We talked for 30 minutes, with a wide-open, anything-goes forum. Andy Reid, just a couple of days before he was to leave for the league's Annual Meetings and a sit-down with the national media, provided all the answers to all the questions. We talked about Brian Dawkins, Donovan McNabb, the offensive line and the team's approach to free agency.
As the Eagles turn their full focus to April's NFL draft, Reid goes about the daily chore of finding ways to make the Eagles a Super Bowl winner in the 2009 season. This is not, he says, a rebuilding campaign. The Eagles have gotten younger, yes, but instead of ripping the roster apart, the team has retained a strong core.
An off-season that has resulted in five veterans leaving in free agency, one that has spurred headlines about some off-the-field issues and one that has had fans wondering about the team's approach in free agency has, Reid insists, gone according to plan.
"It has," Reid says. "We made some changes with a few of the guys who had been around here for a long time and who did just a great job for us for a number of years, but we also feel like we have an influx of young guys that have been able to mature and that deserve an opportunity to play. In some cases, they might have to move a position or so to do that, but we should be as strong, if not stronger, as we were the year before."
We're going to show you the entire video of the interview on PhiladelphiaEagles.com over the next couple of days, but I wanted to start here with a portion of the question-and-answer session talking about some of the hot-button items that have dominated the weeks since the team's loss in Arizona in the NFC Championship Game.
DS: What is your account of Brian Dawkins and his departure?
AR: "What a great job Brian Dawkins did here. He was phenomenal over the years and he is a great person. His legacy is solid with the Philadelphia Eagles. He is a Hall of Fame player. It didn't work out. Those things happen. You see them throughout the league and you've seen them throughout the history of the league. I wish him nothing but the best of luck in Denver. On our side, we feel like we've groomed Quintin Demps to step in and fill that position. If that doesn't work out, we've signed a couple of free agents in Sean Jones and Rashad Baker that we think are good football players. Are any of them Brian Dawkins? Well, no, it's not fair to compare any of them to Brian right now. But they are young guys who have the opportunity to try and strive to be as good Brian has been."
DS: If they aren't as good as Brian, why not keep Brian before he gets into free agency?
AR: "That's a good question. We did make an attempt and it didn't work out. Obviously, he got a phenomenal deal from the Broncos. That is all part of this business and that's what Brian did and that's what we did. Like they say, the sun comes up every day and the NFL season comes around every year. Brian is getting ready to do his thing with the Broncos and we're getting ready to do our thing."
DS: It has been painted in some circles that there is a rift between Andy Reid and Joe Banner, specifically over the handling of the Dawkins situation. Could you comment on that?
AR: "No, that's not true. This is part of the business and Joe understands that, I understand that. Both of us wanted Brian here, and obviously it didn't work. On the other hand, Brian received a phenomenal deal from Denver and we both wish him the best of luck."
DS: Some fans wonder, though, why the Eagles, who have so much room under the salary cap, would not just do anything it takes to keep a player like Dawkins here. Why not go the extra mile and keep him here?
AR: "I understand that and we're obviously in a business where change takes place. You set the money aside and we did what we thought was fair and Denver did what they thought was fair and they did a great job with it. And we move on. That's how these things work. There is no animosity towards Brian. That's just business. I think Brian understands that, we understand that and you just go on."
DS: How will you replace what he brought to this team on and off the field and in the locker room?
AR: "I expect other players to pick it up, and that's how this game goes. Young guys need to let their personalities show and step up and do their thing. Brian did a great job with that, but I expect some of these young guys to do the same thing, to have learned from Brian and his example and to bring their own energy to that defense."
DS: Fans see a team that has enough room under the salary cap to do whatever it wants in terms of acquiring players. The approach seems to be more conservative. Can you explain the approach so far in the off-season?
AR: "You can say it's a conservative approach or you can just say it's smart. People are hesitant to say that, but … Because you have the money, you just don't go blow it on something that you don't think is good enough quality to put on the Eagles uniform. That can be perceived different ways. We're going to try to bring in the right people here and do the right things in free agency that we feel are best for this football team. That's the way we have approached and I think that's the way you have to approach it."
DS: Can you explain where the team is with Donovan McNabb and the reported meetings that you had and his contract situation?
AR: "I talk to Donovan often and I try to keep him informed of the things going on here. He's earned that right to know those things over the last 10 years. We're good. I think Don is just getting ready – he had been coming in every day since the season ended and working out and he just left recently for Arizona to continue his workouts – for a big season.
"We have talked to Donovan and we have kept open communication with him. I'm going to keep the content of that communication private."
DS: Brian Westbrook told reporters that he had a surgical procedure. How does that make you feel about Brian looking ahead to the 2009 season?
AR: "I think he is going to be out of his mind ready to go. He is another player who has been at the NovaCare Complex every day. He's working his tail off and he will be ready to go. He wasn't happy with the way things worked last year. It's funny how he looks at it and how I look at it. I was glad he was able to be out there with the knee problem he had. He had constant swelling in the knee and he showed tremendous heart getting himself through that season. On the other side, he was very disappointed in himself and his performance. That's what drives him. That's what makes him a great player. I think you will see that again this upcoming season.
"His procedure was basically a clean out. It wasn't like they had to go in and start picking things, scraping things. There was no chisel involved, and that's a good thing."
DS: Some teams would take the approach that you finished two wins short of a Super Bowl, so let's keep things together and add to the mix. That hasn't been the way the Eagles have done things. Why?
AR: "Change doesn't hurt. Sometimes it can be good and sometimes it can be bad. The way we evaluate what we've done we think is good. Here is how we look at it, and we do it every day with our personnel people looking at our team depth chart: You can take the team we have today and go compete for a championship in the National Football League. Now, you may have to move some people around to do some things there, and we have to get a little bit more depth at some positions, but with the people we have here, we know we can compete for a championship.
"Now, we know we have to do the right things and certain things have to fall the right way and the ball has to bounce the right way, but the people that we have on this team today, even with the fellas that we have lost, we know we can go and play football and play it very well. And there aren't a lot of teams in the league that can say that."
There is more, and I will detail that later. Reid talked about the wide receivers and about Stacy Andrews and Shawn Andrews. Reid was confident, excited and very optimistic that the Eagles will be back for more wins and big moments in 2009.