Too early for Eagles fans to panic

Only a couple of hours after the announcement that free-agent offensive lineman Stacy Andrews had been signed by the Eagles, he was installed as the starting right tackle on the team's online depth chart.

Coach Andy Reid waffled about where Andrews would be playing during the introductory news conference on Saturday. He stressed that the new guy could line up at either guard or tackle, but that was mostly in deference to incumbent right tackle Jon Runyan, even though Runyan has drifted into free agency while recovering from microfracture knee surgery, which is a difficult exacta for a 35-year-old tackle.

Jon Runyan's spot has gone to a newcomer - for now.

The depth chart is technically "unofficial" because there are still six months until the next meaningful game, and the roster will be constantly rearranged before that time. For instance, the starting left tackle at the moment, not counting free agent Tra Thomas, upon whom the team has no hold, is Chris Patrick.

Patrick is a nice fellow from the University of Nebraska who was promoted from the practice squad for the final month of the season after Max Jean-Gilles broke his leg and the offensive line was being held together with Nick Cole and baling wire. He dressed for only two games and didn't step on the field. Patrick has been in pro ball for two seasons and the Eagles are his sixth organization.

But if there was a game today - which, thankfully, there is not - Chris Patrick would be protecting Donovan McNabb's blind side.

According to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, the Eagles and Thomas are "talking gently," with each side stalling a little to see what will happen next. Thomas wants to find out what he can make on the open market, understandably, but his age (34) is working against him as well.

The Eagles are probably going to be in position to wait until after the NFL draft in April to make a decision about either Runyan or Thomas, or perhaps both. They'll have a better idea at that time about how Andrews is recovering from his own knee surgery, how Runyan is doing with his rehabilitation, and how successful Thomas was in wooing suitors.

By then, the Eagles will also know if they think they found a stud tackle in the draft. Getting a sure thing might involve packaging picks or players to move up. Three tackles - Jason Smith of Baylor, Eugene Monroe of Virginia and Andre Smith of Alabama - are projected to be taken among the first 10 picks. After that, there is a drop-off to a second tier that is deep but perhaps not as certain.

The predicting business is dicey, of course, for tackles as for every other position. Thomas, for instance, was the 11th player taken in the draft. Runyan was the 109th.

Still, the events of free agency thus far make it seem the Eagles will use at least one of their opening-round picks on a tackle. It also seems they will spend some other draft choices on the safety position, where the depth chart shows only Quintin Mikell and Quintin Demps after the departure of Brian Dawkins and Sean Considine.

They are thin at safety, tight end (assuming the likely departure of L.J. Smith), running back, cornerback and receiver. There are plenty of holes to fill but probably no more than most teams have at this time of year.

Change, and adjusting to it, is what the NFL is all about. If you want an idea of how quickly things change, Sheldon Brown is now the only member of the starting defensive lineup from the Super Bowl team who remains on the roster.

That the Eagles will make the right changes to the roster is the part that can't be known now. Adding Andrews, the brother of Shawn Andrews, is almost a twofer, although Reid wouldn't say the familial aspect had anything to do with the signing.

"That's not why we brought him here. We brought him here because he's a good football player," Reid said. "Shawn worked very hard to get things straightened out before we brought Stacy here. I'm not worried about that part of Shawn's game."

If the depression that kept Shawn Andrews away from his right guard position has been "straightened out," along with the back that required surgery, then the addition of Stacy Andrews is strictly football. Still, as a stabilizing influence on his younger brother, having Stacy around can't hurt.

Because it is a long way and there are many changes and challenges to face before September arrives and whatever the Eagles have done in the off-season can be fairly judged.

And if you happen to glance at the depth chart, the season's being a long way away is a good thing.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or

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