Or at least a Carnival with the return of Staley to boot...
Staley to report to Eagles on Sunday
Friday, August 22, 2003
By MARK ECKEL
PHILADELPHIA - While the Eagles prepared for their first game at Lincoln Financial Field tonight against New England, running back Duce Staley prepared to end his holdout and report to the team this weekend.
Unless there is a sudden change of heart - and anything has been possible in this three-week-plus saga - Staley should be back with his teammates Sunday and at the team's annual carnival at the Linc Sunday afternoon, The Times has learned.
Head coach Andy Reid, who has spoken with both Staley and his agent, Derek Harrison, over the past week, was asked if he expected Staley this weekend. The coach responded with a "no comment" and a huge smile. Told that "everyone loves a carnival," Reid laughed, shook his head and walked away.
Reid may have taken a page out of his mentor Mike Holmgren's book in helping to get Staley to return to the team. Back in 1994, Green Bay Packers All-Pro wide receiver Sterling Sharpe staged a contact holdout the day before the start of the regular season.
Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf credited Holmgren with getting the situation resolved. According to reports, Holmgren was instrumental in talking to Sharpe and convincing him to come back to the team, which he did in time for the game.
Reid was a lower-level assistant coach with the Packers at the time, but remembered walking into the team hotel that Saturday as Sharpe was walking out.
The difference in the two situations is that Reid is both the Eagles head coach and general manager, and that while Sharpe got his contract adjusted that year, Staley is not getting the extension he desired or a raise from the $2.2 million he is scheduled to earn this season. The only concession the team might make is for the fines - currently at $130,000 - that Staley has to pay for his holdout.
Actually, the timing of Staley's return is about as good a public-relations move as either side could have hope for; from a football standpoint, the timing is not terrible, either.
The Eagles' carnival has become an annual event in which the players and coaches partake in different games, sign autographs and meet with the fans. All proceeds benefit the Eagles Youth Partnership, which enhances opportunities to improve the quality of life for children in the Philadelphia area.
Staley, a fan favorite from the time he became the starting running back in 1998, can win back the hearts of the fans who have been bothered by his holdout, which will hit 26 days today.
In terms of football, Staley will have one preseason game, Thursday night against the Jets, and then another full week of practice to get ready for the season opener Monday night, Sept. 8, against defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay.
The 28-year-old running back has worked out constantly while at his home in Columbia, S.C., and has more experience in the West Coast offense than any other player on the roster. What he needs is to get in what football people call "football shape." To the rest of the world, that means he needs to get banged around a few times in practice before going against a live opponent.
If all goes well, Staley will play some against Tampa Bay and New England, the Eagles' first two opponents of the regular season, then get the bye week to have more time to be ready for the rest of the season.
Staley's holdout began when he and teammate Bobby Taylor, the Pro Bowl cornerback, skipped a two-week voluntary June minicamp in hopes of getting a contract extension.
While Taylor showed up on time for training camp at Lehigh University the night of July 28, Staley stayed in South Carolina, thus becoming the first Eagles player under contract to hold out of camp since tight end Keith Jackson did so in 1990.
Staley, in the final year of his contract, will earn $2.2 million this season. He had another year at $2.8 million on his contract, but voided it when he gained over 1,000 yards rushing last season.
He wanted an extension so the Eagles could show him that he would be part of the future, but the team has refused to budge on that matter. Wide receiver Todd Pinkston did get a contract extension last week, and the team could also be involved in contract talks with defensive tackle Corey Simon and running back Correll Buckhalter. Staley, Taylor, cornerback Troy Vincent, linebacker Carlos Emmons and backup quarterback A.J. Feeley will also be free agents at the end of the season.
Staley will be one of just five starting running backs on the free-agent market next year and the second-most attractive behind former Eagle Charlie Garner, now with Oakland. The other free agent-to-be running backs include Dallas' Troy Hambrick, San Francisco's Kevan Barlow and New England's Kevin Faulk.
The Chicago Bears were, and still are, interested in trading for Staley, and picked up close to $2 million in salary cap space and an extra draft pick when they sent defensive tackle Ted Washington to the Patriots.
Word out of Chicago, however, is that while the Bears want Staley, the Eagles have not even listened to any potential offers for the veteran back.