JEFFREY LURIE says he can't wait to induct Brian Dawkins into the Eagles' honor roll, and that nobody will ever wear the No. 20 for as long as he has anything to say about it.

You can tell that the Eagles owner is sincere when he says, "I miss Brian. My attitude is, he's going to be with us probably longer than I live, the next 40, 50 years. He's going to be one of those great Eagles you see around the team, you see come back. There will never be anybody more of a favorite. That's not possible."

The "however" remains unspoken. It just lays there, though, like a persistent December snowbank.

Sunday is the day that wasn't supposed to happen, not to the people who love Dawkins. Because there is a football sense of things and there is a cosmic sense of things - and while it is hard to make a football argument that the Eagles would have won even one more game if Dawkins had been here this year, it is just as hard to argue that it is somehow right and proper and normal to see Dawkins' last Philadelphia game play out like this.

The arguments were made and remade over the summer, when the Eagles watched Dawkins take a big bag of money from the Denver Broncos, and the purpose is not to remake them here. But it shouldn't have happened.

Months later, Lurie was asked if he was confident that everything had been done to avoid it happening. The expectation was for a simple, declarative "yes" in reply. And, well, you be the judge.

"You know, I don't have an answer to that except that I trust the guys that were involved in it, and Andy [Reid]," Lurie said. "I remember in the end, my last conversation with them was encouraging them to . . . "

Then Lurie changed directions in midsentence.

"That's an unbelievable arrangement he had with Denver for this year, just great," Lurie said. "At some point, you've got to sort of let go, and he has to do what is best for his family there."

But did Lurie ever tell his negotiators just to pay Dawkins whatever it took to keep him?

"It never works that way," he said. "It just doesn't work that way. I mean, listen: I would have loved to have had him forever. But I have great respect for Andy and the guys, and they know. 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 or 24 months with that team because of the free-agency system . . .

"Go through the list," Lurie said. "Hundreds. Hundreds."

He is not wrong. And it is true that Dawkins could have taken less money to stay in Philadelphia, if it meant that much to him. It is also true that as his speed diminished, the team spent more and more time essentially changing his position without telling anybody, playing Dawkins near the line of scrimmage more and more, lessening his pass coverage responsibilities whenever it could.

At the same time, the Eagles have run three different players through Dawkins' spot in the lineup this season, trying to fill it. So Lurie is asked if they have been successful there.

"That's not even the right question," he said, "because you've got to ask the question of, 'Was the utilization of whatever the salary-cap number for Denver was - $7 million this year - was it better used on Jason Peters? Is it better on a combination of [Leonard] Weaver and x, some player? It doesn't work, position by position."

Again, he is not wrong. It is just that, somewhere, you hoped that money wouldn't be how this thing went down in the end. Maybe that isn't realistic; I don't know. But you hoped.

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