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Donovan McNabb: An Eagles Legend but Probably Not a Hall of Famer

Jul 29, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie hugs former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb during a press conference announcing his retirement at the Eagles NovaCare Complex. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJuly 31, 2013

Funny how star players who were often torn apart by fans while active seem to gain a lot of love in retirement. Maybe it's the realization that the grass isn't in fact greener on the other side, or maybe it's the effect of nostalgia. 

Whatever it is, their current trials and tribulations—especially at the quarterback position—have made it easier for Philadelphia Eagles fans to appreciate what former franchise leader Donovan McNabb brought to the organization. 

McNabb made his retirement official this week, stepping away, symbolically, as a member of the Eagles. That announcement coincided with news that the team will retire McNabb's No. 5 on Sept. 19, when Philly hosts Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs in prime time. 

That gives us a chance to reconsider McNabb's legacy. He's the Eagles' all-time leader in passing yards, and passing touchdowns and his record of 92-49-1 is easily the best in franchise history.

But of course, it's nearly impossible to compare quarterbacks from different eras. I believe McNabb is the best quarterback the Eagles have ever had—better than Ron Jaworski or Randall Cunningham—but simply and subjectively establishing his place among the Philadelphia quarterback hierarchy isn't enough.

Where does McNabb fit among the best quarterbacks and players of his era? 

In McNabb's favor...

  • He led the Eagles to nine playoff victories in a 10-year span, finishing his career with a solid 9-7 postseason record. Only Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger have won more playoff games since McNabb entered the league.
  • His 234-117 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Not as good as Peyton Manning or Brady, but better than Brett Favre, Dan Marino, Fran Tarkenton, Drew Brees, John Elway, Joe Montana, Warren Moon and active two-time Super Bowl champions Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.
  • The only other two quarterbacks in NFL history with 35,000 passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards—Elway and Tarkenton—are in the Hall of Fame.

Working against him...

  • His career passer rating was only 85.6, which ranks lower than Jeff Garcia, Shaun Hill and David Garrard, and his career completion percentage was just 59.0.
  • He never won a Super Bowl ring, though he did lead the Eagles to four consecutive NFC Championship Games and fell just short against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX.
  • He made six Pro Bowls but was never a first- or second-team All-Pro.

McNabb has said that he "absolutely" belongs in the Hall of Fame, but I wouldn't go that far. The reality is that it's still too early to know. He was a good enough Eagle to become the ninth player in team history with a retired number, but without a Super Bowl ring and with less-than-fantastic rate-based numbers, he's far from an early-ballot Hall of Famer.

Throw in that prolific champions like Brady, both Mannings, Roethlisberger, Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Kurt Warner and Brett Favre will likely be ahead of him in line, and his prospects don't look positive. 

We often look at Ken Anderson, Ken Stabler, Boomer Esiason and Phil Simms as the best non-Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and it sort of feels like McNabb belongs in that group.

When I ponder Hall of Fame chances, I often ask myself if I could relay the comprehensive history of football to someone without mentioning the candidate in question. And while you can barely touch on the history of the Eagles without bringing up McNabb, I don't believe he left enough of a mark on the league as a whole to merit a Hall of Fame nod. 

What say you, guys?

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