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Monday, May 7, 2001
Sudden firings hurt franchise's continuity

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

The Philadelphia Eagles' stunning decision Monday to release director of football operations Tom Modrak and pro personnel director Mike McCartney from the final two years of their contracts could be more costly than ownership expects.

Though the plan is to hire two replacements in the personnel office, owner Jeff Lurie and CEO Joe Banner are consolidating more power in one person – head coach Andy Reid. The move could be similar to what happened in Green Bay when Ron Wolf announced his retirement and president Bob Harlan placed all authority in head coach Mike Sherman, who assumed the general manager's duties.

Reid has already been involved in early contract extension negotiations. He's in the middle of a five-year, $5 million contract. With the added responsibilities, his salary will soar close to $3 million if Reid structures the deal that fits the market.

The danger for the Eagles is that releasing Modrak revives the franchise's lack of continuity under Lurie's watch. Coach Ray Rhodes was an initial success but then somehow became the organizational bad guy. Modrak, hired to bring back credibility to the organization because of his 19-year rise in the Steelers organization, was let go because of rumors that he might leave.

Why leave, though? Modrak proved in three years that he built a structure in the scouting department to bring in quality talent consistently. For the most part, the free agent signings have been reasonably prized. Even now, after the team's playoff season, the Eagles have most of their top young players under longterm deals and still have $7 million of available cap room.

For two hours, Modrak was asked to tell Lurie and Banner why he should stay with the Eagles. Not only did Modrak discuss the team's rise from the bottom of the NFC East to contender status in three years, but he established the pattern of making sure the right young players received contract extensions.

Parity in the NFL has set it up for playoff teams to have a much harder time repeating the next season. As an 11-win team that benefited from an easy schedule, the Eagles could easily backslide a game or two. By releasing Modrak, the Eagles dangerously dangled their credibility with their fans if that happens or the teams slips even more.

"We sit here with a good young football team, with a terrific young coach and a terrific coaching staff, and we're in a situation where, I think, if we're not the most attractive, we're one of the most attractive player personnel situations in terms of jobs in the NFL," Lurie said at Monday's press conference.

That's now debatable. For one, top personnel directors will shy away from the Eagles because they will assume the head coach will be making the most important decisions. Second, Modrak's departure revives old thoughts that ownership dabbled too much in the personnel end of the business. Certainly, owners have a right to dabble in personnel because they're the owners, but that extra tension scares away top evaluators.

What will most likely happen is that Reid will be named coach-general manager and add either John Dorsey of Green Bay or Mike Lombardi of the Raiders or both in Reid's personnel office.

But more pressure will be put on Reid to improve upon the 11-win season or risk being criticized for something that didn't need to be fixed.

"When you're in a situation where you know what you have – and the situation we have is awfully rosy, there should be no discontent," Lurie said.

Maybe the situation isn't as rosy as billed.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.