The Philadelphia Eagles drastically reduced their levels of experience, leadership and talent on the defensive line Monday by releasing Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson.
Without Jenkins and Patterson, the Eagles are left with Fletcher Cox, Antonio Dixon and Cedric Thornton as the only players who would be capable of playing defensive tackle in a 4-3 alignment or defensive end if the team switches to a 3-4. Derek Landri is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 12 and likely won't be re-signed.
Cox was a rookie last season. Dixon was signed for the final game after getting cut earlier, and Thornton was essentially a rookie in 2012 after spending 2011 on the practice squad.
Jenkins just finished his second season with the Eagles after spending seven years with Green Bay. Patterson was among the longest-tenured Eagles, having been drafted in the first round in 2005.
"Thank you Eagles for everything the last 2 years," Jenkins said Monday via Twitter. "Thank you fans. Sorry we didn't accomplish anything but I thank you all. Best wishes. Thank you to all my supporters. Let's see where the next chapter takes us."
Jenkins was among the big-name players the Eagles signed prior to the 2011 season, prompting backup quarterback Vince Young to dub them the "Dream Team."
Now, almost all of them are gone.
Jenkins' departure left cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and guard Evan Mathis as the only remaining members of that group. And Asomugha, the most disappointing of the newcomers, is expected to be released soon unless he agrees to restructure his contract.
Asomugha, Jenkins, Mathis and Young were among the players general manager Howie Roseman and then-coach Andy Reid added once the lockout ended in the summer of 2011. The Eagles shocked the league by acquiring those players, plus defensive end Jason Babin, running back Ronnie Brown and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Brown and Young were gone after 2011. Babin was cut late in the 2012 season. Rodgers-Cromartie, who was acquired from Arizona in a trade for quarterback Kevin Kolb, is due to become an unrestricted free agent on March 12.
Cutting Jenkins was a risky move by the Eagles. Not only was he a solid, reliable player during the last two seasons - he started all 32 games - but was one of the few leaders in the locker room.
Although the Eagles fell well short of expectations with a 12-20 record in 2011-12, he put up decent numbers with 112 tackles and 9 sacks. More significantly, he was always willing to take the heat and criticism for the team's failings while others shied away from the scrutiny.
"I had a chance to speak with Cullen today and let him know of our decision," Roseman said in a statement Monday. "It's one of the most difficult parts of the job. He has been a very productive player in this league for a long time but we felt it in our team's best interests that we go in a different direction.
"By releasing him at this point, it gives he and his agent more time to sign on with another team. We wish Cullen and his family all the best as he continues his NFL career."
The Eagles are expected to shift to a 3-4 defense in 2013 under new coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Billy Davis. Unlike the other Eagles' defensive players, Jenkins has experience with that scheme, having played defensive end in a 3-4 during part of his seven seasons with the Packers.
Money likely was an issue. Jenkins was due to make $4.5 million in base salary in 2013 and receive a $1 million roster bonus. The 32-year-old already had restructured his contract prior to last season - he reduced his base salary from $2.75 million to $820,000 - and was unlikely to do so again.
Patterson, 29, had played in 110 games, including 94 starts, for the Eagles from 2005-2011 but ran into injury and illness problems that limited him to just five games in 2012. He began the season on the sideline while recovering from offseason brain surgery and later contracted viral pneumonia.
With the Eagles, Patterson played in 115 games and compiled 551 tackles, 16 sacks, four forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries. He set the franchise record for longest fumble return for a touchdown with a 98-yarder at San Francisco in 2006.
His exit leaves defensive end Trent Cole and tackle Todd Herremans as the longest-tenured Eagles. Like Patterson, they were drafted in 2005.
"I want to thank the fans for all of their support over eight years in Philadelphia," Patterson said in a statement Monday. "It is never easy to say good bye to a fan base that supported me no matter what. My goal was to come to work every day to try and make the Philadelphia Eagles the best organization we could be.
"The Eagles organization has treated me and my family with nothing but respect since the day I was drafted and I wish Mr. (Jeffrey) Lurie, Howie (Roseman), the new coaches and all of my teammates all the best going forward. I will miss them all, and I will always have a place in my heart for the Eagles and for the city of Philadelphia."
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