Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bob Ford: A power shift in Eagles' hierarchy? Differences between the Eagles and Boys

Bob Ford: A power shift in Eagles' hierarchy?
By Bob Ford

Inquirer Sports Columnist

As the Eagles' organization digs out from the depressing avalanche that buried it on consecutive weekends in Texas to end the 2009 season, there are growing indications that a true sea change is taking place at One NovaCare Way.

Whether that change will also lead to a change at the top of the quarterback depth chart - which seems the only real topic of interest - is still unknown and, more interesting, still undecided.

Andy Reid, while saying he expected Donovan McNabb to return as quarterback, did hedge a bit, adding that he "hadn't gotten to . . . comparing players, contracts, and everything else," which not only leaves wiggle room on that subject but could herald a second act in Reid's tenure, one in which he can be overruled by a number-crunching consensus in the front office.

The weight on the seesaw - and we'll leave alone the observation of what it takes to offset Reid's side - was redistributed when general manager Tom Heckert Jr. decamped for Cleveland and was replaced by Howie Roseman, a Joe Banner protege who began his career here as a salary cap wonk.

We will never know if Heckert read the shifting sands and decided his future was rosier elsewhere or whether, as advertised, it was merely a case of going to a better opportunity. On the face of it, the opportunity is almost the same. He has the same title, but will operate essentially as a player personnel director working under a boss with all the power, in this case Mike Holmgren.

In Philadelphia, Reid has held all the real power, but as the seasons without championships pile one upon the other, there is room for other voices in the front office to be heard. With an alignment of team president Banner and Roseman, the critical mass needed to influence decisions has probably been reached.

Even the parties involved don't know how it will play out yet, and won't until the stove gets hot with the opening of the free agent season March 5 and just before the March 10 deadline when the Eagles either extend Michael Vick a $1.5 million roster bonus or cut him loose.

By then, we will know more. Until then, getting real information from the organization is like getting soup in a hardware store. You have to work at it.

The Eagles put a series of interviews with Banner on their Web site this week. They are promotional vehicles, of course, and easy targets because the "anything goes" promise of the host is quickly broken by the thin answers given by Banner, who is the one who decides what goes and what does not.

If you pay attention, though - as if looking for the hidden Ninas in an Al Hirschfeld drawing - there are some interesting things.

Picking apart the differences between the Eagles and the Cowboys, for instance, Banner noted that Dallas might have done a better job putting together its roster, which gets back to the whole player-personnel business. If the president wasn't satisfied with how that side of the operation worked, from draft day to free agent scouting to formulating trades, then it's no surprise the Eagles have a new general manager.

"They have a quarterback [Tony Romo] who was an undrafted free agent, an all-pro defensive tackle [Jay Ratliff] who was a seventh-round pick, a wide receiver [Miles Austin] who didn't have a lot of [attention]," Banner said. "All the good teams have that. You have to have a player-personnel department that understands it's not only about hitting the first-round pick . . . but looks at all potential resources to find players, whether that's the draft, whether that's free agency, whether the CFL. Beating the bushes and finding ways to upgrade every position on the roster."

He didn't mention, but could have, that one of the fellows sacking McNabb in the wild-card loss was linebacker Anthony Spencer, whom Dallas obtained when the Eagles swapped 2007 draft picks, moving up to get Spencer while the Eagles moved to the second round and took Kevin Kolb. (The Heckert defenders would point out that the third-round pick obtained in the deal was used to draft Stewart Bradley. So, there.)

In all likelihood, however, the new year will not be defined by the identity of the seventh-round draft pick but by the disposition of the McNabb-Kolb-Vick conundrum, a Bermuda Triangle in which they will try not to get lost.

It makes sense that Vick will be retained and traded. Both St. Louis and Buffalo appear to be willing suitors. As for the other two, it makes sense that one of them will be traded as well, particularly if this is an uncapped season in which the free-agent market is dry and the trade market becomes the place to be.

Some of the decision will depend on what offers the team receives for McNabb and Kolb. The front office will be listening and, as near as can be determined, nothing is off the table yet.

"Andy's the final decision maker here," Banner said. "But as far as, do we trade any of the quarterbacks? Do we keep all three? What do we do with their contract status? Each is in the last year of their deals. The uncertainty of the collective bargaining agreement going forward. Those are also parts of the decision. It just isn't who's the starter and who's here? There are different levels of complexity about the decision. We'll have to sit down and figure that out."

Reid clearly would prefer to keep McNabb, who did just make his sixth Pro Bowl, even if he got there through the side door. In the end, the quarterback decision might not be a referendum on whether Reid still gets everything he wants. But it might.

One thing is certain, however. When the franchise powers assemble at that meeting table, Reid can look around and know he doesn't have as many votes in his pocket as he once did.
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