Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Exit Stage West

***

The Eagles made it official today...Brian Westbrook will be released on March 5th.  I wasn't the least bit surprised by this.  I wrote about the possibility in my column for PE.com just the other day:

LeSean McCoy is the starting running back at this point. I don't know if Brian Westbrook will return. I have my doubts. He reportedly is due a big salary. He also is coming off an injury-plagued season. These are not good news for an aging runner, even one who has been as great for us as Westbrook has. NFL teams have to make decisions with their brains and not their hearts. That is a nasty reality of professional sports, especially in the modern age.

Actions speak louder than words.   We went to Dallas for a playoff game and our franchise RB had one touch.  That said it all.  Westy was as good as done.  People will point out that he took that play for 27 yards.  It looks good in the gamebook.  However, re-watch the play.  Westy was all alone in space.  That play should have gotten us more yards.  I love Brian Westbrook to death, but that play showed that he simply no longer has the wheels that made him Westy, hero to all under-used RBs.

Why cut a guy who still averaged 4.5 ypc, is a good receiver, and good blocker?  Simply put...Westy is a descending player.  He struggled in 2008.  His final numbers looked okay, but were padded by good games against weak defenses.  He had 2 surgeries prior to 2009 that we hoped would ease nagging lower leg injuries. That didn't seem to happen.  Then the concussion problem came out of left field.  His injury situation got worse, essentially.  He's aging and expensive.  Not good.  He's breaking down physically.  Not good.

I blame Tra Thomas.  Westy had a great year in 2006 and 07.  He opened '08 in good fashion.  He ran for 91 yards against the Rams.  He had 103 total yards at Dallas and scored 3 TDs.  We then hosted Pittsburgh.  Brian ran to the left side.  Tra had fallen down and Westy went to jump over him.  One foot came down on Tra's leg and that led to a badly sprained ankle.  Brian missed the next game.  He came back vs WAS and got a rib broken.  That cost him another game.  He just wasn't the same after that.  Brian put up big numbers against ATL and ARZ, but those defenses were terrible.  Brian had super-highways to run though as he piled up 44 carries and 277 yards in those games.

There is an adage in football that it is better to get rid of a player a year too early than a year too late.  The Eagles handled this situation well.  They gave Brian 2009 as a bounce back year.  It didn't happen.  Now it is time to move on.

I'm sure some will wonder about why the Eagles didn't simply talk to him about a lower salary.  This wasn't about just saving money.  It is time to cut the cord, so to speak.  Westy was a great player for us.  He was truly a complete back.  Unfortunately RB is a young man's position.  LeSean McCoy is now the RB.  We need to bring in players to put around him.  Westy would have been an odd fit as a role player.  It might have been a slap in his face to even ask if Brian wanted to play for less and be a role player on a team that he helped to some lofty heights. 

Now Brian can talk to other teams and see if he's able to find a home for 2010.  I wish him the best, as long as he's not in Dallas.

Some favorite memories?  Back in 2003 we started off 0-2.  The next game was in BUF, following a bye week.  Andy realized that young Mr. Westbrook needed to be a bigger part of the offense.  We had a lead late in the game and were trying to eat some time off the clock.  Brian took a handoff and raced 62 yards for a TD.  2003 was also the year of his great punt returns.  He had the one vs the Giants that won us an ugly game, 14-10.  That may have saved our season.  He later had one vs SF where he put an incredible fake on a defender.

There was a run at DET in 2004 where Westy went up the middle and actually knocked a tackler back.  I remember watching that play over and over...wow.  You just didn't see Brian do that.  Against GB he put on a show as a receiver.  Brian caught 11 passes for 156 yards and 3 TDs.  Watching him run the wheel route was a thing of beauty.

The last 7 games of 2006 were magical.  Brian ran for 714 yards on 142 carries (5.0 ypc).  He really carried the offense in that stretch.  That was the best combination of him and the OL playing at a high level in his time as an Eagle.  The highlight of that year was his 71 yard TD run vs SF early in the year.  Westy used one of the most violent stiff arms I've ever seen.  He just tossed away the defender and trucked on into the end zone.  Freakin' Earl Campbell.

2007 was statistically his best year.  I have 2 really good memories from that year.  The first is the Miami game.  Donnie got hurt and AJ replaced him.  Westy became the offense in that game.  He had 32 carries for 148 yards.  That was one of the few times when we just fed him the ball like a true RB.  The other great memory is the Dallas play.  Westy broke free up the middle late in the game.  We led 10-6.  Brian went down at the 1-yard line and we ran out the clock for the win.  He was ordered to do that by Runyan, but Westy was smart enough to listen and then do it.

