DELAND, Fla. - Maybe there is no good way to handle departures of longtime icons.

If there is, the Eagles certainly haven't found it.

You can look at the team's current housecleaning purge as pragmatic and necessary, as some people have, you can look at management's history in these matters and conclude that despite repeated bouts of fan base wailing and gnashing of teeth, the Birds usually have a very good sense of a player's "sell-by" date. But . . .

There is such a thing as a tone, an atmosphere, a feeling of belonging to something more than an efficient corporate entity. Players won't say much about those matters while they're playing for the Eagles, because they're playing for the Eagles, and saying something like that would create a problem for them, even if they didn't go so far as to chide management on their Facebook pages.

By yesterday, Tra Thomas had been a Jacksonville Jaguar for all of 4 days, and he felt he could say something that he's been thinking about a lot lately, as he comes to grips with the end of his 11-year run as the Birds' starting left offensive tackle.

"I think it would make the team a lot better, if they were that type of coaches," Thomas said after completing his charity golf tournament in his hometown, part of a weekend of events aimed at helping area youth. "It would definitely change the atmosphere of the team. You look at other coaches, who seem like they really get into the players' place.

"I look at the coach from Pittsburgh [Mike Tomlin], he seems like he's a real passionate coach. He's really into his players, joking around with them. I think he's a great motivator, also. Other coaches around the league, I've seen them get passionate. Philly is just a little different. It's more businesslike, you know? Like, 'I expect you to do it, and that's it.' ''

Thomas said Andy Reid left him a phone message this week, but they have yet to speak.

It's a topic that won't fade soon, in an offseason that has seen the Eagles say goodbye to all-time great Brian Dawkins, along with Thomas and apparently the other offensive line pillar, right tackle Jon Runyan. Then there are those whose departures seem less wrenching, a group that includes Correll Buckhalter, Lito Sheppard, Greg Lewis, Sean Considine and L.J. Smith.

Dawkins has acknowledged he was offended by the tone of the meeting he attended to talk about a new deal, before free agency began. Eagles president Joe Banner has acknowledged that management was late to discover Dawkins had taken offense, and surprised.

Yesterday, when a reporter ventured that the Eagles sounded as if they hadn't meant to lose Dawkins to Denver, Thomas said: "They probably didn't mean to lose him, but they didn't try to keep him, either."

Thomas, they apparently meant to lose, even though they don't have a clearcut successor at the crucial left tackle position.

At the golf tournament, Tra's father, ex-Florida A & M offensive tackle William "Crane" Thomas, said his son was more disappointed than he's letting on.

"I think it was real tough, because he really wanted to stay there," the elder Thomas said. "I think he kind of wanted to retire a Philadelphia Eagle. I wanted him to stay, too - I think Philly's got another shot at going back [to the Super Bowl]. That [NFC Championship loss] was a heartbreaker."

Thomas said that when the season ended, his son, "was thinking he was going to be with the Eagles. I think he was a little disappointed that they didn't sign him [soon] after the season."

Later, Tra acknowledged, "Of course I wanted to stay there. But they had to want me there."

He reiterated that the Birds made only a token effort to keep him.

"I don't think they tried to. If they tried to, they didn't let it be known," he said.

He said he has no idea who will replace him. He allowed that left guard Todd Herremans, one of the charity weekend participants "could get it done."

In fact, Thomas' guest list suffered from what he referred to as "the changing of the guard." Sheppard, Buckhalter and Lewis all commited to come before changing teams, then realized their new squads' workout schedules wouldn't permit it.

Center Jamaal Jackson was asked if he was surprised to contemplate an offensive line without Thomas or Runyan, who bookended the group for a franchise record 134 games.

"With the two tackles, everybody always said that age would be a factor [eventually]," Jackson said. "It's always been a topic of discussion. We don't look at it that way because we practice with these guys day-in and day-out," and they still perform well.

New home for L.J.?

Tight end L.J. Smith, who attended the golf tournament, said he expects to have a new home soon, either Detroit or Atlanta. He didn't seem to discourage speculation that it would be Atlanta.

Smith missed three games with injuries last season and caught only 37 passes, but he didn't seem to think that was the reason he didn't strike big-time free-agent gold.

"There's other factors that go into me getting paid, other than the season," he said, mysteriously. "I can't get into it right now."

Smith grew up near the Rutgers campus, where he played in college, then was drafted by the Birds in 2003. Wherever he goes, it will be the longest distance from home he's ever lived.

"I'm looking forward to it," he said.

Birdseed

Running back Brian Westbrook, walking gingerly at yesterday's golf tournament, said he hopes the left knee cleanout he underwent will keep him from enduring so much swelling during the season . . . Backup quarterback Kevin Kolb said he hasn't spoken to Donovan McNabb about the report that McNabb might ask for a trade if he isn't sufficiently impressed with the team's offseason moves. McNabb was scheduled to attend, but canceled . . . Harold Lewis, agent for free-agent fullback Leonard Weaver, texted the following last night, when asked about his client and the Eagles: "Still working on it. Hope it would be in Philly, but I don't write the checks there" . . . Todd France, agent for free-agent linebacker Angelo Crowell, confirmed that the Eagles, "are among several teams expressing interest" in his client. "At this point, Angelo is looking at all options," France said. *

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read

the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.