PHILADELPHIA — Brian Westbrook could break open a game from almost anywhere on the field.
Lined up in the slot, he could run a slant, beat a linebacker and take off with no one able to catch No. 36. His defining moment with the Philadelphia Eagles came on an 84-yard punt return that stunned the New York Giants in 2003.
Out of the backfield, he was a 1,000-yard rusher who always kept defenses guessing — and flailing.
But in his later years, it was injuries that defined Westbrook more than his dynamic offensive skills. His age, salary and lengthy list of beaten body parts led the Eagles to release him Tuesday and save the team $7.5 million due next year.
"I think we all know that Brian is one of the all-time great Philadelphia Eagles," coach Andy Reid said. "For what we’ve done here over the years, Brian has been just a huge part of building this program to the level that we’re at now. My heart will always be a Brian Westbrook fan as we go forward here."
A former All-Pro, the 5-foot-10 Westbrook led the league in yards from scrimmage in 2007 with 2,104. He rushed for 1,333 yards and accounted 12 touchdowns that season.
But he spent much of last season on the sidelines, missing eight games with a pair of concussions and an ankle injury. Westbrook had only two touchdowns in 2009.
Reid said he called Westbrook with the news Tuesday morning. Reid said Westbrook should still have an opportunity to play for another team. Reid said he thinks Westbrook still wants to play.
"I don’t know that for a fact, but I think he might want to do that," Reid said.
LeSean McCoy, who rushed for 637 yards with four touchdowns in 16 games as a rookie, will become Philadelphia’s No. 1 running back.
"That’s who’s going to take the ball from here," Reid said.
Westbrook’s season went south on Oct. 26 when his helmet collided with Washington linebacker London Fletcher’s right knee and he suffered a concussion. Westbrook missed the last five games after suffering his second concussion in three weeks against San Diego on Nov. 15. He was cleared to return for the postseason.
He has rushed for 5,995 yards in eight seasons in Philadelphia and caught 426 passes for 3,790 yards. The 30-year-old Westbrook has scored 68 touchdowns rushing, receiving and on punt returns.
"He had no weaknesses," Reid said. "There wasn’t any one thing that you could pick out that he was not good at; he was brilliant. There are just certain guys that are just football smart and he was one of those guys."
Westbrook, a third-round pick out of Villanova in the 2002 draft, is Philadelphia’s career leader in yards from scrimmage (9,785). He also ranks second in yards rushing (5,995) behind Wilbert Montgomery and third in receptions (426) behind Harold Carmichael and Pete Retzlaff.
He is third in team history behind Carmichael and Steve Van Buren in touchdowns and holds the franchise single-season record for most scrimmage yards in a season (2,104 in 2007) and most receptions in a season (90 in 2007).
He eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark 20 times (including playoffs) during his career, tying for second-most in club history.
"Brian Westbrook is one of the most electrifying players in the history of this franchise and is certainly also one of the most popular," Eagles chairman Jeffrey Lurie said. "He was personally one of the my favorite players to watch each and every Sunday, and his playmaking abilities, leadership and values will be missed."
Westbrook is the second high-profile running back to be released in two days following LaDainian Tomlinson being shown the door by the San Diego Chargers. Both Westbrook and Tomlinson turned 30 last summer and have been sidelined by injuries that kept them from performing at the level they displayed in their primes.
Westbrook’s signature moment came in 2003. The Eagles appeared headed to a 2-4 start on Oct. 19, when they trailed 10-7 late in the fourth quarter against the Giants. But Westbrook returned a punt 84 yards for the winning score with 1:16 left in one of the more memorable plays of the Reid era.
He never played 16 games because of a variety of injuries to his knees, ankles, ribs and triceps. He practiced sparingly, if at all, in his final seasons.
If Westbrook fails to sign with another team, Reid would welcome him back to the organization in an unspecified role.
"He, to me, is a Philadelphia Eagle and he’s the kind of people that you want in your organization," he said.
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