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Eagles are at a fork in road

Contracts are up for Runyan, Thomas, Dawkins and Sheppard.

Eagles safety Brian Dawkins has played at a high level down the stretch. He's not after a break-the-bank contract, and wants to stay an Eagle.
Eagles safety Brian Dawkins has played at a high level down the stretch. He's not after a break-the-bank contract, and wants to stay an Eagle.Read more

This could be the end today in so many different ways.

Barring the planets' aligning in a most unlikely manner, the Eagles will close out their season this afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field in a game that will only have playoff implications for the visiting Dallas Cowboys.

Having spent last week saying he would only answer questions about the Eagles' regular-season finale against Dallas, coach Andy Reid will have to start answering the big-picture questions that have been bubbling on the surface since he benched quarterback Donovan McNabb at halftime of that ugly loss in Baltimore last month.

If Reid holds true to form, we won't get those answers tomorrow at his news conference. Instead, we will have to wait for the transactions from the man of so few words.

Some things we already know for sure. Tight end L.J. Smith is more likely to turn into an ostrich than wear an Eagles uniform again, and cornerback Lito Sheppard will be free to get that big contract he is seeking from some other team. Good luck with that endeavor, Drew Rosenhaus.

Not quite as certain is the Eagles' plan at offensive tackle and free safety, where you have three veterans in their mid-30s who played a huge role in turning the Eagles into a perennial Super Bowl contender during the first half of this decade.

Do the Eagles bring back both Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas? Do they bring back just one of them? Do they bring back neither? The middle option seems to be the most likely. Also, if you're placing bets, put down all your money that at least one of the team's two first-round draft picks is used on an offensive tackle.

The decision on Brian Dawkins might not be as difficult. He has played at a high level down the stretch. He is not going to seek a break-the-bank contract, and he truly wants to remain with the Eagles.

Given how much owner Jeffrey Lurie admires Dawkins, it seems likely the veteran safety will get at least one more contract from the team. The fact that the Eagles like rookie safety Quintin Demps could make that decision even easier because they feel as though they have a good fallback position should something happen to Dawkins.

The bigger questions, of course, are about the quarterback and the coach, the two men who have been joined at the hip for the last decade.

Is this the end for McNabb? Is this the end for Reid?

It's no secret that there are a growing number of Eagles fans who would like to see the quarterback, the coach or both gone by the start of next season.

Lurie and/or team president Joe Banner will have to address the state of their football team at some point in the near future.

No one should forget Lurie's words during his state-of-the-team address at Lehigh University this summer: "We are very used to succeeding on a significant level, and it is disappointing when we don't or can't. We approach every season with very high expectations. This isn't about rebuilding, retooling or anything. This is [about] going for it. That's our approach. It's pedal to the metal. . . . We're going for it."

The Eagles, of course, haven't gotten "it" since 1960. when the franchise last won an NFL championship, and now they will likely miss the playoffs for the third time in four years. The natives are getting restless and increasingly vocal, which brings up a point that isn't often considered.

Is it possible that either McNabb and/or Reid want to get out of Philadelphia as much as some fans want them gone?

At least publicly, McNabb has always said that he wants to finish his career with the Eagles. Since his benching, however, he has said he needs to have a sit-down meeting with Reid, Banner and Lurie to discuss his future. He would like to negotiate a new contract, which runs through the 2010 season, and he believes that he has "played great" in 2008.

That sure sounds like an unhappy employee who believes he deserves a big raise and a lot more respect. The last statement, in particular, is a real departure from what McNabb has said in the past.

Whenever the quarterback used to be asked about his personal performance, he always measured it by the team's record. It's fair to say there's nothing "great" about an 8-6-1 mark that includes a 1-4 record against division opponents and a hideous tie with the Cincinnati Bengals.

As for the money issue, McNabb has a base salary of $9.2 million next season and $10 million in 2010. That's not an exorbitant amount to pay a top-level quarterback, but you wouldn't think the Eagles would want an unhappy McNabb running their football team.

Reid's situation is also complex. The coach has always said his primary goal is to bring a Super Bowl title to Philadelphia, but it's clear his approval rating among the fans is at an all-time low. That's something that cannot be entirely ignored by Banner and Lurie, especially if it impacts the team's popularity.

You also have to wonder if being the target of the fans' discontent wears down Reid at some point. Though the head coach pretends to live in a cocoon, it's impossible to entirely ignore the barking wolves in the forest.

Banner and Lurie could approach Reid about the possibility of yielding some of his power in personnel decisions. Right now, as the executive vice president of football operations, he gets the final say on personnel moves. Reid's close friend and mentor Mike Holmgren was stripped of his role as Seattle's personnel chief after the 2003 season, and his working relationship with team president Tim Ruskell soured shortly after the Seahawks went to the Super Bowl during the 2005-06 season.

Should the Eagles try to take away some of Reid's power, it would be interesting to see how the coach reacts.

Maybe it would be the end for Reid.

Exactly what happens beyond today remains to be seen, but unless something really strange happens, this is going to be the end in a lot of different ways for the Eagles.