Eagles always one step ahead in avoiding potential potholes

ON THE NFL

August 07, 2005|By KEN MURRAY

THE TEAM that always covers itself with options has done it again.

One week into training camp, the Philadelphia Eagles are showing why they're running neck-and-neck with the New England Patriots for best organization in the NFL.

Already this summer, they have stared down Terrell Owens, protected themselves in two acrimonious contract disputes and absorbed the loss by injury and shooting of two more starters.

Regardless of what adversity befalls the Eagles, they are more than capable of coping. That's because of the competency level of team president Joe Banner in the front office and coach Andy Reid on the field. Here's proof:

Banner didn't blink when Owens threatened to hold out and become a distraction on the team if he didn't receive a major salary boost. Banner knew Owens had no leverage. And when Owens became so publicly vocal with his threats, Banner had no choice but to dig in and draw a hard line.

So it was no surprise that Owens showed up on time at Lehigh University last week with no enticements.

When negotiations with defensive tackle Corey Simon and running back Brian Westbrook turned ominous in the offseason, the Eagles drafted Southern California defensive tackle Mike Patterson in the first round and Louisiana Tech running back Ryan Moats in the third in April.

Patterson appears to be a solid replacement for Simon. Moats is raw, but has Westbrook-like skills that should enable him to reduce the loss of the offense's most versatile performer.

Simon, who carries the franchise tag, is not likely to get anything more than a one-year contract, after which he'll probably leave the Eagles. Westbrook fired Baltimore agent Tony Agnone and hired Fletcher Smith when talks dragged. He then signed the one-year tender as a restricted free agent, but opted not to report.

The potential loss of Westbrook is more menacing for the Eagles, as quarterback Donovan McNabb inferred recently when he called the running back the team's "ultimate weapon" ahead of Owens.

The Eagles narrowly averted tragedy when defensive end Jerome McDougle was shot in the stomach during a robbery in Miami. McDougle, a former first-round pick, should make it back this season. For now, veteran N.D. Kalu will take his place. Similarly, a year ago the Eagles were able to handle a rash of injuries because of depth on the defensive line.

On Friday, wide receiver Todd Pinkston was lost for the season to a ruptured Achilles' tendon. With Owens hobbled by a groin injury, it further weakened the position. But once again, the Eagles had drafted for help, getting Georgia's Reggie Brown in the second round. Brown has looked good early, and likely will be the third receiver.

Greg Lewis, an underrated playmaker, gets first crack at Pinkston's job. Billy McMullen is another viable option. With the Eagles, there's always another viable option.

Awaiting liftoff

Progress is slow in Cleveland, where the Browns are trying to dig out of the 4-12 rubble left by former coach Butch Davis. As if losing tight end Kellen Winslow, their No. 1 pick in 2004, to a motorcycle accident weren't bad enough, they can't agree to terms with this year's No. 1, wide receiver Braylon Edwards.

Those players represent the two best receiving threats on the team.

"As concerning as missing the first week of camp is, that he missed the minicamp because of a death in his family [is also a concern]," said Browns new general manager Phil Savage. "He's had very little time on the field with our team. That's probably as troublesome as missing a week of training camp. Some guys can walk out there and play well, and other guys, it takes them a month to get in football shape and perform."

Scattershooting

Arizona's awakening as a playoff threat may be for real. The Cardinals awarded wide receiver Anquan Boldin a four-year extension worth $23.5 million. He'll get an extra $12.4 million the next two years when the team could've gotten away with paying him a total of $830,000 in salaries. ... After Dallas tight end Dan Campbell underwent an emergency appendectomy the first day of camp, Cowboys coach Bill Parcells started calling him "Milk Truck." Why? "Because he says I am milking my injury," Campbell said. ... Kansas City Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil already is hedging on his impending retirement, but don't believe it. This will be his last year. ... It's a new team, but the same old Randy Moss. The Oakland Raiders' new receiver took some shots at his former team, the Minnesota Vikings, and their quarterback, Daunte Culpepper. He likened the Raiders' offense to "Algebra II" and called the Vikings' offense "one plus one." Furthermore, he said Kerry Collins was better than Culpepper. Yes, the same Collins who in one brutal four-game stretch last year threw nine interceptions and lost two fumbles.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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