BETHLEHEM, Pa. - One moment, there's Big Red, acting as if he's the consummate players' coach who, despite forcing his guys to spend almost a month in the suffocating heat at training camp, is all about contractual fairness.

To hear Andy Reid tell it yesterday, the Eagles are all about being "fair" to Brian Westbrook. Which translates into paying Westbrook what they think he's worth.

"We've always done a good job with those things," Reid said, "so I'm not worried about that. We've always been fair."

The next moment, however, Reid spoke about talking with his good buddy Bill down in Miami. Seems Bill had been having a little problem of his own with one of his star players. So over the weekend, Bill - that's Coach Parcells to me and you - traded Jason Taylor to Washington for a couple of draft picks.

"I knew [Parcells] was trying to get rid of him," Reid said.

Reid's choice of words was staggering. Get rid of him. As if he's a piece of garbage instead of a highly productive player for the Dolphins.

Fairness, fairness, fairness.

Before too long, Reid is going to get rid of Westbrook. It's inevitable. It's going to happen. But in the meantime, it would behoove Reid to get something worked out with his best player.

The only way Reid can remotely be optimistic about this season - and to hear him tell it yesterday, after the rookies and selected veterans reported to Lehigh University, he is optimistic - is if his star running back is happy.

Not if Westbrook is here at camp. If he is here - and happy. And happiness clearly is defined by Westbrook in dollar signs. Lots of them. And really, who can blame him, given the price of gas these days?

This little situation with Westbrook and the Eagles will be incredibly tricky. For Westbrook, he feels he has all the leverage, given the obscene numbers he put up last year. His season was awesome, phenomenal, MVP-worthy, and more than anyone expected. That the Eagles were even sniffing the playoffs - and that's all they did - was because Westbrook kept running and catching. Every time he touched the football, the Eagles had a chance to score.

But - and there's always a but - Westbrook needs to seriously adjust his expectations about how much he is worth. It stinks, but it's true. He's going to be 29 in six weeks. He's not ancient, but he's old, and the shelf life for a running back in this league these days isn't long past 30.

Look at Eddie George. Or Terrell Davis. Or Shaun Alexander. In 2005, Alexander was the league's MVP and led Seattle to the Super Bowl. Now, at 30, he has no job. He's done. It happens.

Like Westbrook, the Eagles are going to have to give a little to make this thing work. From the sound of it, they agree that Westbrook has outplayed his contract. He is more valuable than the $3 million base salary and $1.5 million roster bonus he is owed this season. That might have seemed appropriate in 2005, when the Eagles signed him to a five-year extension, but the reality is that Westbrook is the most dangerous, multifaceted back in the league. He deserves to be compensated accordingly.

The problem the Eagles have is in projecting the future. They don't want to heavily invest in a guy who is one hit away from joining Alexander in the unemployment line. They'll never match the $30 million figure Westbrook threw out in an interview with The Inquirer's Bob Brookover. To the Eagles, that's unreasonable.

But - and there's always a but - the Eagles are going to have to make Westbrook feel wanted and appreciated by coming up a bit. Otherwise, they run the risk of alienating him. Maybe he doesn't give his best effort. Maybe he doesn't lay it all on the line, since his employer wasn't willing to do the same.

And let's be honest here, Westbrook is as high maintenance as anyone on the Eagles' roster. He is a prima donna, and he is unpredictable. There might be a very good reason why he hasn't hired a new agent yet, but it also could be that he simply hasn't made up his mind. He could love one guy one minute, and another the next. His emotions change with the wind.

The one thing that's not going to change is that Westbrook wants more money, and the Eagles are going to have to give it to him. Both sides are going to have to compromise.

They'll have to meet in the middle, the would-be players' coach and the prima donna, otherwise they'll be getting rid of the season before it even begins.

Contact staff writer Ashley Fox

at 215-854-5064

or afox@phillynews.com.