There is no question that Philadelphia sports fans are passionate about their teams and their athletes. In today’s sports environment, the “city of brotherly love” doesn’t have a lot of star players to love, and as Chip Kelly has showed since taking over as the Eagles head coach, a fan cannot get too attached to their athletes because professional sports is a business, and their days here are numbered.
Brian Dawkins was one of the players Philadelphia fans loved. The former Eagles safety, who was the heart and soul of the team for 13 years, had his time in Philadelphia end on a sour note. In a recent interview with “Philly Voice,” Dawkins expressed his displeasure towards the way the process was handled back in 2009.
“It was definitely a mistake,” he said of the team’s decision to part ways after 13 seasons. “You can say business is business, and sometimes things in business happen. But that, what happened, that wasn’t business.”
Dawkins, who was 35 when the Eagles let him walk, felt betrayed by the organization he had fought tooth and nail for in 13 of his 16 seasons in the NFL. The Eagles’ front office, led by President Joe Banner at the time, let one of the greatest athletes this city has ever seen walk away and sign a five-year $17 million deal with the Denver Broncos.
He should’ve finished his career as an Eagle and retired as an Eagle.
In 2014, now ex-General Manager Howie Roseman said in an interview that letting Dawkins walk was a mistake. “I’d be lying to sit here and say Brian Dawkins shouldn’t have retired as an Eagle,” said Roseman.
Chase Utley is another player who has been loved by Philadelphia fans since his rookie year in 2003. His style of play reflected Dawkins’; hard-nosed and blue collar. Unlike Dawkins, who was a renowned verbal leader on and off the field, Utley is a more soft-spoken player who lets his play on the field speak for itself.
Both are and were great players, and both will go down as two of the greatest athletes in Philadelphia sports history. However, while the Eagles’ front office owed it to Dawkins and the fans to keep the nine time Pro Bowler in Philly, the Phillies should’ve considered letting Utley walk in 2013 instead of signing him to a two-year extension worth $27 million.
In his final season as an Eagle, Dawkins earned Pro Bowl honors in a season where he had six forced fumbles, three sacks, one interception, six passes defended, and 64 tackles, which was the fourth highest total in his career. He also earned defensive player of the month honors for his stellar play in January of 2009.
Even at age 35, Dawkins proved that he could still be an effective Pro Bowl-caliber starting safety in the NFL. The Eagles’ front office didn’t see it that way, however, and let him walk.
Dawkins went on to have two productive years in Denver, where he earned Pro Bowl honors again in 2009 and in 2011, his final season. In 2009, Dawkins recorded two interceptions, 11 passes defended, and 95 tackles, the highest mark of his career. In 2011, Dawkins recorded only 38 tackles in 12 games, but had three sacks and seven passes defended.
Utley at the time of his two-year extension was batting .275 with 15 home runs and 42 RBIs. He finished the season with a .284 average, 18 home runs, and 69 RBIs. According to “Fangraphs,” Utley ranked 6th among MLB second basemen with a 3.9 WAR. A solid season, especially for a 34-year-old player.
2013 was also the first time Utley had been able to remain relatively healthy, playing 131 games out of 162. In the previous two seasons, Utley had only managed to play 186 total games due to injury.
2014 marked the first time since 2009 that Utley managed to play at least 155 games, and recorded another solid year at the plate, finishing with a .270 batting average, 11 home runs, and 78 RBIs. According to “Fangraphs,” Utley finished 7th among MLB second basemen with a 4.5 WAR.
The 36-year-old had a dreadful start to the 2015 season, spending most of it under the “Mendoza line.” He’s hit better lately, recording a .329 average in his last 23 games.
In hindsight, the two-year extension might not turn out to be a disaster. However, if Utley manages to reach 500 plate appearances this season, he will have a vesting option for the 2016 season worth $15 million. If he doesn’t, that vesting option turns into a club option, which will allow the club to dictate his future with the team, and a bitter divorce could be on the horizon. So far this season, Utley has 190 plate appearances after finishing 2014 with 664.
Through Utley’s contract extension, Ruben Amaro Jr. and the Phillies’ front office provided a service to the fans by ensuring that their beloved second baseman would stay in Philly for the remainder of his career. The Eagles’ front office should have provided the same service to their fans by keeping Dawkins in Philly. For the Eagles at the time, a contact extension would have been a logical move given Dawkins’ productivity. The move would have benefited the team on and off the field.
In Utley’s case, his inability to remain on the field in previous seasons should have made the Phillies’ front office wary about extending his contract. Instead, they decided to pull the trigger and keep Utley in Philadelphia. The sad truth for the Phillies is if Utley can continue to play well, he could be traded as long as he agrees to it.
The decision to retire a Phillie is on Utley’s shoulders. Dawkins didn’t have a say. If he did, there’s no doubt that he would’ve chosen to stay with the team he loved, and the city that loved him.