He was unlike anything the Eagles had along the offensive line in years and years and years. All of that size, that strength, the incredible feet and the athletic ability of a linebacker. Shawn Andrews was a phenom, and his talents were quickly recognized around the league. How Andrews went from Pro Bowl regular, one of the best offensive linemen in the league, to a player released in a brief, team-issued statement is sad, remarkable and a reminder that things change very, very quickly in the National Football League.
Starting from the end and tracing to the beginning of his career, Andrews' story is a downer. How does a player go from the very top of his profession, making all of that money, to now a still-young man out of a job? The troubles with his back certainly had a lot to do with Andrews' descent, but they were only part of his battle. There an element of drama with Andrews that went along with all of that talent and all of the injuries -- in his very first regular season game, after earning a starting job as a rookie, Andrews suffered a broken leg and missed the remainder of the season
It was the beginning of a troubling medical case study.
When he was healthy, Andrews was great on the field. He nearly earned a Pro Bowl bid for his play in 2005 (he was voted a first alternate at guard) and then made the team after the 2006 and 2007 seasons, but even during those seasons Andrews missed time for one reason or another. He left the playoff game in New Orleans after suffering a head injury and the Eagles dearly missed his presence in the second half of that loss. Scott Young, his replacement, jumped early on a key play late in the game and the Eagles did not recover.
In 2007, Andrews suffered an ankle injury in the preseason and wondered, to reporters, if the injury would threaten his career. The injury, a sprained ankle, didn't threaten his career at all, but a year later a back injury suffered early in a Week 2 game in Dallas ultimately did.
When could the Eagles count on the enigmatic Andrews to play 16 games at a high level? They couldn't, not for the last couple of seasons. And with Andrews recovering from back surgery and rehabilitating in California, Andy Reid made the decision to release Andrews now, rather than have more superfluous soap-opera stuff threaten to distract the team in the spring and summer.
Everybody wishes Andrews the best of luck. He is a nice, accommodating young man who is obviously extremely talented. Whether he can come back after missing most of two seasons remains to be seen. Andrews has insisted, in the face of critics questioning his love for the game of football and his willingness to sacrifice and do what it takes to make it at this level, that he is as committed as anyone to playing in the NFL for years to come.
Good luck to Andrews. Certainly, a team will take a chance on a player with the gifts he has been given. Hopefully for Andrews, his back heals well and he has another chance to earn a job in the NFL.
But the Eagles did the right thing cutting ties now. This team must have everyone rowing in the same direction as it looks to advance on an 11-5 2009 season. There are new leaders and a new personality in the Eagles' locker room. This is a young team looking to come together quickly, looking to establish a team-first identity.
Andrews just doesn't fit in, not with the constant questions about his health and about his commitment to the game. He is a gregarious, good-natured kid who has a chance to catch on somewhere else.
Let's focus, then, on what the Eagles have along their offensive line. Winston Justice's development last year was a huge plus. The Eagles now think that Justice has turned the corner as a right tackle, so the emphasis with him is on gaining more strength, refining his technique and becoming a more dominating player. At right guard, Stacy Andrews appears ready to win a job. He is healthy, he is eager to prove the Eagles did the right thing by signing him as an unrestricted free agent last year, and he has line coach Juan Castillo's full support.
Nick Cole appears ticketed to be the team's center with Jamaal Jackson continuing his recovery from knee surgery. Give Cole an entire off-season working at center and, the Eagles think, he will play the position at a very, very high level. Plus, the Eagles want to see what they have with youngsters Mike McGlynn, Dallas Reynolds and A.Q. Shipley, who spent last year on the Steelers' practice squad.
The left side of the line is solid with Todd Heremans at guard and Jason Peters at tackle. A healthy season from Herremans is essential as the left side of the line looks to become something special.
There are other young linemen who are going to get long looks in the spring and, if you believe some of the mock drafts, the team could very well use a high draft pick on a lineman in April.
Last year at this time, the Eagles laid out a plan that they hoped would revamp an aging offensive line. They allowed Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan to leave in free agency. They signed Stacy Andrews. They moved Shawn Andrews to right tackle. They traded for Peters one week before the draft. And, as many observers thought, the Eagles had the makings of one of the best lines in the league.
The plan crumpled quickly, mostly because neither of the Andrews' brothers contributed. Stacy has been diligent in his rehab and is a hungry player prepared to make up for lost time. Shawn hasn't been as fortunate. And now he finds himself looking for a job.
Too bad. Had Andrews remained healthy and motivated to play football, he would have been one of the best ever to play this game. Heck, fans voted him to the franchise's 75th Anniversary Team after only a few years on the team. He was that good. Never had the Eagles used an offensive lineman so well in the screen game. Few covered ground as Andrews did, gulping up defenders in bunches.
The Shawn Andrews years are over here. Time to move on. The offensive line has a big chore in front of it, and we don't need any more days waiting and wondering if Andrews will be part of the plan. He isn't, clearly. In a turnaround nobody saw only a couple of years ago, Andrews is out and Justice is in at right tackle, and that's the plan the Eagles have in place this time around as they look to make the line the linchpin of the offense this season.