In a perfect world for the Philadelphia Eagles, running back LeSean McCoy would have spent at least two seasons serving as Brian Westbrook's understudy. Westbrook, the ultimate professional, wasn't able to participate in the 2009 training camp at Lehigh but he made sure his roommate, McCoy, knew exactly what was expected of him.
That tutorial program came to an abrupt halt Tuesday when the Eagles announced the release of Westbrook after eight seasons. McCoy will have to take it from here. And honestly, no one should be shocked at the news of Westbrook's release at age 30. He only played in eight games last season because of two concussions, and his production dipped remarkably when he was on the field. The Eagles owed Westbrook more than $7 million in 2010, and there's simply no way to justify paying that type of money to a player with so many injury risks.
Westbrook's career in Philly may have ended abruptly, but he gave the Eagles some brilliant seasons. He doesn't have a long list of Pro Bowls (two) next to his name but his stamp on the organization is undeniable. For a long stretch, he was the Eagles' most dangerous weapon. His ability to hurt you as a ball carrier or a receiver made him a rare player in the league. His destruction of the Giants late in the 2008 season -- namely Antonio Pierce -- caused general manager Jerry Reese to sign free-agent linebacker Michael Boley. Westbrook's presence alone affected defensive coordinators because they always had to account for him.
Westbrook will think long and hard before putting on his helmet again for another team. He expressed his fear of being affected by head injuries on a long-term basis. That may end up overriding his desire to continue in the NFL. This is a very prideful man, so he's not going to be happy getting seven or eight touches per game as a third-down back. And it's hard to imagine a team seeing him as anything more than that given his injury history. The Redskins could give him a spin, but I'm not sure pairing Clinton Portis with Westbrook is a good idea. OK, I know it's not a good idea.
The Eagles have lost another excellent leader in the locker room. It's one thing to replace Brian Dawkins and Westbrook on the field, but it's another to account for their veteran leadership. McCoy showed signs of being a dangerous runner last season -- especially when Andy Reid planned for him to be in the lineup. This is, above all, a financial decision but it's also a statement that McCoy needs to become the focal point of the running game -- or what passes for one in Philly.
The Eagles will likely select another running back in April's draft. And there's also some veteran options with Chester Taylor and LaDainian Tomlinson. Taylor probably has more in the tank because he hasn't taken the same type of pounding as Tomlinson. But my best guess is the Eagles will try to find a complementary back to McCoy in the draft. Keep DeSean Jackson's former teammate Jahvid Best in mind. Best will have to undergo rigorous medical testing at the combine because of a scary injury that took place last November.
Leonard Weaver's ability as a runner and receiver gives the Eagles some flexibility that other teams don't have. This is a sad day for Eagles fans, but it's something they had to see coming. The NFL is a young man's game and we're hit in the face with that fact every now and then.
Tuesday was one of those days.