Addressing the Donovan McNabb Trade: An Eagles' Fan Reflects

Cody Swartz@cbswartz5Senior Writer IApril 7, 2010

I hope your Easter was more enjoyable than mine.

I was heading home after a dinner at my grandparents’ house when I heard the news.

The news we all knew was coming. The news that took my breath away.

Arguably the biggest news in Philly sports during my lifetime.

Donovan McNabb, the greatest quarterback in Philadelphia Eagles history, my all-time favorite athlete, and an icon in Philly sports over the last decade, was shipped to the division-rival Washington Redskins.

Trade talks had been swirling for several months, and the Donovan McNabb watch was the biggest NFL story in the offseason, surpassing even ESPN’s favorite, Brett Favre.

Every few days, a new team would pop up as one of the leading candidates for McNabb’s destination in 2010—Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, St. Louis Rams, etc.

The Redskins were never really in the picture. At least not until the day it happened, when all of a sudden McNabb was shipped to D.C. for a second-round draft pick in this year’s draft and either a third- or fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft.

In the hours since, I’ve heard a lot of comments and overheard a lot of reactions from both Eagles fans and non-Eagles fans. I thought I would address some of the primary statements I have been hearing.


1) We’ll never win a Super Bowl with Donovan at quarterback. It was time for him to go.

Well, he hasn’t won one yet. I know that. But to say he will never win a Super Bowl in Philadelphia?

Unless you had a crystal ball in your possession, it was probably a little too early to declare that.

John Elway didn’t win a Super Bowl until his 16th season. And then he won it again in his 17th season, sailing off into the sunset with a coveted Super Bowl MVP trophy in his final NFL game.

Maybe McNabb never would have won it in Philadelphia. Maybe five NFC Championship game appearances and a Super Bowl loss was as close as he would ever get. We’ll never know now.

Was it time for him to go?

Well, that depends on the person. Ask the average idiot who knows nothing about the game, and he’ll happily inform you that McNabb sucks. Ask a professional NFL analyst, and he may tell you that the Eagles should move on as well.

Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results.”

Translation: Sending Reid and McNabb out there year after year, falling short, and expecting a Super Bowl championship with those two is ridiculous.

Is that the case? I don’t know. To get to the Final Four an unprecedented five times without a title is frustrating beyond words. It’s difficult to do that.

Does that mean one of the two needs to go? It depends.

Which one should go? Ask 10 people and you’ll have five for McNabb and five for Reid. I would have said Reid needs to go because I think McNabb is more crucial to the Eagles’ success than Reid, but Reid got a contract extension and he’s not going anywhere.

Maybe a change in Philly is necessary. Maybe it had to be done.

But that doesn’t mean I was looking forward to it…


2) Reid is an idiot. Why did he trade McNabb within the division?!

Good question. You took the words out of my mouth.

The cardinal rule of trading in sports is you NEVER, EVER trade within your division. Reid could have shipped McNabb to Buffalo or Oakland where we’ll play him once every four years, or even St. Louis, where we might see him every other year.

But Washington? That’s a double date every year with the former face of the Eagles franchise.

That’s painful. That’s frustrating.


What was Reid thinking?

No one is likely to know what Reid is thinking but I guess he felt the deal the Redskins put on the table—the 37th overall pick and a third or fourth round pick in 2011 was too good to pass up.

I have also heard that Reid respected McNabb so much that he literally refused to deal the quarterback to one of the aforementioned teams because he wanted his quarterback to have a shot at a Super Bowl title before he retires.

And according to a source on ESPN, McNabb says he would have retired had he been traded to the Raiders. I don’t blame him. Who would want to play for Al Davis in perennial 4-12 Oakland?

I can’t take credit for coming up with this, but I saw an article that said no way in hell Bill Belichick would do that with Tom Brady. Belichick would sooner ship Brady to Kazakhstan than a rival AFC East team.

While the Redskins weren’t a contender, they certainly weren’t the lowly Bills, Raiders, or Rams—three teams for which McNabb very likely could have never reached the playoffs again.

Maybe Reid was just looking out for his quarterback. Maybe he knows it just wasn’t going to happen in Philadelphia and shipping the best player he’s ever coached to a team within the division was his best move. Who really knows with Reid?


3) McNabb sucks. His best years are way past him. Why can’t he just retire?

One of my favorite arguments.

It is unfortunate that Donovan McNabb has gotten such a poor reputation, even in his own city. Ask anyone who doesn’t know much about football and they’ll tell you McNabb sucks.

It took me until about this past year to learn that those people literally think McNabb is a below-average quarterback. They aren’t just saying it to start a war. They actually believe he is a terrible player.

