, you know, the fans live in the now. The fans feel the emotion, and that emotion right now is filled with pain and disappointment that Dawkins, if the reports are true, won't be around to cheer for in 2009. It is an unceremonious way to go, and it is likely similar to what fans in Indianapolis feel about Marvin Harrison, and about what the fans in San Francisco felt about Joe Montana and Jerry Rice and about what the Packers fans felt last year about Brett Favre playing the season with the Jets.
This is a football business, though. And the Eagles were willing to let Dawkins go if he found an offer that he preferred, which he apparently did. We will take days and weeks to allow this to sink in.
Without Dawkins, the Eagles must hope that second-year man Quintin Demps is ready to be a starter. They will bring in another player, I'm sure, and that player will have to learn a difficult system and try to assimilate very quickly into what Jim Johnson likes to do with his safeties.
Dawkins is such an emotional player, such a pump-it-up player, and the Eagles will have to fill that void, too. I have no answers. I'm just sitting here, slightly in shock that Dawkins is leaving, but also very much understanding that this has happened before. Great players don't last forever. Great players too often can't dictate the terms of when they can leave.
And football teams have to do what they think is right for the product on the field. Dawkins, in his 13th season as an Eagle, made his seventh Pro Bowl in 2008. He made big plays, most of them at the line of scrimmage as Johnson used him in blitzing situations to take advantage of his timing and his guile. Demps is still a young player, raw and athletic and known as a ball hawk. He showed glimpses of being a really fine player in his rookie season and the Eagles have had him earmarked as a starter since last summer.
Hey, I don't know what is going to happen at free safety. Losing Dawkins is too fresh a wound to think logically for me. The coaches, you better believe it, have thought this through. And understand this: The Eagles have never lost a player they felt was indispensible. The Eagles could have kept Dawkins if they felt he could not be replaced. But this is the NFL, and everybody can be replaced.
The other unconfirmed report late on Friday night is that the Eagles will trade cornerback Lito Sheppard to the Jets for a fifth-round draft pick in 2009 and a conditional draft pick in 2010 that ranges from a fourth-round pick to a second-round pick, depending on Sheppard's play with New York. If that is true, if those reports are accurate, the Eagles got quite a bit for a player who simply did not contribute last season. The Eagles hoped he would give the defense three starting-caliber cornerbacks after the signing of Asante Samuel, but Sheppard's shaky play earned him a step down on the depth chart as Joselio Hanson emerged as a fine nickel cornerback.
All of the late-night reports overshadowed the big move of potentially acquiring Andrews, who went through a battery of physical tests upon his arrival in Philadelphia on Friday and likely has more tests ahead of him on Saturday. Andrews suffered a serious knee injury in the 15th game of Cincinnati's season in 2008, but the expectations -- according to reports -- is that Andrews will be OK to play in training camp this year. We will see on that one.
If Andrews builds on his performance in Cincinnati, the Eagles will have themselves quite a player at right tackle. He was given a franchise tag by the Bengals a year ago and is seen as a player with his best days in front of him. He could team up with younger brother Shawn and give the Eagles a massive, incredibly athletic right side of the line of scrimmage.
Again, nothing is official on Andrews. He hasn't signed a contract. He is here for a visit. The Eagles are, clearly, very much interested in him and the feeling is mutual. A lot of teams wanted Andrews last year and just as many wanted him this year. The Eagles may have made a terrific move here, if everything goes smoothly on Saturday.
Other Eagles unrestricted free agents are on the move, too. Running back Correll Buckhalter is now a Bronco. Sean Considine is now in Jacksonville. L.J. Smith has interest from Atlanta and other cities. Tra Thomas has not been heard from, and he remains a possibility to return. Or not. Who knows anymore? Jon Runyan is recovering from knee surgery and would seem to be a long, longshot to return if Andrews becomes an Eagle.
It was an incredible day on Friday. Very emotional for everyone. Highs and lows. That's the way it is going to be. Lots of twists and turns, and if I repeating myself, excuse me. Sorry. Lots of writing going on. Lots of things running through my mind. Memories. Emotions. A sense of wondering just where the Eagles are taking this off-season.
I am convinced, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the Eagles are going to have an outstanding team this year. They have a good team already, and if Andrews jumps on board, they will be that much better on offense. They have to get a running back to upgrade over Buckhalter, they have to figure out what is going on at left tackle, they need another tight end to go along with Brent Celek. They have the daily wide receiver questions, naturally.
On defense, the safety position is suddenly thin. Cornerback could use another piece, although second-year man Jack Ikegwuono is a prospect worth keeping an eye on.
All of a sudden, you look around and there is no Dawkins, no Buckhalter, no Smith, no Runyan, maybe no Thomas. There is very little age here. The Eagles are young and talented. Yeah, they have holes. They have answers to provide. And they have a long way to go before everything is finalized here as we hope to keep up with the action, official or otherwise.