Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Birds blew it banking on Buck

Add us to the growing list of critics who can't help but wonder what the Eagles were thinking when they re-signed running back Correll Buckhalter during the off-season, after he had missed two of the previous three seasons after major surgeries to each knee.

Make that three out of four, now that head coach Andy Reid confirmed today that Buckhalter had suffered a recurrance of the same injury that knocked him out last year -- a torn right patellar tendon -- after taking what appeared to be a minor hit during training camp at Lehigh earlier this month.

If memory serves correctly, Buckhalter tore up the ACL in his left knee before his sophomore season in 2002 simply making a cut during the first session of the first preseason mini-camp. No contact at all.

Knees, as we all know, are fragile pieces of machinery - especially for pro athletes and most especially for NFL running backs. Seen old-schoolers Earl Campbell (Oilers) or Larry Brown (Redskins) try to walk round lately? It's not pretty.

Add to that Buckhalter's occasional brushes with behavior problems -- a pot bust in November 2001 and oversleeping to miss a meeting and workout in 2003 -- to things we know about the team's current management: This is not an organization prone to extreme loyalty towards its players or taking major personnel risks, other than trading production for problems with Terrell Owens.

You can't help but wonder .... what were Joe Banner, Tom Heckert and Andy Reid thinking? Probably that signing Buck was a cheap investment, since the injuries had devalued him on the free agent market, and the risk was worth the reward.

After all, Buckhalter has shown flashes of greatness when healthy. With 586 yards on just 129 carries in 2001, he broke the Eagles' rookie rushing record set by Keith Byars in 1986. He also broke the club's single-game rookie mark with 134 yards on 21 carries in his first NFL start, against Arizona on Oct. 7, 2001.

But that was now three knee surgeries and almost four years ago.

As with Owens, the Eagles' brass can't help but be re-thinking that sort of risk vs. reward calculation. In Buckhalter's case, was it really worth it for a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations and no other running back as tall as even 5-foot-10?


At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Knox’ criticism reflects classic “hindsight in a vaccuum” syndrome. All decisions involve both risk and choice. As every poker player and stock picker knows, a decision that fails to pan out is not necessarily a bad one. It must be judged not on the outcome but upon the soundness of its making. That requires an assessment of the basis for the decision: the odds of a favorable result; the upside and downside of the possible outcomes; and the alternatives.

The fact is that athletes can (and often do) have a major surgery on each knee and recover to near their peak form. Undoubtedly the Eagles obtained expert medical advice on Buckhalter’s chances for a full recovery and return to form. Knox offers no evidence that the Eagles’ assessment of these odds was flawed.

By most reports Buckhalter received a contract that paid minimal dollars unless Buckhalter produced. Therefore, the Eagles’ financial investment was limited. Knox offers no evidence that the dollars gambled upon Buckhalter would have been more wisely invested elsewhere.

What were the alternatives? Acquiring a top free agent back earlier in the year would have been costly. Sure, every fan would like to have seen an Edgerin James in Eagles Green but such an investment would invariably have weakened the Eagles elsewhere by diminishing the team’s ability to make other investments. Knox offers no evidence that a “name” back free-agent signing in lieu of Buckhalter would have been a better investment decision at that time.

Finally, it is not as if the Eagles did not address the running back position in the draft. Ryan Moats has star potential. Is Knox arguing the Eagles should have taken the best available running back instead of Mike Patterson or Reggie Brown or Matt McCoy? Many would argue that each of these picks filled a greater need than the Eagles had at running back. The running backs taken after McCoy but before Moats were Frank Gore and Vernand Morency. It’s far from clear that the Eagles missed an opportunity in this regard.

It’s fine to disagree with a decision but the persuasiveness of that critique depends upon its grounding in fact and the surrounding circumstance. Knox’ post fails this basic test.

At 3:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And the "Hits" just keep on comin'!!!

At 3:57 PM, Blogger Aaron Knox said...

The "fact" being discussed is Buckhalter's questionable history, not who was or wasn't available at the time the decision made.

Heck, even Eagles flack Dave Spadaro thought they needed more insurance.

Moreoever, Moats is clearly cut from the same mold as Westbrook, not Buckhalter, and discussion boards are filled with 'wish-lists' of possible alternatives.

That wasn't the point of this post, it was the questionable "odds of a favorable result," given Buckhalter's history.

On names, if you insist: James was never a viable option, but the Bills were actively shopping Travis Henry, weren't they? Henry gained 2,794 yards and scored 23 TDs in 2002-03, and Tennessee -- a classic between-the-tackles running team -- was glad to grab him and he's currently the No. 2 back on the Titans' depth chart. And he's durable, even at 5-9 and 215 pounds. All it cost them was a third-round draft pick and Henry's $1.25 million base salary.

You also said: "The fact is that athletes can (and often do) have a major surgery on each knee and recover to near their peak form."

To borrow your own words, where's the "offer of evidence" that this is true? Can you name any? Remember, you said "both knees."

Thanks for contributing a well-thought-out post, nonetheless!


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