July 23, 2008

Eagles Face Contract Crises At Camp

Well, it's late July again, so that means a group of grown men (many of them millionaires at that), will be arriving at Lehigh University located in Bumblefuck... oops, I mean Bethlehem, PA. Andy Reid and the coaching staff of the Eagles seem to be optimistic about the coming season, as McNabb is healthy again (so we hope), the Eagles added a stud corner in Asante Samuel and a solid LB/DE in Chris Clemons and feature a young and talented linebacking corps and rapidly improving defensive line. Many Eagles fans, myself included, eagerly await the coming season and (hopefully) a return to the playoffs.

However, it is becoming increasingly rare to see a training camp during which the focus is solely on, well, training. The Eagles, as a team with a lot of talent and a lot of recent success, have a lot of egos to take care of. Fortunately, the front office did a nice job of signing all of our draft picks, including second-rounders DeSean Jackson and Trevor Laws, ahead of training camp, but some of their most effective vets may be causing a stir at camp this year.

First, you have the case of erstwhile Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard. Sheppard, coming off a streak of brilliant play and Pro Bowl berths, got hurt last season and missed a lot of time. It isn't the first time Sheppard's gone down for a long period, and the Eagles made a big splash in free agency by signing former Patriots CB Asante Samuel, a fellow Pro Bowler and thought by many to be the most coveted free agent of this year's class. Now the Eagles face the problem (if you could call it that) of having three great corners and only two spots to put them in. Aside from Samuel and Sheppard, Sheldon Brown, another Pro Bowler, is returning once again. The Eagles tried desperately to trade Sheppard around the draft for a package of picks or a top wideout such as the Bengals' Chad Johnson or one of the Cardinals' tandem of Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Now, empty-handed, the Eagles return to camp with the prospect of an unhappy Lito Sheppard on their hands. Sheppard recently fired his agent and hired Drew Rosenhaus, who the Eagles have, um, a bit of a history with (see O., T.). It's not clear whether Sheppard wants a trade, more money, more PT or just to become better friends with Rosenhaus, who really seems like a swell guy (and who I've heard makes really great shish kebabs!), but at any rate, the change of agents has definitely raised eyebrows. However, Sheppard isn't even the greatest of the Eagles' worries.

Aside from our Pro Bowl corner, the single most important player on the Eagles (sorry McNabb, but it's true), running back/wideout/fantasy stud extraordinaire Brian Westbrook, the heart and soul of our offense, is looking to get a raise. Frankly, it's hard to say he doesn't deserve one, given his brilliant stats over the past few years and his huge role in our offense. However, Westbrook doesn't want just a raise over the current, six-year, $25 million extension he signed in 2005, before he'd truly broken out, he apparently wants "LT money". By Westbrook's logic, LT (who is still indisputably better than Westbrook, but Westbrook is definitely closing the gap) signed a contract for $25 million guaranteed in 2004, so due to inflation and rising gas prices, he deserves $30 million in guaranteed bonuses four years later.

Unfortunately, the hole in Westbrook's logic is simple: when LT signed that contract 4 years ago, he was but 24 and entering his prime, whereas Westbrook is going to turn 30 this year and could start to decline in the next couple of years. Thus, not wanting to be paying big bucks to a gimpy, aging Westbrook five years from now, the Eagles are hesitant to renegotiate a contract.

Westbrook, following Sheppard's example, hired a new agent to help him through this dispute, one Todd France (the same France who managed to fleece 8 years, $80 million from the 49ers for a good, but not great Nate Clements last offseason). It seems pretty clear to me that Westbrook intends to play hardball over this, and I think given his achievements and mind-boggling stats over the past few seasons, we should give him a raise, but not quite as much as he's looking for.

IgglesBlog has an excellent piece explaining Westbrook's point of view and how we could placate his demands for a contract reneg without breaking the bank.

I really hope this gets resolved soon because the Eagles are a team with playoff aspirations but one which has some pressing questions to answer first, and the best way to do that is if we have everyone at camp, happy (as happy as you can be running two-a-days in this sweltering heat) and ready to play.

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