Quarterbacks are judged primarily on the number of Super Bowl championships they have won. Is that fair? Well, I’m an Eagles fan who has never seen a Super Bowl title, so what do you think I am going to say?

Your Eagles' fan will tell you no, and your Patriots' or Steelers' fan will tell you rings are all that matter.

Perhaps a more fair argument would be the quarterback’s play in the Super Bowl or the biggest games of his life.

Not a strong argument for McNabb.

His Super Bowl performance has been heavily criticized and critiqued, but the facts are he threw for 357 yards and three touchdowns, including a 30-yard touchdown pass with just 1:48 to play that brought the Eagles within three points.

He also threw three interceptions, including one on the final play of the game, and lost a fumble. McNabb’s passer rating for the day was 75.4, a number that falls in the average to slightly below average range.

I think McNabb still brings a lot to the table. He has been in the playoffs nearly every year of his career.

Despite his inability to win the Super Bowl and just a 1-4 record in conference championship games, he has still managed to post a better career playoff winning percentage (.563) than Peyton Manning (.500) or Brett Favre (.542), two quarterbacks who each have a ring.

He has played much of his career without a legitimate threat at running back or wide receiver, and has still managed to accumulate six Pro Bowl selections.

He is the third-least intercepted quarterback in NFL history and has played through multiple injuries in his career that would sideline lesser quarterbacks.

Even last year, a year that will ultimately go down as the year that forced Super Five out of Philly forever, McNabb tossed 22 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions, posted a 92.9 passer rating and led the Eagles to another playoff berth.

Sorry to all you Redskins fans who spent the last decade of your life hating McNabb’s every move, but now you’re stuck with him.

Be happy. Who would you rather have next season behind center?

Jason Campbell, the NFL’s definition of an average, not-quite-good enough to get to the playoffs quarterback, or Donovan McNabb, a six-time Pro Bowler who is still one of the 10 best quarterbacks in the league?

I think you will be pleasantly surprised with McNabb. You are 100 percent right when you inform me that he is ringless, but there was a reason Philly made the playoffs every single year. And he was a big part of it.

Sure, he throws a lot of balls in the dirt but he won’t throw many interceptions at all, and he’s got a pretty good deep ball.

Just ask DeSean Jackson.

Factor in your new coach Mike Shanahan, who by the way, helped Elway win two Super Bowls when he was labeled as the “guy who couldn’t win the big one," and you go from being the perennial worst team in the division to a strong contender for the NFC East title.


4) The Eagles’ front office is classless. They treat their players with no respect or loyalty.

I don’t know if I would say the word "classless." I would say the Eagles’ front office does what it thinks is best in terms of helping the team win football games.

Remember the outrage when Brian Dawkins signed with Denver?

The front office didn’t see a ball-hawk safety who was the leader of the Philly defense and the most beloved athlete in Philadelphia sports.

Nope, it saw a 35-year old safety who had lost a step, was susceptible in pass coverage and was not too instrumental in the future of the franchise.

Brian Westbrook?

Sure, he’s a two-time Pro Bowler and the most electrifying running back since Barry Sanders, but that’s not what the eyes of the front office saw.

Management saw a player who has always had difficulty staying healthy. Factor in Westbrook’s back-to-back concussions this past year and that he made the mistake of turning 30 years old, the dreaded age for a running back in the NFL, and adios, Westbrook.

And with McNabb, the Eagles saw a 33-year old quarterback who had failed for the 11th straight season in securing a Super Bowl championship in Philly.

He was oft-injured, aging, and the Eagles had a young guy in the waiting named Kevin Kolb.

Rather than bring McNabb back and inevitably fall short in the playoffs again, the Eagles got what they could for him and handed the reins to Kolb, a 25-year old who had spent three years on the bench learning from one of the best in the business.

Because that’s what football is. It’s a business. And the Eagles, led by Joe Banner and Andy Reid, operate to win football games. Loyalty is not at the top of the team’s priority list.

Call that classless, call that discourteous, call it whatever you want. It’s just the way it is.


5) We could have had Nnamdi Asomugha or Albert Haynesworth for McNabb! What was Reid thinking?!

That is a heck of an offer. From what I understand, several days before the Eagles actually traded McNabb to Washington, the front office was offered Asomugha,  arguably the game’s most complete cornerback, for McNabb.

Not a bad offer.

Asomugha is a three-time All Pro, a guy who excels in both pass and run coverage. Now that Sheldon Brown has been dished to the Cleveland Browns for next to nothing in the draft, Asomugha and Samuel would have formed arguably the game’s best corner combination.

