February 23, 2010

Farewell, Brian Westbrook.

This video, featuring picture-perfect musical accompaniment from pop rock all-stars Three Doors Down, more than adequately sums up my love for now-former Philadelphia Eagle Brian Westbrook.

Everyone has their favorite Westbrook memory, from his season-saving punt return against the Giants in 2003 to his 2,104 yards from scrimmage and long-awaited domination of the NFL in 2007.

From 2004 to 2008, you could argue that he was second only to LaDainian Tomlinson as the NFL's most dominant running back. When Donovan McNabb faltered or suffered a season-ending injury, he was the constant that carried the team. Opposing defensive coordinators had to account for him on every play, and Eagles fans never knew when he'd break a game-changing run, return or catch.

He seemed to lead by example, and even though he'd miss two or three games a year, his resilience season after season captured the hearts of Philadelphia fans.

His departure was expected, even encouraged...at least in theory. There's no way the Eagles were going to pay $7.5 million to the hobbled, creaky back that Westbrook had become. The only question was when they'd cut the cord, which turned out to be a day after the San Diego Chargers released Tomlinson.

The Eagles also now seemingly have a boatload of money to throw at a primo free agent, a group of players that includes stud defensive end Julius Peppers of the Carolina Panthers. And if the final two games against the Cowboys showed us anything, it's that the Eagles can use some help on the defensive line.

But it's still tough to see this happen. Extremely tough. Westbrook burst from minor obscurity at Villanova University to become one of the most dynamic players in football. He was DeSean Jackson before there was a DeSean Jackson, except he touched the ball 25 to 30 times a game. He kept the Eagles interesting, competitive and extremely exciting. He was a veteran on a team that was constantly rebuilding on the fly, a team that had no problem jettisoning aging players and survived by relying on several key stars.

And now they've jettisoned Westbrook. I imagine he'll catch on somewhere, although I really hope he doesn't risk further injury to his brain while gutting it out for a team like the Cleveland Browns or the Kansas City Chiefs. He's had an incredible career, even if it was one only Eagles fans can truly appreciate, and I would hate to see him rot away in another uniform.

But what will the fallout be from his departure? Is LeSean McCoy ready to be a featured back? Is the Eagles locker room strong enough to survive without Westbrook and Brian Dawkins? And is this the precursor to a Donovan McNabb departure, as well?

Only time will tell. But for now, I say goodbye to someone who might be my favorite Eagle of all time, and definitely the most explosive player I've ever seen put on midnight green.

Farewell, Brian Westbrook.

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