Howie Roseman began waxing nostalgic when the safety position was brought up to him once again on Monday.
“You know, it’s amazing, Brian Dawkins was at the game and when you see a guy like that, you really appreciated him when he was here but the longer he’s away, you really get more and more of an appreciation for what a great, great player he was,” said Roseman. “A Hall-of-Fame caliber player at a position that is so hard to find. Man, we were spoiled for a long time with Brian Dawkins.”
The safety spot is starting to become Roseman’s — really, the organization’s — white whale.
Since Dawkins departed following the 2008 season, the Eagles have thrown a ton of guys out there -- Macho Harris, Quintin Demps, Sean Jones, Quintin Mikell, Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman,Colt Anderson, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Jarrad Page, Jamar Adams, David Sims, Patrick Chung, Earl Wolff -- and each year, acceptable productivity has remained out of arm's reach.
Same is true for '13 campaign. While Allen had his best season as a pro and Wolff showed some promise, there were inconsistencies. Wolff faced a steep learning curve and rotated with Chung early on as he worked through it. Then he hurt his knee. Chung started opposite Allen down the stretch, and struggled badly.
And so, Roseman is faced with the task of improving the state of the safety position, as he has been each year since taking over as general manager in '10.
The first decision he and the Eagles need to make is in regards to Allen, who is set to become a free agent. The 26-year-old was steady for the Eagles this season. He started all 16 games and finished with a career-high 82 tackles, one sack and an interception. He said his exit interview with Roseman was very positive.
"We were just talking about the season and how the past four years of my career has been," said Allen. "I would love to be back here, so we'll see what happens."
Roseman said the team hasn't mapped out its free-agency plans quite yet, but had nice things to say about the former second-round pick.
"A guy who deserves a lot of credit for getting off the rug. He took a lot of shots his first couple years in the league, was hurt. He works extremely hard and has really high character," he said. "Sitting here on January 6th we haven't made any final decisions on anything, but just proud of the way he was able to come back, and just a guy you root for."
Once they figure out whether to pursue Allen, the Eagles can further shape their free agency plans. Interestingly, the top two safeties that are projected to be on the market -- Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward -- went to school at Oregon. Their time in Eugene overlapped with Chip Kelly's, so there is a familiarity there. Kelly would have a pretty sound understanding of how they would fit into this defensive scheme. Both are 27 years old.
There is still homework to be done and questions to be answered. For instance: Byrd was sidelined early on this season with a foot injury. Is that a concern moving forward? Given that he has a 4.67 40-time, will he continue to be effective as the years wear on and he slows down some?
If these types of questions are answered satisfactorily, the next issue is money. There has been an organizational shift in philosophy regarding free agency as a result of lessons learned from 2011. They prefer to target mid-level free agents and take a shot at several of those as opposed to tying their fate (and a good chunk of their cash) to big-ticket players that could really sink them if they don't pan out. If they want someone like Byrd, they'll have to pony up.
The Eagles can also look for a safety in the draft, which seems likely.
"I think we have to look at every option," said Roseman. "Not only at that position, but obviously in particular at that position."
The search continues.