Would the Eagles Bring Back Brian Westbrook?

Written By Bob Cunningham On Tuesday, March 08, 2011
Recently, former Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook expressed a desire to return to Philly, hinting along the way he'd be fine with a backup role to up-and-coming star LeSean McCoy.

"I talk to Coach (Andy) Reid every week or so," Westbrook told NBC 10 and Comcast SportsNet. "We always talk. And I would love to be back in Philly, so we'll see how things go ... I think I can help out. I think they have a very good group of young guys on the team, as far as every position. But I still think that I can help this team win."

I was never as big a Westbrook fan as most around the city seemed to be. There was no doubting that he was a great all-around player as he could do a lot of things very well, but I thought he was more of a play-maker than he was a real running back.

Outside of 2006 and 2007, Westbrook never really displayed great field vision and more often than not was running with his head down into the pile for a yard or two. He might follow that up with a swing pass for 15 yards, but that's not the makings of a great running back, it's the makings of a guy who should have always been the second option in a 1-2 punch.

That being said, bringing back Westbrook might not be such a terrible idea. He would have to come back at a bottom-barrel price and really be willing to see very limited time, but Westbrook could serve as a mentor to McCoy and help him continue to develop his pass-blocking, route-running, and the little things that go into playing the position in Reid's system.

The first time around, it was hard for Westbrook to mentor McCoy because he was the kid taking his job. As much as Westbrook tried to help McCoy, he was never going to be able to fully accept his role because he's a competitor.

This time, however, the roles would be clearly defined and it would be much easier for Westbrook to pass on what he knows.

There's also the fact that, if the new CBA goes back to defining any player with more than four years of service as being eligible for unrestricted free agency, the second-round tender on backup running back Jerome Harrison means nothing. He'll be thrown into the free agency market and the Eagles will have no way of keeping him around outside of re-signing him, which is not going to happen.

Westbrook is likely not the ideal backup for most teams, but I'm not sure it makes much of a difference in this offense.

McCoy was hardly off the field last year and received an overwhelming amount of the meaningful carries throughout the season. Most of Harrison's carries came in bulk in two games -- the blowout of the Washington Redskins and the meaningless Week 17 game against the Dallas Cowboys -- and still didn't amount to anything substantial.

But with Westbrook as the backup, Reid could use him as a pass-blocker, as an extra receiver, and give him a couple carries when McCoy needs a breather. The great thing about Westbrook's intelligence and versatility is that he could be on the field at the same time as McCoy split out wide, in the slot, or lined up next to him in the backfield.

The fact of the matter is we all know any backup to McCoy is going to see minimal carries anyway, so why not make that guy a former star, a fan-favorite, and someone who could still be effective for a bargain price in such a set role?

Well, there's two, possible three answers to that question as we take a look at the flip-side of all this.

Westbrook might not be willing to accept a contract bordering on the minimum. That's probably all he's worth to this team given his potential role and age, but Westbrook is a proud guy and the offer extended to him would probably be a true test as to how much he really wants to come back to Philly.

As just mentioned, Westbrook's age becomes an issue. He's 31 years old which, in running back years, is borderline ancient, especially for a guy with a history of injuries.

A backup running back under Reid is also going to be expected to play special teams, and the only way Westbrook is contributing on special teams is in the return game. And at 31 with a history of knee and ankle injuries, his top speed might not be anywhere near where it needs to be in order for him to be effective.

The special teams requirement is a big reason we don't see a lot of veteran backups under Reid. He uses every roster spot as efficiently as possible, and it's highly unlikely he would see the value in a 31-year old running back who can't play special teams, despite the nameplate on the back of his jersey.

So while most of us would like to see Westbrook return in the same fashion as Hugh Douglas and Jeremiah Trotter, I don't foresee it happening. Reid would likely much rather grab a guy in the fifth or sixth round who can develop into a good change of pace for McCoy and play special teams in the meantime.

The question now becomes whether or not there's a team in the league willing to give Westbrook a chance, or if he'll be unceremoniously forced into retirement.

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