THE EAGLES want to see how the surgery on Brian Westbrook's right ankle goes today before deciding if they need to make a move to add a running back, Andy Reid told the Daily News yesterday.
"Let's just see what happens, and then we'll take it from there," the Eagles' coach said. "We obviously know what's out there, as far as other running backs; we've done our homework there. But we're not going to do anything here until we see what's going on with Brian."
Reid had just been discussing how excited he was about his 2009 team - with the usual caveats about how it's still just early June and a lot of learning and meshing still has to take place - so he was asked if having such a crucial performer undergo surgery was particularly disturbing, given that this year's team is being projected as a top Super Bowl contender.
"I'm still excited; this doesn't affect that," Reid said. "Brian is in great shape . . . [the surgery] is a small, little thing. They'll go in and do what they have to do, and he'll get back on it, and go. I'm not that worried about it."
Westbrook is scheduled for what the team called a "debridement," to be performed by Dr. Mark Myerson today at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Westbrook's agent, Todd France, has termed the procedure "minor," and has said Westbrook is having bone spurs removed. Former Eagles and Flyers team orthopedist Dr. Art Bartolozzi and other medical sources forecast a 6-to-8-week recovery period after such surgery, assuming France's characterization of it is accurate.
The Inquirer cited "a source close to the situation"' as maintaining that the procedure was more serious than France and the Eagles have said. France did not respond to requests for comment from the Daily News. Another source close to Westbrook insisted "what Todd said was the absolute truth," about the procedure being minor.
The top available running back on the free-agent market probably would be 10-year vet Edgerrin James, who turns 31 in August. James was released by the Cardinals this offseason. However, if the Eagles signed James and then Westbrook was OK a few weeks into training camp, it would be hard to keep James happy and still nurture second-round rookie LeSean McCoy, a player the Birds definitely want to get on the field this year.
The Eagles will depend on Myerson to tell them how quickly Westbrook can return, which will tell them how to proceed.
"We'll reconvene [after the surgery]," Reid said.
Before the topic of Westbrook came up, in a wide-ranging session with three Daily News reporters, Reid and team president Joe Banner made it clear they feel they've forcefully addressed the team's shortcomings this offseason.
"I like this team," Reid said. "I'm not going to compare it to other teams until we get where we need to get. I think what we need to do, though - we've got a lot of new faces, and we've got to come together. I think some of the success of these other teams we've had here is [because] they gelled. Or the players had played together so long that you knew you had that continuity there."
Which, of course, is not so much the case in 2009, with a rebuilt offensive line, a defense minus the leadership of franchise icon Brian Dawkins, and two offensive skill-position rookies - first-round wideout Jeremy Maclin and McCoy - expected to play prominent roles.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us, to come together as a solid football team," Reid said. "That's also a good thing. That's a great challenge, from the players' standpoint and the coaches' standpoint. [The lack of experience playing together] is where it's a little different. I like the talent as much as I like any team we've had. But it's a team sport, and we've got to make sure we bring that talent together.
"Anything we say - you've got to win the championship [for it to mean anything]. We can sit here and paint a pretty picture; I think it's obvious what we did with the football team, the personnel side of it. There are other [changes] we've looked at, too - I think both of us have. Until you go get the ring, I think we'll have to wait on that" - that is, wait to know if the shortcomings that ended the season with a 32-25 loss to Arizona in the NFC Championship Game have been eliminated.
Other topics addressed included the uncertainty around the collective bargaining agreement, with 2010 looming right now as an uncapped year. Banner acknowledged the team is less motivated to extend contracts, given the lack of knowledge about the coming framework.
"We're in a [situation of] let's do what we need to, and other than that, let's kind of try to go in the four-corner offense a little bit and see if we can get a better feel for what things are going to look like going forward, to know what would be smart to do, how to structure the things you're doing," Banner said. "But we're not sitting here paralyzed; I'm not saying we're not going to do anything, not going to do any early deals. We're going to do things that are smart and compelling, as opposed to maybe a broader stroke if there weren't these uncertainties."
Banner said the unpredictability of what comes next is making many agents look for security for their clients. Despite a public perception that the Eagles push extensions at players who later regret signing them, he said: "I can't think of a player who has 2 years or less left on their contract, that we haven't been approached by and asked to do an extension."
Banner and Reid did not address the negotiations under way to rework the final 2 years of Donovan McNabb's contract, which Banner tacitly acknowledged in his remarks to reporters Wednesday. Reid was asked if there is a value in reassuring McNabb of his role going forward, something McNabb seemed to be seeking going into the offseason.
"He knows that," Reid said. "He knows how we feel about him. Donovan and I talk often, and we don't hide a lot from each other." *