By Phil Sheridan
It would be really nice if Duce Staley ran as fast as he runs hard. He doesn't.
For that simple reason, the Eagles find themselves with an annual problem. The team tries to get younger and faster at running back, and Staley wants someone to promise him he's still the star.
This little ritual, which has cost the Eagles at least one great player, was already boring. Now it's getting ridiculous. After yesterday, when Staley failed to show up for a minicamp, the Eagles should seriously ask themselves why they keep playing along.
Cornerback Bobby Taylor also tried to send a message to the team by boycotting the first day of this passing camp. While the camp is technically voluntary - NFL rules limit how many mandatory practices teams can schedule in the off-season - it is considered a given that everyone will show up.
So Taylor and Staley knew what they were doing. They will almost certainly be disappointed with the reaction they get.
Two years ago, coach Andy Reid brought Priest Holmes in for a free-agent visit. Staley was coming off his 2000 foot injury, and Reid had promised him the chance to win his job back. Because of that promise, the Eagles saw Holmes as a complementary player rather than a No. 1 running back. They passed on signing him, and Holmes has merely gone on to establish himself as perhaps the best all-around back in the NFL.
Staley played fine in 2001, but Reid used rookie Correll Buckhalter too much for his starter's liking. Staley sent Reid a letter during the off-season, saying just that. Reid replied by going after free agent Warrick Dunn. If the Eagles had gotten Dunn, Staley would have been done - in Philadelphia, at least. He would have been released.
But Dunn took a huge offer from Atlanta instead. Then Buckhalter, who likely would have been the Eagles' No. 1 back despite Staley's letter, blew out his knee in a minicamp practice.
Staley was back at the top of the depth chart. He didn't like sharing time with Dorsey Levens and Brian Westbrook last season, but he said the right things and turned in his first 1,000-yard season in three years.
That brings us to the present. Once again, Staley can look around and see that things aren't shaping up his way. Buckhalter is back. Westbrook has a full year in Reid's offense, a prerequisite for young players. Staley's role will be diminished. It's even possible, if Buckhalter looks sharp and Westbrook has improved, that Staley could be released during training camp.
That's how it works in the NFL. Players who are scheduled to make more than $2 million do not hang around to provide depth. You start or you depart. Staley knows this. Everyone in the league knows this.
It appears Staley would like to force his release now. That would give him time to sign with another team before training camp. For the Eagles, though, it makes sense to wait. Every year, it seems, something happens and makes Staley the top guy. If that something happens and Staley is already gone, the Eagles will be caught short.
He is their insurance policy, in other words. That may be tough for Staley to accept, but he isn't exactly the first player to find himself in this situation. It's a risk every player runs when he signs a long-term contract.
Taylor's status is a little different. He made his first Pro Bowl last year, voiding the 2004 season from his contract. And there's no doubt Taylor had his finest all-around performance in 2002.
But it's also true that he is scheduled to make more than $4 million this year. His partner, Troy Vincent, is going into the final year of his contract. The Eagles are going to have to figure out how to keep both of them, or whether they really want to. The team selected Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown in the first two rounds of the 2002 draft in anticipation of this very situation. Expect the kids to get every chance to play their way into starting jobs.
If they fail, then Taylor and Vincent will have tremendous leverage before hitting free agency. If the younger guys come on, the Eagles will likely be willing to sign only one of the veterans to a new deal.
That's how this game works. The team tries to bring in young talent at cap-friendly prices, while the players try to make as much money as possible.
If Taylor and his new agent, Jason Medlock, think the Eagles are going to break the bank to sign Taylor now, they clearly haven't paid attention over the last few years. That's not how Reid and team president Joe Banner do business.
Here's how they do business: They'll look at Staley and they'll look at Taylor and then decide where each fits into this team's long-term plans. Reid can't like this little stunt - he declined to say much about it; surprise, surprise - but he didn't like Staley's actions last year, either. So the coach will try to put this aside and make a rational decision, and then Banner will either try to negotiate new deals or he won't.
That's what will happen. That's what always happens. All Staley and Taylor got themselves was a week off.