Last week at the draft in Radio City Music Hall as a native Philadelphian I was excited for the Eagles 26th overall pick of the draft, but as a member of the media, I had to quietly hum “Fly Eagles Fly” to myself as the Rocky theme played in the background. As the clocked ticked down and Roger Goodell came to the podium, I thought here comes my pick OLB/DE Anthony Spencer from Purdue. We were all stunned to hear that first our beloved Eagles traded with our archrival Cowboys at 26 (Hopefully works out better than the Jon Harris deal) and then with their first pick in the second round (36th overall pick) they selected a quarterback (University of Houston QB Kevin Kolb) of all things ignoring players on the board FB Brian Leonard, CB Chris Houston, WR Dwayne Jarrett, and their immediate needs of Safety, D-Line, and Nickel Corner. I had one Eagles fan scream at me “A #$@$#ing quarterback, WHY”.
My radio partner immediately asked me the question that all Philadelphia fans and media alike wanted answered, “What did Eagles franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb think of the selection?” I tried to get near Wilma McNabb at the draft, but she didn’t say anything and Donovan back in the Philadelphia area was conspicuously silent and chose to only text people off the record at the time of the pick. He later offered that “That he was okay with the selection” and not much more. But where there is smoke, you know the rest.
I immediately went back to when I last spoke with Donovan McNabb on radio row during Super Bowl week in February. He seemed jovial and focused on his rehab and his entourage was extremely confident of his comeback. The idea that the Eagles would be looking to find his eventual replacement in a couple of months was not even part of their thought pattern. We all assumed that McNabb would concentrate on his rehab (BTW: Looked in tip-top shape) and bring the Eagles back to Super Bowl contention. With the NFC being represented by the disappointing Bears, it seemed logical with a healthy McNabb and a couple of additions that the Eagles could make it back.
I however knew that there may have been more to McNabb being at the Super Bowl than his Campbell’s Chunky Soup bit and getting some much needed R&R after missing the last 5 regular season games and playoffs. Before leaving Philadelphia, I heard that McNabb had tried to speak his mind on his physical and mental state leading into the off-season, but an imposed organizational gag order put the kibosh on a press conference that he had arranged. It clearly showed the first time that I could remember that there was a disconnect between the Eagles and their franchise player. Donovan playing the good soldier said “It was no big deal” and moved on, but a foreboding feeling swept through the Philadelphia fan base.
The situation got even more curious as McNabb didn’t talk on draft day about the Kolb pick and Andy Reid apparently called and left him a message to placate his feelings. McNabb, who is now in the dangerous thirty-something crowd, knows the way the Eagles have handled players of this age in the past. He watched as friends and teammates like Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent, Ike Reese, and others were shown the door at this age. Could the unthinkable happen, where McNabb would leave the Eagles amidst whispers of Kolb taking over? We all know about the playoff runs, Super Bowl XXXVIIII, and five Pro Bowls, but McNabb is susceptible to the unenviable Eagles’ Bermuda Triangle of Doom (Injuries, Age, and Big Contract Dollars) swirling around him and the team’s front office.
McNabb has not been one to criticized the organization in the past, preferring to give standard answers, however he has shown signs recently of opening up. He hired former Eagles PR man Rich Burg, who was recently let go by the organization, as his publicist and an article titled “Eagles have lost control of star” in the 5/9/2007 Philadelphia Inquirer by Ashley Fox painted a disturbing view of McNabb’s current relationship with the team. Fox wrote, “The Eagles have a problem. A big problem. They’ve lost control of their franchise quarterback, and that has the potential to get real ugly”. She added “It might not seem like a big deal, but Donovan McNabb went on a public-relations blitz yesterday, far away from the protective eyes, ears and hands at the NovaCare Complex. He didn’t inform the Eagles of his intentions. He just had his new publicist, a longtime Eagles employee whom the team recently let go, set up interviews with The Inquirer and a few other media outlets so McNabb could get his message out. That message? He’s not upset that the team used its top pick in last month’s draft on a quarterback, but he isn’t happy that there is a perception that he is upset.”
In my opinion I like that Donovan has decided to assert himself, because he is the face of this team and needs to let everyone know it including management. His new “Rage Against the Machine” attitude is much needed and welcomed. For years he silently stood by as WR’s like Torrance Small, Todd Pinkston, James Thrash and others were brought in and offered little to get the team to the next level (Remember Ricky Manning Jr). A person close to McNabb once told me “Do you think he has enough weapons?” and I agreed with him and hoped that the sentiments were the same ones echoed by Donovan. Then the person added, “Imagine what he could do with the Colts talent”, which is a question that begs to be answered.
McNabb has done more with less than anyone over his 8 years in the league. Early in his career he was the team’s main rusher and he has always been the main orchestrator of the offense, while not questioning play calling or audibling at will. Like any other quarterback he gets too much blame for losses, especially in the playoffs and Super Bowl. But we never heard him outwardly question the way the team was handled or the lack of effort of some teammates. I would have loved to have seen McNabb question the disportionment run/pass ratio, draft pick misses, and lack of explosiveness at the receiver position that led to many of the losses in the past. He now seems ready to speak up and rebel, but is it too late. Fans and some media members have long held mixed feelings when it comes to McNabb either they love him or always find ways to criticize/point out flaws (Accuracy, T.O, Throwing up, etc). Injuries in 3 out of the last 5 years and Garcia’s magic carpet ride last season have heightened the passion of Eagles supporters regarding him.
I think by speaking his mind McNabb can finally let everyone (fans, media, and organization) know that he is not “canned” and that he still has the ability to lead this team and take them to the next level. After 104 games with passing numbers of 1898 completions (58% Completion Rate for you haters), 22080 yards, 152 TD’s, and an additional 2726 yards rushing w/ 24 TD’s, he has earned the right to speak out like Dan Marino (Always seemed annoyed all the time), Brett Favre (Packers talent and Javon Walker), John Elway (Running Game) and Peyton Manning (Kicker). I truly believe McNabb will take the Kolb challenge similarly to veterans John Elway (Tommie Maddox), Joe Montana (Steve Young), and Rich Gannon (Marques Tuiasopo), who all responded when their teams brought in the “new hot shot” of the future. These confident veteran quarterbacks all knew that the key to quieting everyone is to get healthy, perform on the field, and most of all win. They all went to the Super Bowl after their challenge and two of them won after their team had anointed a younger quarterback. I know McNabb will respond like the winner he has always been with a healthy Pro Bowl type season and maybe a trip to the promised land if the Eagles continue with their “Garcia Game Plan” by running the ball more and playing tough defense in 2007.