In recent years no other team has done a better job of filling holes in the secondary and along the defensive line through the draft and with relatively inexpensive free agents. However, some veterans, frustrated by repeatedly falling short in the playoffs, are getting tired of hearing how the team is in such great cap shape. They want to know why management isn't spending some of that available money to make the team even better. In particular, why was Douglas, far and away the team's best pass rusher with 51� sacks in five years, allowed to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars? (They gave him a five-year, $27 million deal.)
"I understand it, but I don't agree with it," Vincent says of the team's philosophy. "If I were in the owner's seat, I'd want Joe Banner doing the cap. I'd love him. But as a player, I hate him. Do you know what Hugh Douglas meant to this team? His leadership, his personality, his love of the game were vital. The guys who'll replace him, how do you know they can do it? In the NFL the window of opportunity [for winning a Super Bowl] is so short, and it's closing for us."
"Hugh was a good player for us, but a descending player," Banner says. "How good a guy is in the locker room is a factor, but is it a 10 percent factor? A 30 percent factor? It depends. Andy has a lot to say about that."
Says Reid, who as the team's executive vice president of football operations has final say on personnel moves, "Look, there's a side of Hugh that you'll miss, but athletes pick things up when guys leave. You move on. We've been fortunate we've been able to handle all the changes we've had to make."
So Simoneau won't be the only newcomer to the defense under the gun. In addition to McDougle, add backup N.D. Kalu, who is also vying to replace Douglas, and free-agent pickup Nate Wayne, who moves into Barber's outside linebacker spot, to the list. Ultimately, however, opponents will go after Simoneau the hardest, hoping to exploit the little guy. "I'm sure people are going to look at this defense, see what's different about it and test me," he says. "But being physical has never been a problem for me, and it won't be now."
A middle linebacker at Kansas State, Simoneau was a third-round draft pick by Atlanta in 2000. Over the next two years the Falcons tried him in the middle and on the outside. Last year, when Wade Phillips took over as defensive coordinator, Simoneau lined up inside only to suffer an abdominal strain in camp. He didn't feel comfortable all season and played sparingly as Brooking's backup. "No bitterness," Simoneau says of his time in Atlanta. "I learned a lot. It prepared me for this chance."
Atlanta tried to persuade the Buffalo Bills to take Simoneau in a trade for wideout Peerless Price last March, but Buffalo took a first-round draft choice instead. Then the Eagles came calling, completing the deal with Atlanta and signing Simoneau to a five-year contract on the same day. "The night he got traded," says Monica, his wife of two months, "he was so excited he couldn't sleep. He just paced the room."
"It's pretty rare to go from not playing much to starting for a defense that's among the top five in the league," Simoneau says. "But in the end I can't worry about that stuff. I can't be in awe of it. It's still just playing football."
In Philly, there's more to it than that.