The Eagles announced today that they plan to release Brian Westbrook, one of their all-time greats.
The 30-year-old running back's decorated career with the Eagles is over after eight seasons.
"This is a tough day for the Philadelphia Eagles," head coach Andy Reid said. "Anytime you have to release a player like Brian Westbrook, that’s not an easy thing to do -- neither for us or for Brian. I had an opportunity to talk to Brian this morning about the situation and inform him that we were going in a different direction. Brian was tremendous with it and very professional with it."
Reid added that the Eagles made the move now because they "wanted to make this move in order to maximize Brian’s chances of landing with another NFL team.”
The Eagles won't officially release Westbrook until March 5, the first day free agency opens.
A message left with Westbrook's agent, Todd France, was not immediately returned.
Westbrook was due to make $7.25 million if the Eagles were to bring him back for next season, but that high price tag coupled with his decreased production made the move an obvious one. The Eagles could try to bring back Westbrook at a lesser salary, but a team source said that was not going to happen.
“Brian Westbrook is one of the most electrifying players in the history of this franchise and is certainly also one of the most popular,” owner Jeffrey Lurie said. “He was personally one of the my favorite players to watch each and every Sunday and his playmaking abilities, leadership and values will be missed.”
Reid would not get into the specifics as to what led to the move, but the decision was forgone. Westbrook played in only eight games last season, missing seven because of two concussions. He returned for the final two regular season games and a playoff game, but was hardly used in the postseason loss to the Cowboys. He finished the season with 61 carries for 275 yards rushing and one touchdown and with 25 catches for 181 yards and one score.
Westbrook, who played in two Pro Bowls following the 2004 and 2007 seasons, ends his Eagles' career with 5,995 yards and 37 touchdowns rushing and 3,790 yards and 29 touchdowns receiving. He will surely go down as one of the franchise's greatest all-around weapons.
Westbrook was recently quoted as saying that he wanted to play next season.
“My goal is to get back out there and play football again,” Westbrook told Dan Rather. “That’s what I’m going to train this offseason to do.”
There was a report last month that Westbrook's left knee was so damaged that he wouldn't likely pass a physical with another team. Westbrook has dealt with a number of injuries over the years, but this past off-season he had arthroscopic surgery on his knee and had bone spurs removed from his right ankle.
There were plenty of signs that the Eagles viewed 2009 as likely the last for Westbrook in an Eagles' uniform. They drafted LeSean McCoy in the second round of the April draft and gave him a significant amount of responsibility early last season. The Pittsburgh product is now the No. 1 tailback. McCoy ran for 637 yards on 155 carries during his rookie season.
McCoy "takes the ball from here," Reid said.
Westbrook, aside from his versatility, was a great leader. Reid was asked if his leaving would affect the locker room.
“Well, Donovan [McNabb] is obviously here," Reid said. "We’ve got young guys that I think are good leaders also. We’re okay there. That’s not what I’m worried about. I will tell you Brian, I think, is a tremendous leader. He does it a little different way that he’s quiet, he does it by example. He was never afraid to speak up if he saw something that he knew wasn’t about the team.”
McNabb posted a statement on a video posted on playmakermobile.com.
"I've talked to [Westbrook] on many occassions, and he can continue to play this game and can play it at a high level," McNabb said. "So good luck to Brian. And I know it's a little down day for all of us, because he was a great friend of mine. But I know things will work out well for him."
Westbrook's departure, meanwhile, closes the book on a wonderful tenure. Drafted out of Villanova in the third round of the 2002 draft, Westbrook was mostly used as a returner during his rookie season. But with each year his load increased. He split reps at running back with Duce Staley and Correll Buckhalter initially, but by his third season he was the primary ball carrier for the Eagles. That season the Eagles reached the Super Bowl.
In 2005, Westbrook's season was cut short by injury, but in the next three years he became one of the best running backs in the NFL. In 2006, he rushed for 1,217 yards and caught 77 passes for 699 yards. In 2007, he topped 2,000 yards from scrimmage (1,333 rushing and 771 receiving).
By 2008, however, he started to show signs of slipping. Westbrook gained 936 yards on the ground, but his 4.0 yard per carry average was his lowest since 2005. Two off-season surgeries followed and Westbook's 30th birthday in September loomed. Thirty has often been cited as the age when lead running backs begin their decline. Westbrook's fall was rapid, although he has said that he has something left.
That remains to be seen.