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What If...the Eagles Never Traded Donovan McNabb to the Redskins?

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What If...the Eagles Never Traded Donovan McNabb to the Redskins?
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Three years ago today on Easter Sunday 2010, NFC East rivals made a deal that sent the winningest and most prolific quarterback in Philadelphia Eagles history to the Washington Redskins

And while a 33-year-old Donovan McNabb's best days were behind him at that point in time, it was an exciting move for all parties involved. The Eagles were ready to hand the reins to Kevin Kolb (although it ended up being Michael Vick who emerged as the starter in the ensuing season), McNabb was looking for a fresh start, and Redskins fans were undoubtedly excited by the prospect of beating one of their top rivals with one of their homegrown legends. 

It had been at least three decades since a quarterback had brought that much excitement to D.C., and while there was some trepidation about dealing a starting QB from one team to another inside the division, Philly had to be quite happy with the two solid draft picks—a second-rounder in 2010 and a fourth-rounder in 2011—that it received in exchange for McNabb.

When all was said and done and the picks were used and/or traded, the Eagles got safety Nate Allen, linebacker Casey Matthews, linebacker DeMeco Ryans and quarterback Nick Foles in exchange for McNabb. Three of those players are now backups and two are in danger of being cut this offseason, but that's not a bad haul when you consider how quickly McNabb declined from that point forward. 

McNabb, of course, would last only one strange, disappointing season in Washington, completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes while throwing more interceptions than touchdowns and posting his worst passer rating since his rookie year. 

The 'Skins would wind up dealing him to Minnesota the next summer in exchange for the sixth-round draft pick that they'd end up using on current starting running back Alfred Morris. 

So while dealing for McNabb was a mistake, they essentially ended up trading a second-round pick in 2010 and a fourth-rounder in 2011 for Morris, which ain't too bad. 

When breaking the deal down that way, neither franchise was hurt too badly by it. The Eagles wouldn't have benefited from McNabb's services and otherwise might not have landed Ryans and/or Foles, while the Redskins might not have wound up with Morris, who was the league's second-leading rusher in 2012. 

Let's have some fun with hypothetical scenarios. 

 

Warning

If you don't like speculation, stop reading now. There, now you won't have an excuse to bitch and whine about how the speculative nature of an article entitled "What if..." caused you to waste five minutes of your day. 

 

Had Philly kept McNabb

...The 2010 season would have been a lot less glorious. McNabb had stubbornly told the team he'd stick around for yet another season, which means the Eagles wouldn't have discovered Vick's magic until much later, if at all. 

They might have eventually sat McNabb down, like the Redskins did, but Kolb was officially the backup anyway. Vick likely would have spent the majority of the season as the third-string quarterback. And under those circumstances, the Eagles wouldn't have gone 10-6, winning a tiebreaker to capture the division title. 

In other words, keeping McNabb would have cost the Eagles a playoff appearance in the immediate future.

Chris McGrath/Getty Images
With McNabb on board, who knows what would have happened with Kolb and Vick....

Here, however, is where the hypotheticals become convoluted. Without discovering how good Kolb is, they probably don't trade him to the Cardinals for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. No DRC and no Nate Allen is a good thing, but it would also mean another year with Kolb and/or Vick at the helm. 

In other words (again), the Eagles might have simply stunted progress, waiting for Kolb and/or Vick to prove themselves right or wrong in 2011. They used the picks they got for Kolb in 2011 to select Vinny Curry and Brandon Boykin, both of whom still possess bright futures. That wouldn't have happened had they been forced to wait another year before finding out that Kolb is no good. 

They still weren't ready to give up on Vick last offseason, and I don't believe it would've been any different had the McNabb trade not gone down two years earlier.

Here's where I think things might have been better: Because they'd have struggled more in 2010 with McNabb at the helm and Vick still buried on the quarterback depth chart, I'm not convinced they would have gone the "Dream Team" route in the 2011 offseason. I think Vick's MVP-caliber season fueled that push to rent players and win a championship in 2011. 

Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Had they kept McNabb, the Eagles might not have pursued the "Dream Team."

In other words (final time I'll say it), without a McNabb trade in 2010, Rodgers-Cromartie, Nnamdi Asomugha and Nate Allen probably aren't starters in that disastrous secondary in 2011 and 2012, and there's even a chance they don't waste their time with Vince Young and Ronnie Brown. 

Finally, without trading McNabb and allowing Vick to breathe new life into the organization in 2010, I don't think Andy Reid survives the next three seasons. In fact, I think he'd have been fired before they even had the chance to pursue that "Dream Team." Who knows, maybe they would have ended up with Jim Harbaugh that offseason, putting the franchise in a completely different spot right now. 

The good news is that it is now in a completely different spot than it was at the end of the Reid era. You can draw up scenarios that are quite grand and others that are quite depressing, but the majority of the alternative paths we've just looked at indicate that the Eagles were better off trading McNabb when they did.

Even if it means a fool's gold 2010 campaign extended Reid's time by an extra two years.

 

Had Washington not traded for McNabb

...Things would have been a little more straightforward. They wouldn't have traded Jason Campbell to Oakland and probably would have been just as unsuccessful with Campbell at the helm in 2010. 

That wasn't enough to get them to draft a quarterback in the 2011 offseason, with Rex Grossman taking over full-time for McNabb after he was dealt to the Vikings. The difference in this scenario is that they might have stuck with Campbell.

Either way, mediocrity. 

Sure, without McNabb they might have reached for Jimmy Clausen or Colt McCoy in that year's draft, but I don't believe two bad years with either of those guys would have stopped the 'Skins from taking Robert Griffin III in 2012. 

Rob Carr/Getty Images
The 'Skins drafted Morris with the pick they traded McNabb to Minnesota for.

The worst-case scenario would have been Mike Shanahan, after failing to execute a trade for McNabb, wanting to scratch that trade itch the next year and getting Carson Palmer from the Bengals. That's the only set of circumstances that would probably have kept the 'Skins from securing RG3 in the following draft. 

But I do believe the 'Skins would still look similar today (RG3 and all) regardless of that deal. The biggest difference is that they're currently lacking whomever they would have selected with the second-round pick of theirs that Philly used on Nate Allen.

And yes, that pick could have been used on a difference-maker like Sean Lee or Rob Gronkowski, but it also could have been used on Nate Allen.

When you throw in that there's at least a small chance both Griffin and Morris wouldn't be Redskins today if not for that trade, it's not the worst thing that ever happened to this team.

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