What held Reid and the Eagles back was Asomugha’s massive contract, as the Pro Bowler is due to make $16 million in 2010, a figure that the Eagles were weary of paying, even in an uncapped year.

Rumor has it the Eagles also could have dealt McNabb straight up for Albert Haynesworth, the massive $100 million defensive tackle for the Redskins.

The only problem is the Eagles already have two productive, and very underrated,  tackles in Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley, two players who don’t receive much publicity, but are immeasurable in terms of impact on the defense.

Sure, a rotation of the three would have worked, but it might not have been the best option.


6) Well, we got Kevin Kolb under center now. It’s last place for sure in the NFC East.

Is it?

Does losing McNabb automatically put the Eagles as the weakest team in the NFC East?

Not in my opinion.

I think it hurts, no doubt about it, but I don’t think it will have quite as big of an impact as one might think.

As it currently stands, the Dallas Cowboys own bragging rights in the NFC East, having captured the division title last year and won the only playoff game of any of the four teams.

The Giants, despite another historic late-season collapse that has to have Tom Coughlin worried about his long-term job security, appear to be a front runner for the division next season, along with the Cowboys.

And don’t forget the Giants are just two years removed from an improbable playoff ride that culminated in a stunning Super Bowl victory over the undefeated New England Patriots.

Each team has a franchise QB, a young group of playmakers, a solid coaching staff, and a strong defense.

Well, the Cowboys have a strong defense.

Even so, I think those two teams have the best chance of winning this division next season, but I don’t think McNabb in Washington puts the Redskins ahead of the Eagles.

The Redskins had more problems than at quarterback.

That offensive line is made of papier-mache. The running game, which ranked just 27th in the NFL last season, appears to be revamped with the offseason acquisitions of Willie Parker and Larry Johnson, but who knows how long the 29-year-old Parker, 30-year-old Johnson, and especially the 28-year-old Clinton Portis will hold up?

The defense was average last season. Just average.

Coaching was upgraded with the hiring of two-time Super Bowl winning head coach Mike Shanahan, but it may take Shanahan a few years to get it all together in D.C.

And don’t forget that every team in the NFC East seems to have the Redskins’ number, as Washington went 0-6 in divisional games last season.

Either way, the Eagles are now starting a guy with one career win and more interceptions than touchdowns. So it’s last place for Philly, right?


I have my doubts. I think there will be growing pains, but I have confidence in Kolb (words I never thought I would say), and I believe he can be a pretty effective quarterback in this league.

In limited action in ’08, I was convinced Kolb was the reincarnation of Doug Pederson or Bobby Hoying. Kolb couldn’t read a defense, he couldn’t lead the offense, and he threw more interception touchdowns than complete passes.

And then something happened.

McNabb broke a rib in last year’s season opener against the Carolina Panthers, giving Kolb the opportunity to start for two games.

With full practices all week with the starting team, Kolb went out there and delivered, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 300 yards in each of his first two starts.

He directed the offense to 22 points in a loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints before exploding for 34 points behind 327 passing yards, two touchdowns, and a 120.6 passer rating in a win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week Three, numbers that earned Kolb NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors in just his second career start.

Now it was only two starts, and the second one was against the Chiefs. I’m not going to put him in the Hall of Fame quite yet.

But it shows me the Eagles may not have the biggest draft bust in the history of the NFL in Kolb. They may actually have a player who learned a lot in his three years on the bench.

I hope so.


7) The ’04 Super Bowl team is now a distant memory.

Well, if you mean by the fact that none of the 22 guys who started for the Eagles in that game are still on the team, you are correct.

Only three guys from that team still wear an Eagles uniform—kicker David Akers, now the longest tenured Philadelphia athlete; center Jamaal Jackson, who was a backup to Hank Fraley in that game; and All-Pro safety Quintin Mikell, who began his career as a special teams ace before turning into one of the best safeties in the game.

This past offseason took care of ridding the Eagles of all the starters from that game,  running back Brian Westbrook, who was released; cornerback Sheldon Brown, who was shockingly traded; and now McNabb, the man responsible for getting the Eagles to that game.

However, football is a sport in which starters are rotated every several years, with even the best of the best barely hitting a decade.

The Eagles are an organization that doesn’t like to keep players over the age of 30. Thus, when star players hit that age, the team makes every attempt to employ a younger player to take his place.

The Eagles are now one of the youngest teams in the NFL. Kolb is just 25 years old. The wide receivers, DeSean Jackson (23) and Jeremy Maclin (21), have their whole careers ahead of them. Running back LeSean McCoy is just 21. Tight end Brent Celek is 25.

And the offensive line is one of the league’s youngest.

