Andy Reid enters his 14th season in Philadelphia, which is an eternity for head coaches.
The man who led the Eagles to five NFC Title games has seen many All-Pro talents come and go during his time as head coach, and the ‘Philly phaithful’, myself included, can go on for hours listing off memorable moments in the time “Big Andy” has held the play-chart.
Just for debate’s sake, I’ve decided to compile a 53-man roster of the best Eagles during the timeframe from 1999 to present day.
The only qualification is that you had to play at least two seasons in Philadelphia under Reid. This leaves out Nnamdi Asomugha, Evan Mathis, and Cullen Jenkins, who are three men that will certainly get consideration if I choose to revise this list a year from now.
And since Philadelphia can be a proud, argumentative town, debate is always welcome.
Quarterback: Donovan McNabb (1999-2009)
In between the shower of catcalls he received on draft day ’99, and the embarrassing 2009 playoff loss to a Wade Phillips-coached Cowboys team, Donovan McNabb put up 11 quality years in Philly. “D-Mac” led the Birds to seven playoff appearances (Jeff Garcia gets credit for the 2006 campaign), five NFC Title games, and one Super Bowl appearance during his tenure.
McNabb also went from 1999 through 2003 without a genuinely good wide receiver, often making do with James Thrash, Todd Pinkston and, yes, Freddie Mitchell.
McNabb’s guts have been questioned by many, including teammates like Terrell Owens. On November 17, 2002, McNabb broke his fibula against the Arizona Cardinals on the third play of the game. How many quarterbacks have their ankles destroyed, and then go on to throw four touchdown passes in a 38-14 rout? The image of center Hank Fraley piggy-backing McNabb to the line so that the quarterback could further dissect the defense (on 20 of 25 passing) washes away much of the negative gunk splattered upon McNabb’s legacy.
Backups: Michael Vick (2009- )
McNabb won the starting job on successful tenure, but Vick will serve well in Wildcat situations.
Koy Detmer (1997-2006)
Yeah, I left out Kevin Kolb. But a) David Akers deserves his favorite holder, b) you have to respect a man who only needs his toothbrush when he travels, and c) his ‘spank-dance’ is better than anything TO ever came up with.
Running Back: Brian Westbrook (2002-2009)
If Reid coaches through the 2018 season, “36 West” may be unseated by a certain would-be backup on this list. Despite having only three seasons of 900 rushing yards or more, Westbrook was the ideal West Coast back.
His nearly 3,800 receiving yards and 29 receiving touchdowns with the Eagles will remind fans of those shovel passes, swing passes, checkdowns, and dump-offs that McNabb would bestow upon Westbrook, who certainly inflated Donovan’s passing yard numbers after his catches. Let’s not forget the nearly 6,000 rushing yards and 41 on-the-ground scores, either.
Eagles fans can remember where they were whenever Merrill Reese had a near verbal-orgasm on WYSP (or WIP now). On October 19, 2003, with the Eagles needing a desperate win over the Giants to avoid dropping to 2-4, Westbrook fielded a punt inside the two-minute warning with the Eagles down 10-7.
Westbrook made every G-Man miss on his 84-yard sprint to the end zone, which resulted in a shrieking Reese screaming number 36’s name, and proclaiming the Meadowlands’ crowd to be “in a state of shock.” The Eagles held on to win, and Brian Westbrook’s big return would steer the Eagles back to their winning ways.
Backups: LeSean McCoy (2009- )
Two 1,000-yard seasons and a huge 2011 (twenty total TDs) have “Shady” on the fast track to greatness.
Duce Staley (1997-2003)
Another multi 1,000-yard rusher who fought for those extra two or three yards each time.
Brian Mitchell (2000-2002)
Wouldn’t usually carry four halfbacks, but who can resist having a kick returner of his caliber?
Fullback: Cecil Martin (1999-2002)
Some Eagles fans may be in an uproar, as they’d feel this spot should be reserved for Jon Ritchie or Leonard Weaver. Martin’s the only one of the three whose career wasn’t ended by a catastrophic knee injury in his second season in Philly, but that’s not why he was chosen.
