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Reid says team got good, but it came a little late

If you are what your record says you are, then it's difficult for the Eagles to argue they are a good team as they head into today's season finale against the Buffalo Bills at Lincoln Financial Field.

If you are what your record says you are, then it's difficult for the Eagles to argue they are a good team as they head into today's season finale against the Buffalo Bills at Lincoln Financial Field.

Win, and the Eagles are 8-8, the international mark of mediocrity.

Lose, and they're 7-9. The only two times the Eagles have gone 7-9 the head coach was fired. Marion Campbell got the ax with one game left in the 1985 season, and Rich Kotite became the first coach fired by owner Jeffrey Lurie after the 1994 season.

Regardless of what happens today, Eagles head coach Andy Reid will be back in 2008 and, barring some unforeseen circumstances, so will quarterback Donovan McNabb. Not only that, the head coach believes he's ending this season with a good team that has a chance to be really good and even compete for a chance to play in the Super Bowl next season.

"I think I know what we are now," Reid said the day after the Eagles beat the Dallas Cowboys in Texas Stadium before his team's slim playoff hopes faded to none when the Minnesota Vikings won that night. "We've been coming together here the last month. We've come up a little short, I know. I think I know what we are, but we're just doing it a little late."

After the cameras went off and Reid stepped down from the podium at the NovaCare Complex, he was asked to clarify what he truly thinks of this team.

"I think we're a good team," Reid said.

Good, of course, is not supposed to be the standard at One NovaCare Way. This is a franchise that has played in four NFC championship games and one Super Bowl during this decade, and now it will finish last in the NFC East for the second time in three seasons.

Looking at the Eagles statistically, however, it is easy to see why Reid believes he has a good team that's capable of being much better in 2008. The Eagles are tied for sixth in total yards and are ninth in yards allowed.

Only four other teams in the NFL are ranked in the top 10 in offense and defense. The teams: New England (first offense, fourth defense), Dallas (second offense, eighth defense), Indianapolis (third offense, third defense), and Green Bay (fourth offense, 10th defense) are the four best teams in the NFL with a combined record of 53-7.

So maybe Reid has a point. Maybe the Eagles are a good team that couldn't stay healthy and lost some games they should have won. None of that matters now. The players will be back at the NovaCare Complex tomorrow morning packing up their belongings and heading home.

Reid and the Eagles' other decision makers will go back to the drawing board to figure out how to make a "good" team that far too often looked bad into a Super Bowl contender.

The first chance to do so will be in March when the free-agent market opens, and the Eagles hope to make some additions in that manner. It's not as easy to get an impact player as it used to be because the salary-cap figure has increased so much since the owners negotiated a new collective-bargaining agreement with the players union in 2006. The cap is expected to rise from $107 million to $116 million in 2008.

"It's harder to sign free agents mainly because up until two years ago, there were a limited number of teams with significant cap room to sign players," Eagles president Joe Banner said. "You just weren't competing against as many teams. Now, 26 out of the 32 teams have a significant amount of cap room, and the other six probably still have room to do things."

A perfect example presented itself Friday when the Colts signed safety Bob Sanders to a five-year, $37.5 million extension that took arguably the best defensive player off the market before he ever got there. Dallas' Patrick Crayton would have been one of the more attractive wide receivers, but he, too, signed a contract extension last week.

Teams also have the option of using the franchise tag, which is another reason the elite free-agent names out there now will never become available.

The Eagles, nevertheless, are hopeful that they can make some key free-agent additions. According to a league source, the Eagles rank only 20th in available salary-cap space. But they should improve that by at least a few spots when they release veteran defensive end Jevon Kearse.

A year ago, the Eagles hit in free agency with the signing of wide receiver Kevin Curtis, but they missed with their signings of veteran defensive tackles Montae Reagor and Ian Scott.

It wouldn't be surprising if the Eagles went after someone like Kansas City defensive end Jared Allen if he became available because the team philosophy puts a high priority on outside pass rushers. Allen, who has 131/2 sacks this season, would be an incredible complement to Trent Cole, who leads the Eagles with 121/2 sacks.

The Eagles have some difficult decisions regarding some of their own players as well.

At the top of that list is tight end L.J. Smith, an unrestricted free agent limited to 10 games this year by groin and knee injuries. Smith finished the season with career lows in catches (22), receiving yards (236), yards per catch (10.7) and touchdowns (1).

The Eagles never came close to an agreement with Smith's agent, Brian Mackler, when the sides tried to negotiate a contract extension, but two league sources have said the team likely will make another effort to re-sign him during the free-agency period. It's also possible the Eagles could place the franchise tag on Smith. The franchise tag for tight ends is $4.37 million.

Defensively, the Eagles probably will seek some help in the secondary because cornerback Lito Sheppard has not been able to remain healthy the last three seasons, and Brian Dawkins is 34 years old and had his share of injury problems this season.

The Eagles, as always, will rely on the draft for help. They figure to have at least 12 picks and possibly 13.

As for the McNabb situation, it seems to be an issue that is as dead as the Eagles' 2007 season will be at around 4 p.m. today.

Unless a team is willing to make the Eagles a blockbuster offer like the one the Dallas Cowboys received from Minnesota for running back Herschel Walker in 1989, then McNabb will be back for a 10th season in Philadelphia.