Feb 10, 2009
Free agency is a few weeks away, but some rumors are already starting to heat up – like RB Edgerrin James getting released by the Cardinals and signing with the Bucs. For the record, while he’s a nice guy to have around, there’s no upside in that move for Tampa Bay. They’d still need a QB, a WR, maybe a TE, and maybe a RB. At least their line is good.
There’s one potential free agency situation has intrigued me since late in the season, when I came to the conclusion that Eagle RB Brian Westbrook’s days of truly being a workhorse should be over. The guy just can’t handle the workload he’s received the last few years. He and the team have done a terrific job managing his various injuries, mainly his chronic knee issues. But he’s no longer able to practice like a normal player, and I feel he’s been hanging on by a thread the last two years.
A somewhat easy fix for the team would be to simply give Correll Buckhalter more carries. But despite his looking very solid, they didn’t do that in 2008, and they really never have done that. He’s an unrestricted free agent this March. The Birds have been hesitant to play any back other than Westbrook, especially a young back. Heck, we now know how great Westbrook is, so why did it take them four full seasons before they gave him more than 177 carries in a season? I know there were others there, namely Duce Staley, but still. We see how great Westbrook is, and he had to flash special qualities from Day One in Philly, so they should have used him more those first four seasons. Steve Slaton, for example, carried the rock 268 times as a rookie for the Texans in 2008.
The Eagles are a little slow on the take at the RB position, which leads me to believe they will NOT draft a back this April but will instead look to prolong Westbrook’s career by bringing in a free agent veteran who has significant service in the league, thus eliminating the team’s concern about inexperience. To back up for a second, let me address another situation from 2008: Lorenzo Booker. We took some heat for our reporting on Booker and his situation with the Eagles, and that heat was fair given how Booker wound up being a non-factor. However, we really were not WRONG with what we reported. We were at training camp 2-3 times a week in August, and we talked to several team insiders about this. The Eagles DEFINITELY expected Booker to be a LARGE part of their offense. That’s why they traded for him. Just this past week I spoke to someone who was very close to the team and who worked for the organization and he totally confirmed this to me. Booker just let them down, and we never did see the team operate with Westbrook out for a prolonged period of time. Had he been out for a while, Booker might have seen the field a ton.
This all leads me to believe that Philly won’t trust a rookie in 2009 (remember Tony Hunt?), and 2009 may be their final “run” with this current group, so I believe they will look at this year’s group of free agent runners. It’s not a great group, it rarely is, but there is one guy who will be out there I believe is a great fit. Veteran Dominic Rhodes has some power, receiving ability, and some speed, and he may be their guy, but he’s not my ideal choice. Maurice Morris is a player I’ve compared to Westbrook in the past (loosely), but I don’t think he’s the guy, either.
The guy is Derrick Ward. Ward’s in his late-20s now (29 in August), so he’ll probably be looking to get that one big free agency payday and will hope to land on a team in need of a lead back. Thing is, while I love the guy, I’m not sure he is a true workhorse back. He was much more effective in 2008 coming in off the bench, and he appeared rather ordinary when he was carrying the load for the G-Men. But Ward’s skill set would be perfect for the Eagles. He’s a power guy, and they need someone who can help them sustain offense on the ground by running between the tackles. Ward can do that, and he can be a good goal line option. Maybe, if they sign him, they’ll have no choice but to actually run the ball more, since they’ll be paying someone specifically to do that, and since Ward’s talents command the ball. He’s also very good in the passing game and as a blocker, which is a huge plus for the Eagles, of course. When you consider what he brings to the table and what the Eagles need, Ward’s a perfect fit, plus there’s added value taking him out of New York.
I don’t think the Eagles will draft a RB with one of their two #1 picks. They never take a RB that high, and they have other needs, such as OT. But they cannot go into the 2009 season with Westbrook as their workhorse again, unless they are actually trying to end his career right now. If they want to extend it, they would be smart to bring in a guy like Ward and give him 12-15 carries a game while using Westbrook as a runner and more often as a receiver, similar to how the Rams used Marshall Faulk his final years. More importantly, if the Birds want to make another and possibly final run with this core group of players, snapping up a quality and versatile player like Ward could put them over the top.