Eagles could face backlash over losing Dawkins

March, 1, 2009
3/01/09
10:00
AM ET
 
  Hunter Martin/Getty Images
  Philadelphia's decision to let Brian Dawkins go may leave the team with a void in team leadership.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

The problem with making the Eagles the villain in safety Brian Dawkins' surprising departure is that they were following a successful blueprint. Since Andy Reid became head coach a decade ago, the Eagles have rarely succumbed to sentimentality when it comes to negotiating contracts.

Players such as Troy Vincent and Jeremiah Trotter learned that lesson the hard way. Other teams might offer lifetime achievement contracts, but the Eagles are always asking, "What can you do for us tomorrow?" If the answer's not much, the Eagles quickly move on.

But the team's rabid fan base could get over Vincent and Trotter because it was obvious they were declining players. At age 35, Dawkins was coming off a season in which he revitalized his career. After some shaky moments early in the season, he helped ignite the Eagles' late-season run and was named the NFC's defensive player of the month in December. More importantly, he was the heart and soul of this team. No one cared as much as Dawkins, and his raw emotion rubbed off on teammates.

Donovan McNabb is the face of the franchise, but he's always seemed a bit distant, even aloof at times. Dawkins was completely transparent. When he was talking, you never had to read between the lines. He embodied this city's lunch-pail spirit -- and fans loved him for it. Even when Iverson was in town, Dawkins was the city's most beloved athlete.

That's why the Eagles may have taken for granted Dawkins staying with the team. Why offer a lot of guaranteed money to a guy not interested in leaving? On Saturday, that laid-back approach backfired on the Eagles. They allowed a man who had a vice grip on the locker room to finish his career in orange.

The Eagles owed it to themselves to bring Dawkins back. It seems odd to release the best leader on the team when you were minutes away from appearing in the Super Bowl. And what will McNabb think of this? If you believe recent reports, he's basically taking a wait-and-see approach on his future based on what the Eagles do in the offseason.

On Saturday, the Eagles took the whole Brotherly Love thing to a new level with the addition of Shawn Andrews' big brother, Stacy. But Shawn still sounded distraught about Dawkins.

"It's definitely a loss to the team and a loss to me personally," Andrews said. "There's nothing like talking to a guy who's helped you out along the way with things, and kind of mentors you, and an overall leader. If I had to pinpoint one guy since I've been in Philadelphia that I respect as a husband, a father, an athlete, a football player, it would be Dawkins. He will be dearly, dearly missed."

According to various reports, Dawkins will receive $7.5 million in guarantees from the Broncos. The Eagles weren't in the same ballpark, which is too bad. They were in the best position to know how much Dawkins was worth -- and they got it wrong. I don't think anyone in Philly begrudges Dawkins for accepting a tremendous deal with the Broncos.

But Eagles management will draw plenty of criticism. Being fiscally responsible might be en vogue right now, but losing a civic hero never seems appropriate.

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