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Saying Goodbye to Brian Dawkins: An Animal and a Gentleman

By C.J. Hecht

                Seemingly with all of Philadelphia’s eyes on the possible departure of QB Donovan McNabb, overlooked was the impending future of arguably the best Eagle in history, free safety Brian Dawkins. It was not only Philadelphia, but almost everyone who overlooked Dawkins’ possible last year in the City of Brotherly Love. Dawk was not included in Sports Illustrated or Yahoo Sports’ top 25 free agents, neither was he included in CBS Sports’ top 50 free agents. Many were likely under the assumption that the Eagles and Dawkins would reach an agreement sometime before the free agent period began. Nearly everyone predicted that Dawk would be an Eagle for his entire career (including myself), likely failing to realize the extent of the Eagles’ parsimonious free agent strategy. In an interview with FOX’s Pam Oliver before the Eagles-Giants NFC Divisional Playoff game, Dawkins confidently stated that he and the organization would work out a deal. Andy Reid and Joe Banner made similar statements a week before the start of free agency at the NFL Scouting Combine. Apparently, the Birds must have had thoughts that Dawkins was willing to accept a low ball offer to stay with the organization, similar to former LB Jeremiah Trotter’s contract situation in the 2005 off season when he chose the Eagles over the Chiefs to stay in Philadelphia. Of course Dawkins could have accepted the Eagles contract offer without starving himself, but no one should tolerate being disrespected, and that is exactly what the organization did; he had no other choice but to move on. With this move the Eagles delivered a huge slap not only to perhaps the top player in Eagles history, but also their loyal and passionate fans who have adopted Dawkins as a local hero.

It is also evident in an interview with ESPN Radio 950 with Jody Mack and Harry Mayes in Philadelphia that the Eagles did not make much of an effort to keep him around. Dawkins commented that there was “not much flexibility” in the deal he was presented and that the Birds made it clear to him that they could move on without him. He went on to state in the interview that he wanted to be an Eagle, citing that he would never have wanted to have reached free agency on his last contract. He mentioned times when he could have landed lucrative contracts, but signed extensions with the Eagles to stay in Philadelphia. He commented further by stating “…this is something that really hurt me, [it] hurt me pretty deep.”

                Normally, I tend to disagree with popular opinion. Nearly everyone wants McNabb gone, and I want him to be a member of the Eagles for at least two more years. However, in this circumstance how can you make an argument for the Birds letting Dawk go? If your response is that he is nearly 35, slowing down, and poor in man coverage schemes, they are all good points, but the good outweighs the bad and the other options available this year. Let’s not forget BDawk had a pro bowl season last year, he absolutely has to have something left in the tank.  

If the Eagles were to have a plan to replace Dawkins, this entire scenario would be much easier to digest. Ironically, the Birds’ first plan was to pursue a 34 year old corner in Shawn Springs and persuade him to play safety. At that point why would you not just hang on to BDawk? Not to mention it was an absolute slap in the face to one of the greatest players in the history of the organization. He may cost a tad more, but if there ever was a player to overpay it is Brian Dawkins. The Eagles’ 2nd plan was to sign Cleveland Browns safety Sean Jones. I would not exactly call that a reliable back up plan. Although Jones is an intriguing under the radar target for the Birds, why go through the process of finding a temporary solution when they had one right in front of them? A two or three year contract would have enabled Dawkins to finish his career as an Eagle, for young safety Quentin Demps to learn from an absolute legend, and it would have filled a hole which the Eagles were not prepared to fill. The Eagles could have even signed both Dawkins and Jones; I’d be much more comfortable with that arrangement and it’s not like they can’t afford it. Recent free agent signing Rashad Baker coming over from the Oakland Raiders will likely serve as a backup to either Sean Jones or Quentin Mikell and play special teams. If things work out well Baker could wind up being Sean Considine’s replacement, but still a move that does not exactly leave me confident about the Birds’ secondary. Perhaps Sheldon Brown will move to safety, something that has been discussed for the past year, but the switch from corner to safety is not an easy one. Again, the process would have been much easier if he were able to learn under the great wings of Brian Dawkins.

Look for the Eagles to make a move to upgrade their secondary in the draft. The organization has a pressing need on the offensive line as well as at running back and tight end, so the Birds will likely not be able to address the position until at least the second round and possibly the third. A dark horse candidate to improve the secondary is former Wisconsin CB Jack Ikegwuonu who was drafted in the 4th round last year despite tearing his ACL before the 2008 Draft. A likely first round selection prior to his injury, the organization is unsure what to expect and are hoping for him to make a full recovery.  As you can see, there are a lot of question marks in the Eagles offseason plans, especially in the secondary. Things may be able to be patched together for this year if everything works out exactly as planned, but what about the injury bug that so often bites the Birds?

Dawkins can’t be compared to the prototypical 35 year old safety, or for that matter any other player. He is a man who is closely in touch with himself, the lord, and his family. He considers himself blessed to achieve what he has, blessed for the fans of Philadelphia, for his time as an Eagle, and now for the opportunity to start fresh as a Bronco. This is in such stark contrast to how most players in the NFL currently feel. Many clearly take the opportunity for granted and risk it with childish actions off the field; like the incompetent Donté Stallworth, Plaxico Burress, and Michael Vick to name a few. T.O. could be placed in this category, but he’s not violent, he’s just ignorant.

Throughout his 13 year career Brian Dawkins has not had one off the field issue, displaying that despite the prevalence of a culture of violence and prosperity in the NFL, class can still be maintained. It is amazing that such passion and fury can be contained to the gridiron only. Passion is something every individual must have, but lately players tend to extend this energy in the wrong direction, at the wrong places, and at the wrong time. Dawkins does not curse, he prays in tongues, and believes that he is a wolverine when he storms onto the field. He has made a name for himself as an NFL legend, and undoubtedly one of the best safeties ever to play the game. He is a true role model, a gentleman off the field and an animal on the field. Dawkins is not just any football player, he is a hero, someone everyone can learn something from and look up to; a perfect player to tell your kids about. He has made a name for himself perhaps more than any other player, his leadership, charisma, passion, and energy will never be matched.

                Les Bowen’s story in an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer entitled “Eagles should not have let Dawkins Walk” following Dawkins’ departure was simple, but could not have proven what he means to the City of Philadelphia any better. He stated:

Late in the 2007 season, I was running (OK, chugging and shuffling) in a 10K race over the Ben Franklin Bridge from New Jersey and back, the morning of a late-afternoon Eagles game. Near the finish, I happened to be traveling through the Camden waterfront in a pack that included a runner wearing a Dawkins jersey. As we passed the Battleship New Jersey, we came up on a couple of people who had slowed to a walk. One of them wore a Dawkins jersey, as well. As we passed on the left, the Dawkins guy in my pack leaned over to the pedestrian No. 20. "Dawk don't walk," he said. Guy immediately started running again.”

An absolute legend and hero; the Philadelphia Eagles have lost not only the heart and soul of their football team, but so has the City of Philadelphia. I believe that I speak for the entire city when I say that Brian Dawkins will never be forgotten.

                Ironically, the Broncos will come to Lincoln Financial Field next season. Expect a sea of orange and an emotional return for Dawkins, as fans may be pulling more for BDawk than their beloved Eagles. Especially when considering the way the organization handled the situation, nothing will be stopping me from purchasing an orange #20 jersey and cheering when Dawkins takes down McNabb for a sack.

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