That tells me the Eagles are building for the future. Use whichever word you prefer,  rebuilding, retooling, or regrouping, but the Eagles are priming themselves for a strong run at a Super Bowl title in a couple of years.


8) The Eagles are always trying to take the focus off of the Phillies. They know the fans support the Phillies more, so they wanted to overshadow Opening Day in baseball.

I don’t think Andy Reid cares about the Phillies.

I am sure the pressure built back in 2008 when Charlie Manuel led the Phillies to the city’s first championship in 25 years, but Philadelphia has always, and probably will always, be a football town.

I heard a bunch of people saying this was Reid’s attempt to overshadow Opening Day and Roy Halladay’s big debut for the Phillies by making a blockbuster trade just 16 hours before first pitch.


Reid dealt McNabb on Easter Sunday at 8 p.m. because that’s when the deal became official. That’s all there is to it.


9) This is Philadelphia. You had to know it wouldn’t be a happy ending.

I am sure this is not the storybook ending Andy Reid envisioned when he selected Donovan McNabb second overall back in the 1999 NFL Draft.

I highly doubt he imagined shipping his franchise quarterback to a team within the division a decade later, still without a Super Bowl trophy and just a single appearance in the big game.

The story isn’t over, though.

Maybe McNabb will hold out of Washington next season, Kolb will tear his ACL, the Eagles will sign McNabb back for 2011, and he will lead a dramatic comeback in the Super Bowl, earning that elusive ring, and solidifying his status as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.

That’s not likely, though.

More likely would be Kolb taking over as quarterback and leading the Eagles to a Super Bowl championship.

The 25-year old has his whole career ahead of him. He is still largely unproven. He might be a bust or he might be a perennial Pro Bowler who could turn get the Eagles over the hump.

It might be a little early to envision that scenario, but I can dream, can’t I?


10) Who really cares about Donovan McNabb or the Eagles, anyway? It’s baseball season, and I smell another World Championship.

Me too.

Well, the second sentence.

Baseball season is here and it feels good. The Doc was phenomenal in his debut with the NL, that Phillies lineup is as dangerous as it gets, and Charlie Manuel has done what Reid has never been able to do—win it all.


My Final Thoughts as a Fan:

I am still having difficulty coping with the outcome of this trade. I know McNabb won’t look as good in red and gold as he did in Eagle green.

I am not sure I am prepared for the possibility that my Eagles could be destined for the cellar in the NFC East next season.

I don’t ever remember watching another quarterback in my lifetime. This will take some adjusting.

McNabb is my favorite athlete to ever put on a Philadelphia uniform. His was the first jersey I ever bought, and I will continue to wear it.

He has brought me some of my best memories as a football fan and torn my heart out more times than I thought was possible.

For every memory of Ronde Barber picking off Super Five and taking it to the house, I have countless memories of McNabb’s fourth-and-26 completion to Freddie Mitchell, his 14.1-second scramble against the Dallas Cowboys and his flawless performance against the Atlanta Falcons in the ’04 NFC Championship Game to finally get the Eagles over the hump.

For every tie of the Bengals, there are memories of his instrumental role in the 44-6 game against Dallas to secure the final playoff spot in ’08, his 464-yard passing day against the Packers in ’04, or his NFL-record 24 straight completions in a single game.

And for every ACL he tore or rib he broke, there are the memories of McNabb throwing four touchdown passes on a broken ankle, or playing the first half of the ’03 season with a broken thumb on his throwing hand (and Romo missed three games because of a broken pinky), or playing the first half of the ’05 season with a sports hernia so severe doctors ordered him not to play.

Oh, the memories.

Watching McNabb as a Redskin will take some getting used to.

I was fortunate enough to be at Lincoln Financial Field for Brian Dawkins’ big return to Philadelphia last year. You think that was monumental?

Wait until McNabb heads back to Philly next year.

The McNabb fan in me wants to see No. 5 toss eight touchdowns in his two starts against the Eagles next season to stick it to the Philadelphia front office, but the Eagles fan in me tells me to root for the team, not the player.

This Eagles team I will be watching is a little different from the team I remember watching.

So many new faces on the roster.

So many of my favorites now sporting new uniforms.

A gigantic hole in my heart that began with Brian Dawkins and has subsequently expanded with the offseason moves of Brian Westbrook and now Donovan McNabb.

While McNabb now joins the ranks of players like Randall Cunningham who couldn’t quite win the big one, everything in me hopes Kevin Kolb will one day separate himself from the pack and bring home the first Super Bowl championship in Philadelphia history.

It will probably be bittersweet, but a Super Bowl title is a Super Bowl title, right?

Not that I would have a clue...


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