Paul Domowitch: Sheldon Brown sees Hobbs trade as his ticket out of Philadelphia

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Cornerback Ellis Hobbs started 49 games for the Patriots over the last 4 years. (Winslow Townson / AP file photo)

SO, LESS THAN a week after Sheldon Brown verbally firebombed Joe Banner and the rest of the Eagles' front office for refusing to renegotiate his contract, less than a week after he asked to be traded and threatened to turn into the second coming of Terrell Owens if the team didn't oblige him, the Eagles just happened to go out and acquire another starting cornerback yesterday, trading two fifth-round picks to the New England Patriots for Ellis Hobbs.

A coincidence? Well, you may not think so and I may not think so and Brown and Hobbs may not think so. But Andy Reid insisted - wink, wink - that a coincidence is exactly what it is. That's his story and he's sticking to it.

"This gives us some depth at the cornerback position," the Eagles head coach said at his post-draft news conference. "[Hobbs] has been a starting cornerback for the Patriots for the last 3 years. We got a good quality player. You can't have enough corners in this league. So we wanted to make sure we addressed that and brought in a veteran player.

"This doesn't have anything to do with Sheldon's situation or anything else. So we don't even need to go there with that. This is a quality player that we had an opportunity to get and we chose to do so."

And isn't this just going to make next weekend's mandatory minicamp at the NovaCare Complex a cozy little get-together, assuming Sheldon decides to attend.

Reid said he "would expect" Brown to be there. As of yesterday, Sheldon said he still hadn't made up his mind. Knowing Brown and his commitment to his teammates, my money's on him being there. But where this soap opera is headed, God only knows.

Banner already has gone on record as saying the Eagles have no interest in trading the 30-year-old cornerback. But Brown, who has been the Eagles' starting right corner since 2004, is hopeful that the team's acquisition of Hobbs is an indication they are willing to move him. Brown told the Daily News that he has heard that "the Eagles are saying no to everyone who asks" about him.

"Over the next few months, if they got an offer, they would be in a position [now] to trade me," he said. "It's a good thing from that perspective. It gives me more hope."

Brown's pal Lito Sheppard had similar hope last year after the Eagles signed Asante Samuel. He thought they would trade him. He thought wrong. He ended up rotting on the bench and wasn't even activated for the NFC Championship Game.

After the season Sheppard finally was traded to the New York Jets, where the two-time Pro Bowler is expected to be the team's nickel corner behind Darrelle Revis and second-year man Dwight Lowery. Still doesn't have a new contract.

Asked if he's worried about suffering the same buried-on-the-bench fate as Sheppard, Brown said, "Everybody who asks me that, I ask them, 'Does Lito have a job in the league today?' I know all the repercussions. I thought I did the right thing [by going public with his unhappiness]."

Hobbs, who is 4 years younger than Brown, started 49 games for the Patriots over the last 4 years. He's best known for giving up the game-winning touchdown to the Giants' Plaxico Burress in Super Bowl XLII 2 years ago. Brown also has been victimized by Burress over the years, just not in as harsh a spotlight.

At the moment, Hobbs' role with the Eagles is undefined. But Reid's response to a question about who will be his starting corners was much like the one he gave last year after Samuel's arrival.

"Well, we'll see where everything works out," he said. "But I feel like I've got three solid starters. And Joselio [Hanson] can step in there and also start. So we've got four solid corners."

What you didn't hear there is, "Sheldon's been our starting right corner for 5 years and will continue to be our starting right corner." What you read - between the lines - is, "Ellis Hobbs will get a chance to win the starting job."

Ironically, Hobbs, like Brown, also isn't happy with his contract situation. But he has just 1 year left on a deal that will pay him $2.545 million this season. After signing veterans Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden in the offseason and selecting a corner in the second round of the draft Saturday [Darius Butler], the Patriots decided to unload him.

"I was in communication with Bill [Belichick] during the draft," Reid said. "I needed another corner and the [draft] board didn't fall where I was satisfied with what was there. So I went in this direction [trading for Hobbs]."

Hobbs said he's reasonably sure the Eagles wouldn't have traded for him if not for the current problems with Brown.

"I knew about the situation over there with Sheldon and how that stuff is going," he said. "You bring somebody in for a reason, but everything has to be earned out there. Nothing is going to be given. I just look forward to getting out there and showing Philadelphia and the organization what I have."

Sheppard helped dig his own grave last season. He sulked and didn't always play hard or well and made it easy for defensive coordinator Jim Johnson to forget he was on the roster.

Brown isn't built that way. No matter how unhappy he is with his contract situation or the organization, he never will give anything less than his best when he's on the field . . . If he's on the field.

Asked yesterday whether the Hobbs trade makes it more likely the Eagles will trade Brown, Reid said, "I'm not even going to go into all that. I'm not entertaining that right now. Sheldon is on this football team."

For now. *

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