UPPER MARLBORO, Md. - Brian Westbrook, dressed in blue jeans and gray leather cowboy boots, stood casually next to his brown gelding Jo Jo on July 11. The Eagles' star running back was in the place where he goes to escape from the rugged life of professional football and his own thoughts of a contract extension he covets from the team that employs him.
"I try to take my mind off the game out here," Westbrook said as he combed his 10-year-old horse's pitch-black mane. "I try to get away from the contract talk."
An invited visitor to Westbrook's bucolic horse farm, which sits 30 minutes and a world away from the nation's capital, made it impossible for the running back to forget about football and his contract on this hot afternoon. Training camp starts tomorrow, with rookies and assorted veterans set to report to Lehigh University. Westbrook and the remaining veterans are scheduled to arrive Thursday afternoon.
After providing a lengthy explanation of how the man who provides the horsepower for the Eagles' offense got interested in owning and boarding horses, the subject of Westbrook's contract was raised. It was a hot-button topic for the running back just a few days before he fired agent Fletcher Smith.
"The contract thing is a sour point for me because when you deserve something you deserve something," Westbrook said. "What's right is right, and what's fair is fair."
A new contract, accompanied by a lucrative signing bonus, is what Westbrook said he and his former agent sought from the Eagles this entire off-season.
"I tried to get this thing done in the middle of last year," he said. "I tried to get it done from January until now. It still hasn't gotten done."
Westbrook is in the third season of a five-year deal he signed in 2005. He is scheduled to make a $3 million base salary and receive a $1.5 million roster bonus this season. He will be paid $3.5 million in 2009 and $4.5 million in 2010.
An Eagles source said the team does not disagree with Westbrook on the premise that the remaining three years of his contract are beneath his market value. The source said it was the Eagles who approached Smith and Westbrook about a contract extension, but the running back wanted to restructure his current deal instead. The Eagles, according to the source, agreed that they would attempt to rework the running back's current contract.
The Eagles said they made a fair offer to Westbrook and maintain that Smith also believed it was a reasonable deal. Smith has not returned phone calls since the news broke that he is no longer the running back's agent, and Westbrook also has not been available for comment.
It's obvious that Westbrook wasn't satisfied with the Eagles' offer, which is why he is hiring a new agent.
John Rickert of All Pro Sports and Entertainment said he still had not heard from Westbrook as of yesterday afternoon. One league source thought Rickert was the leading candidate to replace Smith.
Another league source said Todd France and Joel Segal are candidates for the job. Howard Shatsky, who was with the firm that negotiated Westbrook's rookie contract, has remained close with the running back, but he appears to be a long shot for the job. Shatsky, who formerly worked with Tony Agnone's Eastern Athletic Services, now works for ProStar Sports Agency.
"To me, it comes down to whether the team respects you," Westbrook said. "I look at it in dollars and cents. If you think you have a coach who is doing a great job, you pay him - the same way they did with Andy Reid a couple of years ago and the same way with [vice president of player personnel] Howie Roseman a few months ago. They respected him. They saw what he was doing, and they moved him up in the organization, and they paid him. I see that happening in the organization, and I wouldn't see why it wasn't happening with me as well."
Westbrook mapped out a long list of reasons why he feels he should be better compensated for his services.
"My play on the field, I think that has spoke for itself. . . . But off the field, who are these young guys coming to for leadership?" Westbrook said. "Who did [rookie wide receiver] DeSean Jackson call just the other day wanting to know what to do about A, B and C? Who are Lorenzo Booker and Tony Hunt looking at to teach them? My leadership aspect on this team doesn't lie. What the coaches ask me to do for this team on the field and off the field, they can't lie about that, either."
Westbrook's final point about his contract is that if the Eagles gave him an extension, it would provide incentive for his teammates.
"Players see you getting compensated and that makes them want to go bust their butt," Westbrook said. "Nobody is going to quit on this team, but if you know you're going to be compensated, you might give that little extra. That's natural."
Exactly what it would take to execute a new deal between Westbrook and the Eagles isn't known, but the star running back did give a hint of what he's seeking as he stood on his horse farm 10 days ago.
"If LaDainian [Tomlinson] got paid $25 million guaranteed in 2003 and now it's 2008, the next person needs to be paid $30 million guaranteed," Westbrook said. "It works its way up. You can't sit here and say, 'I'm as good as LaDainian right now, and I'm getting paid five years after him. . . . So I'll take $15 million.' That doesn't make any sense."
Tomlinson, perceived by most people to be the best running back in the NFL, signed an eight-year, $60 million extension with the San Diego Chargers in 2004 when he was 25 years old. Westbrook will turn 29 five days before the Eagles' season opener against the St. Louis Rams, and the blue-book value on running backs works a lot like automobiles: the longer you drive them the less they are worth.
When that point was raised, Westbrook said he has a lot of good years left in his legs because he's not the kind of running back who is constantly being pounded by opposing defenders.
"Look at a guy like Eddie George," Westbrook said. "He was a big, bruising back who was done after six or seven years. That's not my style. There's no doubt in my mind that I can be great for this team for years to come, and I'm not saying that to get a contract."
In four days, Westbrook is scheduled to report to training camp to begin his seventh NFL season. Even with a new agent, it appears likely that he will report and continue to work on a new deal with the team.
What is the Eagles' biggest question as training camp begins? Vote at
To relax, Brian Westbrook goes to his horse farm, of course.
Plus, everything you need to know about Camp Lehigh.
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