STRUM THE "AIR BANJO" slowly in mourning.

Fly your bow tie at half-staff.

Dhani Jones will be doing his "renaissance man" thing in another NFL city this fall, assuming someone signs him in the wake of the linebacker's release yesterday by the Eagles, who apparently were unable to get anything for him in last weekend's entry draft.

Fans often felt Jones' penchant for celebration - complete with "air banjo" playing - exceeded his level of play during his 3 years with the Birds, which followed four seasons with the Giants. The release clears the way for 2006 third-round pick Chris Gocong to start at strongside linebacker.

"I guess I am the starter on paper, but you still have to do it on the field," said Gocong, who was slow to transition from defensive end at Cal Poly to pro linebacker, then missed his rookie season with a neck injury. "It's good to know Jim [Johnson, the defensive coordinator] and Andy [Reid, the head coach] have the confidence in me."

Gocong ranks first on the depth chart, ahead of Stewart Bradley, the Nebraska linebacker the Eagles selected in the third round Saturday, and 2006 practice-squad linebacker Tank Daniels. If Gocong were to falter, the team could always move veteran newcomer Takeo Spikes from the weakside and start Omar Gaither or Matt McCoy there. Right now, Gaither seems set to split time with Jeremiah Trotter in the middle, and McCoy will back up Spikes.

"It's a little added pressure, but we're professionals, and we're taught to deal with that," Gocong said.

Gocong recently acknowledged he would watch the Eagles' draft to see whether they took a strongside linebacker high; there had been talk of moving Gocong back to defensive end. But the Birds took a DE (Victor Abiamiri, in the second round, 57th overall) before they drafted Bradley, 87th overall.

Jones had 2 years remaining on his contract; the Eagles will take about an $800,000 cap hit from releasing him. From his perspective, the timing could have been better, but it could have been worse, too. Veterans generally prefer being released when free agency starts in March. (Obviously, the Birds couldn't say for sure back then they would be able to draft a strongside linebacker.) But getting cut loose at the end of April is better than looking for a new home in early September, after training camp and the final roster cutdown.

Contacted by the Daily News, Jones referred all questions to his agent, Donald Yee. Yee said he expects to be able to place Jones with another team before training camp.

"Dhani enjoyed his time with the Eagles. He feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to play for the organization and go to the Super Bowl. He's looking forward to pursuing other opportunities," Yee said.

Rookie free agents

As expected, the Eagles yesterday announced the names of 11 undrafted rookie free agents they signed. The list includes Moorestown, N.J., High's Dereck Faulkner, a 6-3, 228-pound wideout from Hampton; and BYU wideout Zac Collie (5-11, 187), whose father, Scott, played at BYU from 1979-82, along with Andy Reid. The rest of the list: Jeremy Clark, DT, Alabama, 6-3, 309; Nick Graham, CB, Tulsa, 5-10, 191; Jacob Hobbs, G, Albany, 6-3, 303; Akeem Jordan, LB, James Madison, 6-1, 226; Marques Murrell, DE, Appalachian State, 6-2, 246; Jonathan Palmer, OT, Auburn, 6-4, 336; Marcus Paschal, S, Iowa, 6-0, 201; Chris Smith, S, Florida International, 5-10, 215; and Chris White, G, South Carolina, 6-3, 321.


Backup quarterback A.J. Feeley said on the Eagles' Web site yesterday he welcomes second-round quarterback Kevin Kolb to the team. Asked about starter Donovan McNabb's reaction, Feeley said: "Don right now is worried about getting himself back, and not [in] getting caught up in all this other stuff. I'm sure it shocked Donovan like it did a lot of guys, but Donovan can't worry about that. None of us can. It is what it is and you just have to move forward" . . . Clarifying something written yesterday: The Saturday trade with the Cowboys was not the first with Dallas since 1997; the Birds sent a fourth- and a sixth-rounder to the Cowboys on draft day 2 years ago, getting back a fourth and a fifth in 2006. *