With the CBA talks still dominating the headlines, I decided to riff on a number of Eagles-related topics that have come up in the news in recent days.
WILL WESTBROOK RETURN?
Brian Westbrook popped up in Eagles news this week. We found out that he stayed in regular contact with Andy Reid last season. I'm fascinated by Reid's relationship with his players. After the 2001 season Jeremiah Trotter left the Eagles on not such good terms with Reid. It wasn't personal to Reid, just business. I think Trotter took the lack of a huge contract offer as personal. He signed with Washington and spent a couple of miserable seasons there. While playing for the Skins he hurt his knee and one person that called him was Reid. That phone call rebuilt the relationship and Trotter came back to the Eagles in the summer of 2004.
John Welbourn publicly criticized Eagles management and basically forced his way out of town prior to the 2004 draft. He was dealt to the Chiefs, where he struggled to play at the level he did here. Welbourn later admitted he made a mistake and regretted leaving the Eagles. Hugh Douglas left in free agency prior to the 2003 season. He returned the next year on a minimal deal and played one final season for the Eagles.
Now, Westbrook is saying he'd love to come back and play for the Eagles. He never wanted to leave in the first place, but it is interesting that he's not bitter in any way, shape, or form. Quite the opposite, it seems. He still has a strong relationship with Reid and would love to return. I know a few people scoffed at the notion of him coming back. If the Eagles didn't want him last year, why would they have any interest this year?
We don't yet know if the Eagles do have interest, but the situation has changed a great deal. The Eagles knew that it was time to make the transition to Shady McCoy as the star running back. Westbrook's presence would have been awkward. Any time McCoy failed (dropped pass, fumble, missed block, etc.) people would have clamored for Westbrook to get the starting job back. The Eagles instead put all the pressure on McCoy to sink or swim, but also gave him the space to grow into the role. I don't think anyone expected him to play as well as he did in 2010. Clearly, McCoy is the star back for the Eagles.
With him established, the return of Westbrook becomes at least a discussable possibility. The Eagles might have Jerome Harrison (depends on the CBA situation), but he also could be a free agent. If so, that would mean the team needs a good backup for McCoy. Westbrook showed last year in San Francisco that he could be a good backup. He sat for much of the year, but when his number was finally called he delivered big results. Westbrook could also be used as a punt returner and possibly kickoff returner. We know he is a good runner, receiver and blocker.
I don't know that it is a realistic possibility, but Westbrook's return to the Eagles does make some sense. At the very least I'm glad to know that he's got a good relationship with Reid and still remains an Eagle at heart.
Reid's critics can get on him for a variety of things, but one aspect of his ability as a coach that seems wildly underrated is his ability to connect with players. Very few players want to leave the Eagles. They do so when the money elsewhere is just too great to pass up or when the Eagles decide to go with a younger option. Even then, the players seem to understand the situation. Duce Staley left after 2003 as a free agent because the Eagles wanted to feature Westbrook. Now, Staley is back working with the Eagles coaching staff. Mike Caldwell played for Reid and is now a member of the coaching staff. Ditto Doug Pederson.
We'll truly know about Reid's gift for connecting with players if we ever see Terrell Owens come here as a coaching intern.
WILL THE EAGLES DRAFT A QUARTERBACK?
I've gotten a few questions from people about whether the Eagles are likely to draft a quarterback. The safe answer with Reid is "You never know." He did learn a lot about personnel from Packers general manager Ron Wolf, who firmly believed in taking a quarterback in every draft possible.
I don't think the Eagles are likely to take a quarterback any time early. This is a mediocre group of quarterback prospects. I'm sure Reid would love to have the opportunity to coach gifted players like Cam Newton and Jake Locker, but they will require high picks and it wouldn't make a lot of sense for the Eagles to go for them based on the current situation.
Mike Vick is the starter. There are no questions about that. Kevin Kolb is the backup right now, but his future is up in the air. Teams are going to call the Eagles about his availability when the CBA situation is resolved. If some team is willing to step up and pay the price for a good starting quarterback in the prime of his career, Kolb could be dealt.
Mike Kafka is the developmental quarterback. The Eagles seem very high on him, but I think that is more for the future than the present. If Kolb is dealt, the Eagles should add a veteran player to sit behind Vick. Drafting a quarterback in the first four rounds would only complicate matters. I have no problem with the Eagles spending a late pick on a quarterback to develop for the future, but taking one before that only makes sense if you are willing to commit four roster spots to the position. I don't think that would be the prudent move.
ARE THE EAGLES CORNERING THE MARKET?
If the Eagles decide to draft a cornerback in the first round it will likely boil down to a choice between Jimmy Smith and Brandon Harris. The top two corners are Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara. I think they'll both be top 10 picks. Harris and Smith are a notch down and one or both could be on the board at 23.
Harris was the better of the two prospects at the Scouting Combine last week. Harris was very athletic and looked fluid on the move. Smith was OK, but failed to stand out. Harris helped himself with his showing.
As for the game tape, Smith is far and away the better player. Put on a Colorado game and he stands out. Smith shut down his side of the field a lot. He's huge at 6-2 and 211. Smith has long arms and big hands. He still ran 4.46 with that size. Smith has excellent feet for a big guy. He loves to press and be physical with receivers, but is agile enough to play off and then break on the ball.
Smith didn't make a lot of coverage plays, but that was due to the limited number of throws that came his way. He finished his career with just three interceptions and 18 passes defensed. Those are hardly the kind of numbers you get excited about. He was an active tackler and good run defender. Against Oklahoma, Smith had 10 solo tackles. Those came while stopping wide receiver screens and run plays. He has the potential to be an outstanding NFL corner. There are some character concerns that teams will have to work through.
Harris was a very good player for Miami. He was just a bit inconsistent in coverage. At times he was excellent. Other times he was sloppy. Harris could be excellent for a Cover 2 team. He is very good on short passes. He's quick and anticipates underneath routes well. Harris is a very good hitter and tackler. He had 10 career tackles-for-loss and five forced fumbles. He isn't as big or fast as Smith.
Both players are good prospects. If the Eagles want a man coverage, lockdown corner, then Smith is the way to go. If they want more of a Cover 2 type, then Harris is the way to go. Of course, if the Eagles address cornerback in free agency we'll need to start looking a mid-round corner prospects. Not to worry, this is a good looking corner class. There will be players of interest through at least the fourth round.