ONLY TIME will tell what

Brian Westbrook

has left. Maybe a lot, maybe only a little, probably somewhere in between.

He will turn 30 by the time the Eagles play their next meaningful game. The knee that bothered him most of this season and contributed to him having career lows in rushing average (4.0) and receiving average (7.4) will improve, either through rest or surgery.

But if you're looking for him to again be the workhorse running back he was in 2007, when he led the league in yards from scrimmage, when he averaged nearly 25 touches a game, well, that's probably not going to happen.

A running back's knees have a much shorter life expectancy than other positions. And they have an even shorter one if you're a guy like Westbrook, who twice suffered serious knee injuries before he even got to the NFL.

"He has a knee that bothers him and we knew that when he came here as a rookie,'' Eagles coach Andy Reid said a couple of weeks back. "With age and time and games played, you have to manage that the right way.''

Managing it the right way means no more 300-plus touch seasons. Managing it the right way means going out and getting another back who can come in and split the workload down the middle with Westbrook. Like Brandon Jacobs (225 touches) and Derrick Ward (223) did with the Giants. Like DeAngelo Williams (295) and Jonathan Stewart (192) did with the Panthers. Like Ronnie Brown (247) and Ricky Williams (189) did with the Dolphins.

The one problem there is that the Eagles are paying Westbrook a lot of money and might not feel they're getting their money's worth if he touches the ball just 14 or 15 times a game rather than 20 or 25.

Correll Buckhalter, who played well when he got the opportunity this season, is a year older than Westbrook and he's already missed three full seasons with knee injuries. He's also about to become an unrestricted free agent.

The list of running backs eligible for free agency has a few interesting names on it, including Jacobs and Ward. But if you think Giants general manager Jerry Reese is going to let either of them go, you're dreaming. The Cardinals' J.J. Arrington and the Chargers' Darren Sproles might be available. But neither really is suited for 200-touch-a-year work.

That leaves the draft.

The Eagles will have two first-round picks this year, their own (21st overall) and Carolina's (28th). They've traded out of the first round the last 2 years, so it's entirely possible they'll do the same this year.

Even if they keep both of the picks, the odds of them using one on a running back aren't very good. It's just not what they do. They've selected eight players in the first round in the Andy Reid era. Four d-linemen. One o-lineman, One cornerback. One wide receiver. One quarterback. Zero running backs.

In Reid's 10 drafts, the Eagles have selected just four running backs higher than the fifth round - Westbrook (third in 2002), Ryan Moats (third in '05), Tony Hunt (third in '07) and Buckhalter (fourth in '01).

According to NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who is a better talent evaluator than nine-tenths of the league's general managers, there are only three first-round-worthy running backs in the draft - Chris Wells of Ohio State, Knowshon Moreno of Georgia and LeSean McCoy of Pittsburgh.

"You've got to pick what flavor you like the most,'' Mayock said. "Because they all provide something different."

The 6-1, 237-pound Wells and the 5-11, 207-pound Moreno figure to be gone by the middle of the first round and would require a trade-up to get. The 5-11, 210-pound McCoy, who has sub-4.4 speed, rushed for 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield (32 receptions, 9.5 yards per catch), could be available at 21.

Around the league

* Monday is the deadline for NFL employees at the league office in New York, the NFL Network in Los Angeles and NFL Films in Mount Laurel, N.J., to accept the buyout package the league offered last month.

The league is cutting a total of 150 jobs at those three operations. According to sources, they aren't going to come anywhere close to reaching that figure in buyouts. Which means there will be layoffs. The league, which is using the struggling economy as an excuse for the buyouts and layoffs, even though it is making lots and lots and lots of money, already laid off almost 10 percent of NFL Films' work force last March. The league's severance package for layoff victims is an embarrassment. They are offering just 1 week of salary for every year of NFL service, plus 50 percent of the employees' season performance bonus, which is a minimal number.

A good number of the job cuts are expected to come at Films. The league, which clearly is trying to phase out Films, even had the audacity to include Films president Steve Sabol on the list of employees who are eligible for the buyout. Sabol and his father Ed founded Films 45 years ago. The company has been instrumental in making the NFL the immensely popular - and profitable - product it is today. Steve has been more important to this league than Paul Tagliabue ever was and Roger Goodell ever will be.

* Eagles general manager Tom Heckert wasn't part of the club's scouting contingent that made the trip to Mobile, Ala., this week for the Senior Bowl workouts.

From the lip

* "I think if we had a chance to take a re-vote on the league MVP now instead of at the end of the regular season, he may well win the award. Because what he's done in these playoffs has been second to none. He has been spectacular." - Chris Collinsworth of Showtime's "Inside the NFL'' on Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner.

Thumbs down

* To Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli for his inexcusable treatment of the team's dead-coach-walking, Herm Edwards. Pioli, who was hired nearly 2 weeks ago, continues to let Edwards twist in the wind. He says he still hasn't made a decision on Edwards' fate, yet already has let three of Herm's assistants - defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, secondary coach David Gibbs and special-teams coach Mike Priefer - leave to take other jobs.

League sources told the Daily News that Pioli has targeted Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley to replace Edwards, but doesn't want to kick him out the door until Haley officially accepts the job, which can't be offered until after the Super Bowl.

Pioli also seems to be as paranoid as the guy he used to work for in New England - Bill Belichick. The Kansas City Star recently sent a writer to Pioli's hometown to do a harmless Scott's-roots feature. When Pioli found out, he called former teammates, classmates and neighbors and instructed them not to speak to the reporter. Beautiful.

* To Redskins owner Dan Snyder and Browns owner Randy Lerner for having the gall to lay off some of their employees. Snyder, who hands out $5 million-a-year contracts to head coaches like they're bonbons and who has squandered tens of millions more on overrated free agents, laid off 20 club employees, including the team's director of player development, John Jefferson, who counsels players on off-the-field issues. An assistant strength coach will take over Jefferson's duties. He'll presumably counsel players in between squats. Lerner, who just gave his new head coach, Eric Mangini, a $4 million-a-year deal, gave pink slips to more than a dozen employees, including a writer for the team's Web site. Boy, I bet that really saved Randy a big hunk of money. Seriously, how do these guys sleep at night?

* To Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, who has fired 17 assistant coaches in 6 years. At what point does he look in the mirror and say, "I'm to blame"?