Jeffrey Lurie is sincere when he talks about his admiration for Brian Dawkins.

"I can't wait to induct him into the Eagles' honor roll," the team's owner said. "We'll officially do it when he's retired, but there is no more obvious person."

After reissuing his training-camp declaration that no Eagles player would again wear Dawkins' No. 20 jersey as long as he was the owner, Lurie said he has also found himself rooting for the Denver Broncos this season.

"I don't really root AFC that much, but my attitude is I want Brian to have success as he deserves," Lurie said.

The owner, of course, is the one person who could have prevented the emotional scene scheduled to take place Sunday when Dawkins, accompanied by the Broncos, returns for a game against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

Instead, Lurie allowed his businessmen - team president Joe Banner and coach Andy Reid - to make a business decision.

Dawkins received a five-year, $17 million deal from Denver that included $7.2 million in guaranteed money and $9 million over the first two years of the contract. The Eagles weren't going to match that generous offer, and Lurie admitted it was a business decision when he was asked if he felt he had done everything he could to keep Dawkins in Philadelphia.

"I don't have an answer to that except I trust the guys that were involved with it and Andy," Lurie said. "I remember in the end, my last conversation was encouraging [Dawkins] - that's an unbelievable arrangement he has with Denver. It's just great. At some point, you just have to let go, and he has to do what's best for [his] family."

The natural follow-up question was whether the Eagles are better off without Dawkins this season.

"That's not even the right question because you have to ask the question whether the utilization - whatever the salary-cap number was for Denver this year . . . seven million? - was it better used on Jason Peters? Was it better used on a combination of [Leonard] Weaver and this other player? It doesn't work position by position."

Two things: Denver's cap hit on Dawkins for this season is $2.66 million, and the Eagles were more than $40 million under the salary cap when Dawkins decided to accept the Broncos' offer. The Eagles could have matched the Denver offer for Dawkins and still done everything else they did this off-season.

They decided it wasn't the right move.

On the other hand, a source with knowledge of the situation said agent Jim Steiner never gave the Eagles a chance to make a counteroffer after receiving the Broncos' offer.

It's unlikely the Eagles would have matched the Denver offer, but they may have sweetened their own enough to make Dawkins think a little longer before leaving the team he had played with for the first 13 years of his career.

Neither Steiner nor Eagles president Joe Banner returned phone calls yesterday.

Lurie said it wasn't his place to get involved in the negotiations.

"It doesn't work that way," he said. "I'd love to have had him forever. I have great respect for Andy and the guys. They usually deal with things very well. It's hard. You see it in the league with almost every great player; it's rare for that player to do his last 12 to 24 months with that team because of the free agency system. The player has the right to maximize himself out at the very end, so go through the list. There would be hundreds - hundreds."

Here in Philadelphia, the Eagles' fans only care about one player on that list right now and that, of course, is Brian Dawkins. He returns Sunday, and it'll be a strange sight indeed to see the most celebrated safety in team history coming out of the visitors' tunnel rather than that inflatable Eagle that served as the starting line for his transformation dance from mild-mannered man to an ultra-intense hitting machine.