As great a guy as Connor Barwin is, his release was necessary for Eagles

As great a guy as Connor Barwin is, his release was necessary for Eagles

These are the moves that are hardest to make. And the moves you have to make.

I can't remember an athlete coming through town over the years who more naturally and genuinely and passionately became a Philadelphian. 

Connor Barwin's love for our city, and his tireless energy in raising money to fund projects that really made a difference in the South Philly neighborhoods within a few miles of the sports complex is unprecedented.

There's really never been anyone like him.

He didn't just talk about it, he rolled up his sleeves and organized and ran meetings and raised money and held concerts and truly made a difference in the community he lived in.

And that's rare. 

It's also totally irrelevant when it comes to trying to build a winning football team.

And that's why this business is so tough and why when you're running a football team you have to be bloodless.

You just can't let your emotions control your decisions.

And that's why today is a sad day in Eagles history but also an important day in Eagles history.

Barwin spent four seasons here, piled up 31 1/2 sacks, never missed a game and even made his first Pro Bowl in 2014 as an outside linebacker.

He also turned 30 in October, had only five sacks playing out of position at defensive end last year, and generally looked like he didn't fit into what defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz wants to do.

By releasing Barwin Thursday morning, the Eagles cleared $7.75 million in cap room (see story). Considering they had only about $6.2 million available when the day began, that's huge.

It's tough. I guarantee you Doug Pederson, Howie Roseman and Jeff Lurie dreaded this day. Say what you want about them -- they're all good guys and they genuinely care about the people who come through the NovaCare Complex entrance.

But this is a team that hasn't won a playoff game in eight years, and the people running the franchise have to be focused on infusing the roster with talent and not keeping around players because they're good guys and make a difference in the community and build playgrounds.

Harsh. But true. It's a tough business, but it's a business and you can't lose sight of that.

I think this is the toughest thing for coaches and GMs to do. You build relationships, you have incredible respect for people, they play their hearts out for you, you admire them, you get to know their families ... and then you cut them.

One of the reasons the Eagles had so much success from 2000 through 2008 was Andy Reid's refusal to make roster decisions based on how popular a player was or what a good guy he was or how much of an impact he had made in Philly or how much Big Red liked him.

You have to cold-blooded. And if that means cutting ties with Troy Vincent, Brian Mitchell, Brian Westbrook, Jeremiah Trotter, Donovan McNabb or Jon Runyan, he did not hesitate.

To compete at an elite level in the NFL, you need superstars. You need playmakers. And to acquire them you need to either draft them or sign them. And to sign them you need money. Lots of it. And without moves like this, the Eagles simply would not have enough cap space to be competitive.

So it's a sad day but also an encouraging day.

Because nobody wanted to see Barwin go. Heck, I certainly didn't. Not many Eagles I can hang out with at the XPoNential Festival or chat with at their locker about the new Kurt Vile record or War on Drugs tour dates.

But if you're an Eagles fan, you have to be encouraged and maybe a little relieved to see that the Eagles are willing to make these tough decisions that they don't want to make but must make.

And this won't be the last one.

Eagles 2017 training camp position battle: Cornerback

Eagles 2017 training camp position battle: Cornerback

It's no secret.

If anyone is looking for the biggest weakness on the 2017 Eagles roster, here it is. Cornerback could be an adventure.

At least this isn't anything new. In 2015, when the team trotted out Nolan Carroll and Byron Maxwell, fans probably thought things couldn't get worse in 2016. They were wrong. Last year, the struggles continued with a combination of Leodis McKelvin, Carroll, Ron Brooks and rookie Jalen Mills.

The good news is the Eagles might finally have some young talent to keep around for a while. Mills, a seventh-rounder last season, got valuable playing time and this year, the team drafted Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas in the second and third rounds. Jones is still recovering from his Achilles injury, but Douglas could figure into the rotation early.

The team also added veteran Patrick Robinson and brought back Brooks, C.J. Smith and Aaron Grymes.

During the spring, Mills, Robinson and Douglas worked with the first team, but defensive backs coach Cory Undlin said there isn't anything decided yet.

“It’s just going to be who’s going to step up here in training camp and through the preseason," Undlin said. "Who’s going to say, 'Listen, I’m starting here, I’m starting here, I’m going to play the nickel,' and then here’s the backups. 

"I like them all right now and we’ll find out how it goes down, and that’s what this whole [offseason] is for, to find out who’s going to rise to the top and who’s going to earn a spot and take it and then hopefully can keep it. We’ll see how that goes."

During the spring, Mills and Robinson worked as the Eagles' cornerbacks in the team's base package. And in the nickel, Mills pushed inside and Douglas took his spot outside. That is the same type of role Brooks had during training camp with the Eagles last season.

Brooks is sort of the forgotten man, coming off a serious leg injury that ended his 2016 season early. He was the team's primary nickel corner last season and when he went down, the team was forced to play Malcolm Jenkins in the slot, which meant putting Jaylen Watkins on the field as a safety.

While Undlin was hesitant to name starters at the end of the spring, it seems likely the Eagles will give Mills every opportunity to keep one of those starting gigs. After that, there are a bunch of guys in the mix for the three jobs.

Doug Pederson's Packers comparison puts a bullseye on his back

Doug Pederson's Packers comparison puts a bullseye on his back

It was one of those remarks that at the time you kind of assume you misheard.

Doug Pederson didn't really just say the 2017 Eagles have more talent than the Super Bowl Packers teams he once played for.

Did he?

By now, everybody has seen or heard Pederson's remark, which he made in a group session with beat writers earlier this summer:

"I look back on my time in Green Bay as a player when we were making those playoff runs, those Super Bowl runs there. And do we have as much talent on this team than we did then? We probably have more talent, right?"

Pederson spent seven years with the Packers either as the No. 2 or No. 3 quarterback— 1996 through 1998 and, after stints starting for the Eagles and Browns, 2001 through 2004. And the Packers reached the playoffs in all seven of those seasons, made two Super Bowls, won seven playoff games, and averaged 11.6 wins per year.

So while Pederson won't come out in public and say what his goals for the 2017 Eagles are — “I’m not one to make bold predictions” — that comment about the Brett Favre Packers and the Carson Wentz Eagles is awfully revealing.

Pederson believes this is a playoff team, a 10- or 11-win team, a team that should be able to not only reach the postseason but also do some damage once it gets there.

Pederson couched his remark with a disclaimer about Wentz staying healthy, about how everything has to "blend" together, and about how talented teams don't always have success and how a lot of factors go into it.

Pederson spoke for about 40 minutes that day and when he was finished and about to leave the room, I double-checked with him to make sure he meant what I had heard … that this year's Eagles team is as talented as the Packers teams that had a Hall of Fame quarterback in Favre, a Hall of Fame defensive end in Reggie White and stars like receiver Antonio Freeman, four-time all-pro safety LeRoy Butler, running back Dorsey Levens, safety Eugene Robinson, pass rusher Sean Jones and so on.

He couldn’t have been clearer.

"Yeah, I think we're there," Pederson said. "It's just bringing it all together, though, that's the thing. Bringing it all together."

The Eagles certainly did upgrade their talent level this offseason. At least on paper.