NFL draft weekend: When hello means goodbye

043011-eagles-mikell-400
Quintin Mikell is a 30-year-old unrestricted free agent. (David Maialetti/Staff file photo)

The NFL draft weekend is a time for entrances both grand and quiet. On the first night, the phone rings, the television lights go on, the players ascend the stage in Radio City Music Hall, and the path to professional football is wide open.

By the third day, the phone calls are taken on the living room couch, but the players are just as excited to receive the news. Some team somewhere liked them and they are on their way, ready to prove they belong.

"It's a dream come true," linebacker Casey Matthews said Saturday afternoon after the Eagles took him with the 19th pick of the fourth round. "They drafted me and now I'm just looking forward to getting out there."

You could cut that quote and paste it onto a couple of hundred player reactions from the three-day span. A lot of dreams came true. A lot of guys were just happy for the opportunity. A lot of guys tried not to have too many expectations, but now that was over, well, it was great to be a team-name-here.

The draft is a time for exits as well as entrances, although the exits are never announced and hardly celebrated. Teams select new players they hope will jump over incumbent disappointments or replace departed players, some of whom are not yet officially departed. The smoke signals usually indicate whose career is drifting away with the wind.

While the drafting binge heralded the start of a new chapter for the team, it might have also officially closed the book on Andy Reid's greatest season with the Eagles. By drafting a safety in the second round and a kicker in the fourth round, the Eagles kept sawing through the splintering limb that held veterans Quintin Mikell and David Akers.

Mikell and Akers were the last remaining members of the Super Bowl team, the final links to the Eagles' greatest days under Reid. Some of the others fell away quickly after the 2004 season, some hung on for quite a while before departing. And now it seems Mikell and Akers are about to join them.

As usual with the Eagles, and with the other 31 NFL teams that operate as a business, it is about the money as well as the football. This offseason, with uncertainty as to the rules that will be in place when the league finally resumes operation, teams are trying to cover every eventuality.

Mikell is a 30-year-old unrestricted free agent, which means the Eagles probably weren't going to keep him regardless. He'd like a long-term contract, but understood that is unlikely here. It got a lot more unlikely when the Eagles chose to ignore more apparent needs on the defensive line and at cornerback and used their first defensive selection to take safety Jaiquawn Jarrett from Temple.

Reid said Jarrett reminded him of Brian Dawkins - "If you go across the middle, he'll blow you up" - and did everything but slot Jarrett as the strong safety of the future, perhaps the very near future. According to Reid, the Eagles haven't really focused on whether Mikell will be back, which is probably a little disingenuous, but it's not the sort of answer he's ever going to give.

As for Akers, the handwriting has been on the wall in bold since the ugly end of last season. The Eagles placed a transition tag on Akers, which - if the tag even exists in the future - gives them the right to match any offer he receives. But that isn't going to happen.

Akers has played 189 games for the Eagles, a record at his position, but he missed two field goals in the playoff game against Green Bay last season, a game the Eagles lost by five points.

"We can all count. Those points would have helped," Reid said. It was an uncharacteristic slap under any circumstance, but when it came out that Akers was playing while his young daughter faced imminent cancer surgery, the bond between player and team was obviously torn.

"It's been a nice run. It's not really the way I wanted to go out as an Eagle," Akers said that day, a valedictory that was chiseled in stone when the Eagles drafted kicker Alex Henery from Nebraska on Saturday.

If a team cuts a fourth-round pick, the player is owed about $450,000, so kickers are not selected lightly that high. Henery will make the team. He was the best college placekicker in the country, making 63 of 65 field goals inside of 50 yards over his four-year career.

"It's not coming in to replace [Akers.] It's coming in to do my job this upcoming year, is really how I look at it," Henery said.

The new guys come in. The old guys go out, or perhaps just fade from the roster without fanfare. Those are the changes that the draft set in motion. This year, the last on-field links to the Super Bowl are among the exits, and their replacements seem to be among the entrances.

It was time for a new Super Bowl year, anyway. At least that's the way it seems.

 


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at bford@phillynews.com and read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns