Andy Reid wasn't stepping into this trap.

Brian Dawkins, one of the greatest players in Eagles history, is coming back to town in the garish colors of the Denver Broncos on Sunday. It makes for a good subplot. It makes for fine theater. Unless 70,000 alien replicants show up at Lincoln Financial Field for the game, it will be a warm moment when Dawk is showered with love.

But even though there was gnashing of garments and rending of teeth last winter when Dawkins left his NFL home of 13 seasons, the cold truth is that the move has had remarkably little impact on either the Eagles or the Broncos.

Denver, you'll recall, offered Dawkins a big contract because new head coach Josh McDaniels wanted to change the culture with some intense veteran leadership. When the Broncos won their first six games, that looked like a heck of a smart approach. But guess what? The Broncos have lost six of their last eight and are well on their way to the same kind of second-half collapse that has plagued them in recent years.

Sunday's ugly home loss to Oakland was the latest affront to Denver fans. The Raiders won on a last-minute touchdown pass and, if you watch the video, there's No. 20 running in too late to stop Chaz Schilens from getting into the end zone.

This is not a knock on Dawk, who is on the short list of best players and best human beings I've covered in 25 years. This is simple acknowledgment that, in the ultimate team sport, it isn't easy for one man to make or break a season.

If the Broncos are the same team they were before signing Dawkins, then it must be said that the Eagles are pretty much the same team they were before losing him. For the eighth time in Reid's 11 years, they are going to the playoffs.

But there was no way Reid was going to give up a sound bite about Dawkins that could be interpreted in any way as negative. When asked how he felt the Eagles were doing without their longtime defensive star, Reid backpedaled faster than a cornerback covering DeSean Jackson.

"We've done OK," Reid said. "We've won a couple of games."

Translation: You do the math.

Everyone would have liked to see Dawkins finish his career with the Eagles. That would have been best for everyone involved - except Dawkins himself. He had the chance to get one more big payday, and he took it. It's pretty hard to criticize him for that, and it's just as hard to criticize the Eagles for choosing not to match Denver's offer.

"It worked out great for Brian, and that's what's important there," Reid said. "It was something that Denver needed to do. It worked out fine for him and his family. Would we have loved to have kept him here? Yeah, but they did a nice job with it, and it worked out for them."

The Eagles would have been a better team with Dawkins this year, but there's no denying time's impact on the 36-year-old safety. Part of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's genius was taking advantage of his players' abilities and camouflaging their weaknesses. Dawkins' role changed as he did.

During Reid's tenure, the Eagles have riled up their fans (and provided red meat to talk-radio hosts) by allowing popular players to move on. Almost every off-season, the sky falls because Duce Staley or Jeremiah Trotter or Troy Vincent are leaving town. Almost every season, by some miracle, the Eagles are back in the playoffs.

So it would be understandable if Reid threw out a little I-told-you-so yesterday. But he didn't - because he respects Dawkins too much and because, frankly, it doesn't matter. No matter what happens in January or February, there will be another civic meltdown in March if another popular player moves on.

"I'm not into all that," Reid said. "That's part of this business. It's been that way since professional sports were created. That's how things go. It's part of the business."

It is an unfortunate part. Free agency is a great thing for players' bank accounts, and it's a great thing when your favorite team is bringing in a superstar. But it leads to beloved players finishing their careers in unfamiliar uniforms.

Reid was right when he said Dawkins was "a big part of us getting to where we have gotten as an organization." He was and is a fan favorite here because he played with heart, with passion and with a fierceness that came from somewhere way deep down. If the Eagles do manage to win a Super Bowl in the next few years, it will be a shame that Dawkins won't be part of it.

The point is that, even without him, they still have a pretty good chance.