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Friday, February 14, 2014
Wells report raises questions for media

By Phil Sheridan

PHILADELPHIA -- For anyone who covers an NFL team -- or a team in any professional sport, really -- the report released Friday by NFL investigator Ted Wells on the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin case raises questions.

The 144-page report provides a deeply disturbing look behind the scenes of the Miami Dolphins over the past couple of years. Could that sort of thing be going on with other teams, including the Eagles? Would the media be aware? Are there warning signs we should be looking for?

That got me to thinking about the situation in 2012, when coach Andy Reid released defensive end Jason Babin, then fired defensive line coach Jim Washburn in a surprising turn of events.

Washburn had been brought in to implement his "Wide 9" defensive scheme. Babin had registered 18 sacks and been selected to the Pro Bowl in 2011. For them to be gone in the middle of the next season was very unusual, to say the least.

Afterward, Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com reported that Washburn referred to defensive coordinator Juan Castillo as “Juanita” in front of his players. As for Babin, he was a loud and often unpleasant presence when the locker room was open to the media. It wasn’t hard to imagine that he was equally abrasive behind closed doors.

That’s not to say Babin engaged in any of the behavior Incognito is accused of in the new report. But there was no doubt Reid was sending a message when he released the Pro Bowler and fired his position coach. In what turned into a 4-12 season, Reid’s last with the Eagles, he made an example of those two individuals.

It was surprising, because the timing was so unusual. But reporters certainly had a sense that Babin was a strong personality concerned only with amassing sacks and that Washburn had little use for anyone outside of his position group.

Philadelphia Inquirer beat writer Jeff McLane wrote: “Washburn had become a 'cancer' around the team, according to one Eagles source, the situation becoming worse when defensive end Jason Babin was released last week.”

And columnist Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Daily News had this to say about Babin’s release, under the headline “Babin’s exit doesn’t seem like much of a surprise”: “Maybe this was Reid's message: Don't be a jerk. ... Babin's attitude set an uncomfortable tone on a team bursting with impressionable young linemen: Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry. … He was a locker-room lawyer of the worst kind; a me-first, me-last, self-absorbed bully who inexplicably spent an inordinate amount of time shirtless.”

Years ago, when the Eagles practiced and trained at Veterans Stadium, reporters spent considerably more time around the players. It was much easier to get a feel for the dynamics and chemistry of a team. With the building of the NovaCare Complex and its myriad places other than the locker room for players to spend time, all of that became tougher. You simply don’t see the players interact with each other as much anymore. The same is true for other teams.

Considering the peek behind the scenes provided by the Incognito report, that might not be an accident.