- The Washington Times - Monday, August 29, 2005

There are reasons the Philadelphia Eagles are the most successful team in the NFC, and one of them is their utter ruthlessness. The inmates do not run the asylum in Philly, nosiree. If Jeremiah Trotter balks at being designated the franchise player, makes what the club considers unreasonable demands, he’s cast to the winds. If Terrell Owens threatens to hold out — just a year after signing a seven-year contract — the club calls his bluff. (And if he acts like a jerk after he does report, he gets sent home for a week to contemplate the errors of his ways.)

You get the impression that if GM Joe Banner had been secretary of state during the Carter years, America never would have been held hostage — by Iran or anybody else.

Banner’s latest “victim” is Corey Simon, the two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle who suddenly found himself out of work Sunday. Simon, like Trotter, had rebelled against the franchise tag, and the Eagles finally got tired of waiting for him to snap out of it. He’s free to wreak havoc for any team now, though at this late date he may have trouble finding the lucrative long-term deal he lusts for. Most clubs don’t have a couple of million dollars in cap space lying around.

Somehow, the Eagles will survive. They went to the NFC title game both seasons Trotter was away, and they seem to have enough horses on defense now to get by without Simon. Seeing this situation coming, Philly used its first-round draft pick on a defensive tackle, Mike Patterson, who has looked good in camp. The deletion of Simon’s $5.13 million salary, moreover, will enable Banner to address any problems that might pop up in the near future, such as Owens falling on his Sharpie or suffering a career-ending tongue injury.

Would that all teams could afford to operate this way. Vultures like Drew Rosenhaus bemoan the NFL system, with its franchise players and nonguaranteed contracts, but at least it’s something the fans can relate to. Who can relate to Brian Grant, he of the 3.8 scoring average, being waived by the Lakers but still being owed $29.8 million over the next two years? Who can relate to Sidney Ponson running amok from Baltimore to Aruba … yet continuing to cash his hefty (almost as hefty as him) paycheck? Who can relate to anything that went on in the NHL players’ heads during the recent lockout?

In the NFL, employees at least face the prospect of being fired — like the rest of us — if they don’t perform. As for the franchise tag, it has gotten a bad rap, I’m convinced, basically because it has been mislabeled. It’s not usually slapped on the Resident Superstar, as it turns out, but rather on the Guy Who Figures To Be The Biggest Pain In The Butt To Re-Sign. What sport wouldn’t be better off if it had a Guy Who Figures To Be The Biggest Pain In The Butt To Re-Sign Exception?

(Also, were it not for the franchise tag, let’s not forget, the Redskins wouldn’t have gotten two No. 1 picks from the Panthers for Sean Gilbert — picks that, thanks to some sharp trading by Charley Casserly, yielded Champ Bailey and LaVar Arrington.)

The only club that rivals the Eagles in cold-bloodedness, interestingly enough, is the Patriots. The Pats released team leader Lawyer Milloy two years ago when he wouldn’t take a pay cut, and since then they’ve let Ty Law go and allowed two of Tom Brady’s blockers to walk. So far, though, it hasn’t hurt Bill Belichick’s winning percentage — or, apparently, the club’s esprit de corps.

Philly and New England do a terrific job of drafting and developing players, no question, but they do an even better job of determining a player’s value, which has enabled them to avoid the salary cap traps that have snared so many teams. Or to put it another way, they know that on the football field, as at the poker table, three eights beat two 10s (and as an added bonus, usually cost less).

Trotter sampled the Washington scene and came running back to Philadelphia. Hugh Douglas did the same after a misspent season in Jacksonville. Money is great, they found, but glory is better.

Corey Simon hasn’t come to that realization yet, to the understanding that success in the NFL is a 53-man enterprise — and that sometimes you have to settle for less than top dollar to remain part of something great. Being 28 and headstrong, he pushed the Eagles into a corner, and to his everlasting surprise they pushed back. Bully for them.

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