Martin displayed great versatility in his four seasons with the Eagles, as both a short-field receiver, and as the lead blocker for a variety of backs. Among those he protected: Westbrook, Staley, Correll Buckhalter, Dorsey Levens, and even McNabb himself in his scrambling infancy.
The Eagles were an underdog against the Bears in a 2001 NFC Divisional playoff game, but that didn’t stop Martin from making a timely touchdown when the Eagles needed one. With time ticking in the first half down 7-6, McNabb looked and looked for an open man in the end zone before spotting his fullback uncovered past the goal line. McNabb unleashed a 13-yard laser to Martin, who made the catch on his knees to give Philadelphia the halftime lead, which led to a 33-19 victory.
Wide Receivers: DeSean Jackson (2008- ), Terrell Owens (2004-2005)
The upside is heavenly; the downside is rage-inducing. Jackson may have had a drop-filled 2011, as well as his share of ill-advised decisions, but he’s still put up 900 or more yards in all four seasons he’s played.
As a deep threat, he terrorizes corners with blazing speed, and he’s been surprisingly durable for an undersized, lithe-bodied athlete. More often than not, Jackson has made up for a bone-headed mistake or negative-yard punt return with a big play good for 50-plus yards, as well as a touchdown.
December 19, 2010 was the worst day of Matt Dodge’s life. After the Giants saw their 31-10 lead over Philly evaporate in the fourth quarter, Jackson executed the lone walk-off punt-return in NFL history, scoring after the clock hit 0:00 to give the Birds a 38-31 victory. Tom Coughlin’s postgame hollering at Dodge, who punted right to a known flight-risk in Jackson, was icing on the cake.
As for Owens, Eagles fans will never forget the sit-up session in the driveway of his Moorestown, NJ home, or the “next question”-filled press conference of his now-former agent Drew Rosenhaus.
But that 2004 season, Owens and McNabb formed one of the deadliest quarterback-receiver combos of the decade. Together in the regular season, the tandem hooked up for 77 completions, 1,200 yards, and 14 touchdowns in 14 games, going 13-1 together.
Even if we all hate TO these days, we can certainly appreciate his performance on November 15, 2004, when he helped Philly annihilate Dallas in Big D. Owens caught six passes for 134 yards and three scores, each of which featured a unique celebration. The most bruising to the lone-star ego: posing on a blue Cowboys star in the end zone, a clear reference to his disrespectful posturing on the bigger 50-yard-line version in 2000.
Backups: Jeremy Maclin (2009- )
19 touchdowns in 44 career games, with the potential to put up far more.
Kevin Curtis (2007-2009)
“White Lightning” had a brilliant 2007 with 1110 yards, but injuries derailed him afterward.
Reggie Brown (2005-2009)
Was on the rise in 2006 and 2007 before groin and knee injuries did him in.
Tight End: Brent Celek (2007- )
Once “Magnum” became the full-time starter in 2009, he has provided stability and dependability, far moreso than the fumble-laden, inconsistent stylings of L.J. Smith before him. Of course, Smith had to follow a Pro Bowler in Chad Lewis, so maybe Celek gets the benefit of the doubt.
Regardless, his 76 catches in 2009 are the second most by a tight end in Eagles history, behind Keith Jackson. With 971 yards and 8 touchdowns that season, Celek proved capable of being a sure-handed target. He and Michael Vick may have needed time to get on the same page, but improved chemistry in 2011 is a sign that the Cincinnati grad hasn’t lost a step.
Before DeSean Jackson could stun the Giants with that punt return for a touchdown in “The New Miracle”, Celek had to get the ‘lead-off double’. Down 31-10, Celek caught a strike from Vick, and hauled off a 65-yard run for daylights after Kenny Phillips whiffed on a tackle. That brought Philly within two scores with under seven and a half minutes to go. The incredible comeback doesn’t happen without Celek’s first step.
Backup: Chad Lewis (1997-1999, 2000-2005)
Didn’t break out until 2000, but without many reliable receivers, McNabb got three 40+ catch seasons out of the durable workhorse.