2008 wasn't a pretty year, as I mentioned earlier.  The one game where Brian came through against a good team was at the Giants.  We fed him the ball more than any other game in his career.  Westy had 33 carries for 131 yards.  He also caught 6 passes for 72 yards.  He had a 30 yard TD run and 40 yard TD catch in the game.  That was my first hint that Antonio Pierce was getting old.  There was also the long screen pass in the playoff game against Minnesota.  We had the lead, but that long TD play sealed the game.

2009 was sadly forgettable.

I loved watching Brian Westbrook play for us.  I loved his style of running.  He wasn't the biggest or fastest, but he was very instinctive and had the ability to find a crease in the defense.  Brian was great because he could catch and block better than he could run.  He was just one of those guys who could make something special happen any time he touched the ball.  Remember the Seattle game in 2007?  We trailed 28-24 late.  Andy Reid put Westy in as the punt returner.  He got the ball and did his usual magic.  Next thing you know he was running free down the field.  He got us inside the Red Zone and gave us a chance to win.  Unfortunately things didn't work out as hoped, but Westy showed his electric ability on that punt return.  Simply put, he was a special player.

I'm going to really miss #36, but that's only fitting.  The thing he did maybe best of all was make people miss him.  This time it will be Eagles fans instead of opposing defenders.
___

14 comments:

Edward said...

Awesome segment Tommy. No offense to spuds but that was a far better 'goodbye' post.

Jose Antonio said...

Tommy by any chance you see andy bringing back tony hunt this time as a RB. i think his talents were not used the right way. why not give him a 2nd chance?

Myron said...

You should have titled this "Exit Stage West".

Tommy Lawlor said...

Brilliant, Myron. I'm gonna steal that and change the title.

@ Edward...thanks.

@ Jose...no NFL team has seriously looked at Tony. Something weird is going on there.

Cliff said...

Another great thing about BW is that he is a high-character person. He took his post-football life seriously and does a lot of good work in the VA-DC-MD area.

On another note, I can already hear the rumblings about this move being "all about the money." Well... so what? Some fans are going to use this as an opportunity to rant on Lurie's "real motives" as an owner. That's just ridiculous.

arby said...

Yeah, very good job there Tommy. Loved the ending.

bula412 said...

nice sendoff for west. he will be missed. on another note, is the scouting combine televised. i coulda sworn i've watched it in previous years, but can't seem to find it in the programming

Kevin said...

I wish nothing but the best for the Wizard of Westbrook. I hate saying it, but it's the right call. RBs fall off a cliff. It's the same reason I don't want to sign LT. They're done.

If Brian wants to come back as an injury replacement, sure. Otherwise, I hope he finds a spot somewhere else. Tough dude.

Edward said...

@bula412

Its all over NFL network from saturday onwards, they've just got some press conference stuff today.

Adam S. said...

While we knew it was coming tis one still sucks. I was mad last year when they didn't resign Dawkins, I understood their motives but still wasn't prepared for it. This time around I knew it was coming but it still stings. I hope he goes somewhere this year and lights it up (just not for an NFC team).

Do you see any teams in particular that would be a good fit for him? If he isn't finding the money he is looking for on the open market, does he return for a reduced salary? would they want him back at a reduced rate? I know I'm grasping at straws but if he is gonna get the same amount of money here as somewhere else to be a backup why would he go elsewhere??He knows the system inside and out, his personal life is entrenched here.

I wish he could play for us for another 3 years and be effective but that is just unrealistic. Farewell to one of my top three favorite players of all time.

Edward said...

Apparently the Eagles didn't even offer a reduced salary, thats either because they don't want him back at all or because they didn't want to insult him. I'd prefer to think it was the latter.

mcud77 said...

I think the Eagles are scared for his health, and are, in a sense, forcing his retirement.

tobylove said...

What I most appreciated about Westbrook was his professionalism and dedication to improving his game.

Up until the last few years when injuries took their toll, Westy was always improving and adapting himself.

Eddie Savkovic said...

on top of all that westy was a true team player. never complained even when he felt like he could do more. never took the bait when the media tried to create controversy.

it is a shame that his career won't be long enough for him to put up the numbers to make the HOF because in my opinion he is the sort of player that football is all about and should be among those most remembered in the sport.