L.J. Smith (2003-2008)
As Chad Lewis slowed down, “Little John” became a frequent McNabb target in the mid-2000s.
Offensive Line (forgive me, but it’s hard to choose ‘greatest moments’ for each due to the inherent ‘practicality’ of their position)
Starters, left to right: Tra Thomas (1998-2008)
Three-time Pro Bowler did his best to keep McNabb upright on the blindside; beats Jason Peters solely on longevity.
Todd Herremans (2005- )
Has shuffled around the line where needed, and is a nifty surprise receiver as well.
Jamaal Jackson (2003-2011)
Dependable starter from 2006 until injuries slowed him at the turn of the decade.
Jermane Mayberry (1996-2004)
96 starts and a Pro Bowl bid with just one functioning eye.
Jon Runyan (2000-2008)
For twelve seasons going back to the Titans/Oilers, did not miss a start; including 144 straight in Philly.
Backups: Jason Peters (2009- )
Three Pro Bowl seasons have coincided with the rise of LeSean McCoy.
John Welbourn (1999-2003)
Bit of a cheap-shot artist who once kicked Warren Sapp in the crotch, which is why he earns this spot.
Hank Fraley (2001-2005)
“Honeybuns” fumbled his first snap in Philly, but went on to become a fixture on the line.
Shawn Andrews (2004-2009)
Injuries and crippling depression derailed what could have been a brilliant career.
Kicker: David Akers (1999-2010)
Well, duh. Apologies to Alex Henery, who looks to be on his way to a fine career, but Akers was clearly the man during five Pro Bowl visits over the majority of Reid’s coaching tenure. With 82.4% of his field goals made for the Eagles, Akers also likely goes down as the best kicker in franchise history. His best season was 2002, where he went 30 for 34, with an 88.2% accuracy rate.
Suffering from an injured hamstring on September 25, 2005, Akers was called upon to kick the game-winning field goal against the Raiders. Earlier, linebacker Mark Simoneau missed an extra point while Akers was being worked on (Simoneau made one the previous week with Akers hurt), so Akers was needed. Tied 20-20 in the waning moments, Akers nailed the 23-yarder, and then crumpled the ground in agony as teammates mobbed him.
Other Specialists: Punter: Sean Landeta (1999-2002, 2005)
21-year pro posted two years better than his 43.3 yard career average while in Philly.
Long Snapper: Mike Bartrum (2000-2006)
Jon Dorenbos is a fine long snapper, but could he also catch touchdowns like the schoolteacher could?
Defensive Ends: Trent Cole (2005- ), Hugh Douglas (1998-2002, 2004)
Cole made every team that passed up on him, as pick No. 146 of the 2005 Draft, sorry that they did. Thus far, “The Hunter” has racked up 68 sacks over seven years in Philly, and has been the only consistent starter on the line over that time frame next to Mike Patterson. Though rarely among the league leaders in sacks (he’s topped out at 12.5 in a year twice), Cole has never had less than eight in a year since becoming the full-time starter in 2006.
The Eagles found themselves 5-6 one week after Donovan McNabb was lost for the year in 2006. Buckling down under backup Jeff Garcia, the Eagles won their last five games to win the division. In a crucial battle at the Meadowlands against the Giants on December 17, the Eagles were up 29-22 as the clock ticked away in the fourth quarter. Needing to drive down for a tying touchdown, Eli Manning had a pass tipped and picked off by Cole, who ran 19 yards for the score. The Eagles won 36-22, and continued their resurgence.
Douglas once threatened the Eagles as a member of the Jets in 1996, but became a crowd favorite once he put on a different shade of green two years later. His playful exuberance was just as welcomed by his new Nest as his pass-rushing prowess.
Douglas put up 54.5 sacks in six years in Philly, topping out with 15 in 2000, and earning trips to three Pro Bowls. After being released in the final round of cuts in 2005, and retiring shortly thereafter, Douglas stuck around as the team’s “ambassador” before working on Eagles’ regional broadcasts.
It was Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb’s first playoff game on New Year’s Eve 2000, and the Eagles were struggling early against the Buccaneers at Veterans Stadium. Down 3-0 in the second quarter, with little offensive momentum going the Eagles’ way, Douglas single-handedly turned the game around. The big man sacked quarterback Shaun King, Mike Mamula recovered the ensuing fumble, and the Eagles scored shortly thereafter on a McNabb run. The Eagles never looked back, winning 21-3.
Backups: Jevon Kearse (2004-2007)
“The Freak” didn’t play up to his contract with just 22 sacks, but started off as a key cog on the Super Bowl team.
Jason Babin (2009, 2011- )
Rejuvenated by Jim Washburn’s “Wide 9”, put up 18 sacks last season, harkening long-time fans to the days of Reggie & Clyde.
Juqua Parker (2005-2011)
Strong veteran recorded 31.5 sacks for the Birds, in addition to three defensive touchdowns, including two last year at age 33.
Darren Howard (2006-2009)
Put up 22.5 sacks over four seasons, the majority of them off the bench in frenzied blitz schemes.
Defensive Tackles: Corey Simon (2000-2004), Darwin Walker (2000-2006)
Simon marked the first of six times Reid would choose a defensive lineman in round one, and he’s the best of the group (until we see what Fletcher Cox is made of).
A consummate pass rusher for a man of his girth (his thighs looked like two beached whales), Simon put up 18 of his 32 career sacks over his first two seasons with the Eagles. Frequent in-game injuries led to many images of Simon face down, clutching his knees and thighs, due to what was termed as polyarthritis. Despite his setbacks, Simon remains the most talented middleman of Reid’s era.
Simon wasn’t exactly known for having a share of highlight-reel moments, but his first game on September 3, 2000 in Dallas provided a notable entry. Troy Aikman was walking the last mile of his career, and would go 0-5 with a pick in the last time he’d play his Gang Green arch-nemesis.
Simon scored the first sack of his career on his first bit of regular season action, dropping the future Hall of Famer. Hugh Douglas would hit Aikman later and knock him out of the game, but Simon’s moment provided a rare baptism worth writing home about.
Walker was a quick study in Arizona, where he was dumped and claimed off waivers by the Eagles. 2001 was a quiet year for the big man out of Tennessee, but Walker would begin to play up to his third-round billing in 2002, netting 7.5 sacks as a starter in Jim Johnson’s system.
Walker was an important middle-plug on an Eagles team that twice was second-best in the league in point prevention, and served the team well both forcing and gobbling up fumbles.
Drew Brees was just beginning his rise to greatness with New Orleans in 2006. He led the Saints to a 27-24 victory over the Eagles in his maiden season in the ‘Big Easy’, but not before Walker would achieve the only interception of his nine-year career. In the fourth quarter, tied 17-all, Juqua Parker (then Juqua Thomas) deflected a pass that wound up in Walker’s mitts. The turnover led to a Reggie Brown rushing touchdown that gave Philly the lead, though it didn’t last.
Backups: Mike Patterson (2005- )
Has only missed two games in seven seasons, and is adept at run-stopping and timely fumble recoveries.
Hollis Thomas (1996-2005)
Zany character, but put his fun-loving nature aside to serve as an effective run-stuffer over ten seasons.
Middle Linebacker: Jeremiah Trotter (1998-2001, 2004-2006, 2009)
“The Axe Man” had almost as many tenures with the Eagles as Larry King’s had marriages, but at least Trotter had happier memories.
You name it, he did it: four seasons of ninety or more tackles, a pair of pick-sixes, and well-regarded command of some quality defensive units.
After an acrimonious exit after the 2001 season to play for Washington, Trotter was humbled in his 2004 return by being relegated to special teams.
Ever the worker, Trotter busted his hump and regained his starting job. The defense improved immensely from having their old leader in the middle.
Trotter has made so many plays in Philadelphia that picking one is a challenge. Let’s go with January 16, 2005, in the Divisional Playoff round against Minnesota. Down 21-7 to the Birds, Daunte Culpepper was just past midfield late in the third quarter, with a chance to make it a one score game.
The bulky quarterback heaved a pass over the middle for Jermaine Wiggins, but Trotter picked it off, running it back to Minnesota’s thirty yard line. The Eagles would put the game out of reach with a pair of field goals, win it 27-14, and advance to the Conference Championship.
Backup: Stewart Bradley (2007-2010)
Showed promise with intelligent command and a good all-around game, before injuries led to him not being re-signed.
Outside Linebackers: Carlos Emmons (2000-2003), Mike Caldwell (1998-2001)
Options are limited when it comes to linebackers in the Reid Era, so your best bet is to reunite the best trio from early in the Jim Johnson days. Emmons was a serviceable starter in 56 games over four seasons, who could pass rush, wrap-up tackle, and create turnovers.
Emmons was one of those players whose exit from Philadelphia came to be appreciated when average players like Nate Wayne and Keith Adams took over at starter. Emmons wasn’t a Pro Bowler, but he didn’t have to be. He just did all of the little things right.
It pays to pay attention. With Donovan McNabb injured, and the shaky A.J. Feeley driving the bus until he healed, the 2002 Eagles leaned on their defense to make plays. On December 15, the Eagles would defeat the Redskins 31-24, with the touchdown difference being made up for by Emmons.
Quarterback Patrick Ramsey fumbled the ball, and nobody seemed to realize it, leading to everyone milling about. Emmons realized there was no whistle, snatched the ball, and sprinted 44 yards for a second quarter touchdown. The win gave the Eagles their second straight division title.
As for Caldwell, he only started 16 games once in his career, and that was alongside Trotter and Emmons in the 2001 campaign that saw the Eagles fall just short of the Super Bowl.
Caldwell performed admirably in his first chance to play a lead role, netting three sacks and 73 tackles. Not having a single pass deflection in any other season in his career, Caldwell put up seven that season. In other seasons with Philadelphia, the man who now coaches the linebacking corps provided insurance off the bench.
Caldwell has three pick-sixes in his career, but two of them are with Cleveland/Baltimore. The other took place on November 19, 2000, during a month in which the Eagles went undefeated, and helped punch their ticket to the postseason for the first time in four years. Down 20-3, the Cardinals put in Dave Brown in fourth-quarter relief of Jake “The Snake” Plummer. Brown threw only two incompletions, but one of them was completed for a touchdown. Caldwell snagged the errant pass, and ran twenty-six yards to put the game further out of reach.
Backups: Dhani Jones (2004-2006)
Quirky gridiron hipster was a much better tackler than people give him credit for.
Ike Reese (1998-2004)
Fan favorite whose special teams work is as appreciated as that of Vince Papale’s.
Cornerbacks: Troy Vincent (1996-2003), Asante Samuel (2008-2011)
What more could you ask of Vincent? He went to the Pro Bowl five straight years in Philadelphia, putting up 28 interceptions in eight seasons, and served as a calming presence on a defense known for high-strung, volatile characters.
Playing in 118 games, almost always in tandem with Bobby Taylor, Vincent was a proven veteran who easily survived Andy Reid’s initial housecleaning of the lazy bums that concluded the Ray Rhodes period.
It’s just a shame that when the Eagles finally made it back to the big dance in early 2005, that Vincent didn’t get to share in the moment.
This may be cheating, but Vincent’s shining moment in Eagle Green came when Rhodes was in charge. On November 3, 1996, the Eagles upended the Cowboys in Texas Stadium 31-21. Up 24-21 late in the game, the Eagles had to hold off a late charge from Dallas to preserve the win.
Troy Aikman let one fly, and linebacker James Willis picked it off in the end zone. In a risky, breath-robbing move, Willis, who elected not to take the touchback, would run fourteen yards out and lateral the ball without warning to Vincent, who took it the remaining ninety yards for the score. Maybe it’s the biased Eagles fan in me, but since Dallas hasn’t appeared in a Super Bowl since, I’m declaring this to be the start of their curse.
Samuel is an interesting case. Maligned by Eagles fans at times for his poor tackling and perceived selfishness for stat-padding, Samuel is still one of the game’s most proficient hawks at corner. And 23 interceptions over four seasons is nothing to sneeze at, especially the nine he posted in 2009. Maybe expectations were just higher seeing as he came from two Super Bowl winning squads in New England, as well as the ill-fated undefeated-until-the-end 2007 team.
But Samuel’s penchant for diagnosing quarterback tendencies did create many opportunities for the Eagles offense to take over.
Andy Reid was 0-2 against Peyton Manning in the regular season, suffering crushing losses to the Colts in 2002 and 2006. Of course, he didn’t have Samuel in either of those games. Samuel was a huge puzzle piece for those Romeo Crennel defenses that slapped Manning into submission many a time.
On November 7, 2010, the Eagles defeated the Colts 26-24, and Samuel netted himself a pair of picks, including the one that would seal the game late in the fourth.
Backups: Bobby Taylor (1995-2003)
His battles with Michael Irvin made up for his awkward tackling ability, and he put up an impressive Pro Bowl campaign in 2002.
Lito Sheppard (2002-2008)
His penchant for 100-yard INT returns and beating up the Cowboys make him a cherished figure.
Sheldon Brown (2002-2009)
Sheldon exists to remind us all that even corners can shatter your ribs with a crushing hit.
Safeties: Brian Dawkins (1996-2008), Michael Lewis (2002-2006)
Dawkins is the only player on this list that I’m guaranteeing a trip to Canton for, partly because the idiot voting committee won’t put Brian Mitchell in. The Eagles under Reid have had no greater leader on defense than “B-Dawk”, aka “Weapon X”, aka “The Wolverine”.
Dawkins did not miss tackles, he did not give quarter to a tight end or receiver, and he loved dishing out knockout shots to anyone that went over the middle. His 34 interceptions and 21 sacks in midnight green don’t tell the story of what Brian Dawkins meant to the franchise where he spent thirteen seasons.
You’d think a player as tuned-in and wired as Dawkins would have more defensive touchdowns, but he only has three, scoring his last one on a LaDainian Tomlinson fumble in 2001. But Dawkins is a unique individual, and his career resume boasts a receiving touchdown as well.
Already beating the Houston Texans 20-7 in Houston’s first season in 2002, the Eagles lined up to punt in the third quarter. Deciding to troll the Texans, Brian Mitchell took the direct snap and scrambled left.
With a defender bearing down, Mitchell chucked a sleight-of-hand shovel pass to Dawkins, who chugged 57 yards for the score. Dawkins scored a sack, an interception, a forced fumble, and a receiving touchdown all in that game; the only player to have ever done so.
Lewis jumped into the fire in 2003 after a disappointing season from the once-dependable Blaine Bishop. Serving as starter for the next three full seasons, Lewis complemented Dawkins well in “center field”, and even earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2004.
A jack of all trades in Jim Johnson’s complex defense, Lewis netted six sacks, nine interceptions, six fumble recoveries, and an average of sixty-five tackles a season. Lewis lost his starting job in 2006, after a disastrous performance vs. New Orleans, but he still easily ranks as the second best safety in the Reid era. Of course, nobody was taking first from the man above.
It may as well have been an act of attempted redemption. After losing his starting job to Sean Considine, Lewis proved he could still make a profound impact in any role. On December 10, 2006, the Eagles began a three-game road trip against all three division opponents, and they had to win every game behind backup Jeff Garcia to win the division. Marching into Washington, Philly held a 7-3 lead in the second quarter when Lewis picked off a Jason Campbell pass and raced 84 yards for the score. Philly won 21-19, helped along by Lewis’ timely play.
Backups: Quintin Mikell (2003-2010)
Rode the bench for the first four seasons, and then proved to be a sufficient strong safety once he got the starting job.
Damon Moore (1999-2001)
Short-lived in Philly, but was a quality player whose game-saving tackle against the Giants in 2001 gave the Eagles the division title.