Life after McNabb maybe tougher on the Eagles than expected

If the Eagles do decide to move-on without Donovan McNabb, history has shown some interesting results once a franchise quarterback leaves a team, especially in Season 1

The Philadelphia Eagles are indeed shopping franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb hard, with a team senior official saying via ESPN “We continue to engage in conversations with multiple teams that initially contacted us”.  So for all intents and purposes the biggest athlete in Philadelphia for the last 11 years appears to be on his way out the door. 

The proverbial horse has left the barn, leaving only a slim chance that McNabb will not be traded and return for the 2010 season.  The news of an impending trade — possibly by Draft Day (April 22) or before when McNabb’s roster bonus of $6.2 million is due on May 5th — probably has put a smile on the growing list of Eagles’ fans and media that are ready to move on from the franchise’s most decorated passer.

For over a decade in Philadelphia, the name “Donovan McNabb” has been both a lightning rod for both passion and scorn.  During this period McNabb has risen to the heights of 5 Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl appearance in the 2004 season.  While also facing the depths of boos at the 1999 NFL Draft, coming back from an ACL injury in 2006 and defending his play in four NFC Championship Game losses.  McNabb – who I believe is the most overanalyzed and underappreciated player in Eagles’ history — holds almost every franchise passing record, but more than ever there have been cries for Big 5 to pack up his air guitar and leave the ‘City of Brotherly Love’.

Fans and media that want the 33-year old passer to leave, so that younger quarterback Kevin Kolb (career numbers: 79-130,  60.8%, 885 yards, 4 TDs and 7 INTs) can take over the reins seem to have reoccurring gripes about their soon to be former leader.  Recently radio stations and message boards have been flooded with “negative” McNabb talk. 

I wonder if some of these  comments sound familiar — “McNabb throws worm balls”; “The National Media has no idea, just how bad McNabb really is”; “McNabb is inaccurate causing him to not hit receivers in stride”; “McNabb has lost 4 NFC Championship Games, two of which were at home and three  where the Eagles were favored”; “McNabb smiles after interceptions”; “McNabb never scrambles anymore because he doesn’t want to be labeled a running quarterback”; “McNabb cannot win big games”; “McNabb should change his name to McChoke”; “McNabb caused the Birds to lose the last game at the Vet”; “McNabb is too injury prone” and “McNabb blew-it in the Super Bowl against the Patriots”.  These are just the tip of the iceberg as public sentiment in Philadelphia clearly seems to want the team to start the Kolb era immediately.

However as someone that has probably seen every snap of the McNabb era, I want to offer some caution on letting go a quarterback of No. 5’s ilk.  ESPN analyst Chris Mortensen recently said of the whole McNabb is on the trading block hysteria of the past few weeks, “Quarterbacks of (McNabb’s) caliber just aren’t traded in the NFL”.  Yes…McNabb, head coach Andy Reid and the Eagles’ organization as a whole have not brought home a Super Bowl Championship in 11 years. And their 2009 end of season losses against the Cowboys were embarrassing.  With McNabb definitely deserving some of the blame for his team’s humiliating 38-14 loss to the Cowboys in the Wildcard Round — numbers of 19/37, 230 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT and 1 lost fumble. 

But you cannot forget McNabb’s value to the Eagles franchise in the  community (does the rights things) and on the field over 11 years –respectable career passing numbers: 2801-4746, 59.0% completion rate, 32,873 yards, 216 TDs, and 100 INTs – NFL record for touchdown-to-interception ratio — an additional 3249 yards and 28 touchdowns rushing.  Plus starting records of 92-49-1 in the regular season and 9-7 in the playoffs.  But with public sentiment leaning towards McNabb leaving, I put my “Ray Didinger” researcher’s hat on in hopes of looking at how teams fared after turning the page from their franchise quarterback of many years. 

I took a historical sample of 26 teams who had a franchise quarterback leave and how they fared afterwards (ex. SF 49ers Joe Montana, Tennessee Titans Steve McNair, Minnesota Vikings Fran Tarkenton, and others).  I went as far back as 1959 in looking at how the Detroit Lions picked up the pieces after starter Bobby Layne was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1958 season. The quarterbacks that I selected had been a consistent starter for their teams for over 5 years – except Sonny Jurgensen, who was a 3-year starter for the Eagles – then left their teams via retirement, trade, or release. 

The key categories of measurement were the former quarterback’s team record and playoff status in their last season before they were jettisoned and the team’s regular season records and playoff status in the next 3 seasons without their deposed franchise quarterback. The results varied, but there is one trend that the Eagles and their disgruntled fanbase should analyze and that is the first season after a franchise quarterback has left. 

The 26 quarterbacks’ teams had a combined regular season record of 199-192-5 in the last season before their franchise signal caller left with 11 losing records and a winning percentage of 50%.  Of those 26 teams in their franchise quarterback’s last season, ten were playoff teams and two were Super Champions. 

Season 1 after a franchise passer leaves shows that things can tend to get tougher.  The 26 teams in their first season without their franchise passer had a combined regular season record of 170-221-5 (winning percentage of 42%) with 16 losing records, 6 playoff teams, and zero Conference Champions or Super Bowl Champions. 

Season 2 after a franchise passer showed a more upward trend.  The 26 teams in their second season without their franchise passer had a combined regular season record of 227-170-1 (winning percentage of 57%) with 7 losing records, 16 playoff teams, 1 Conference Champion and two Super Bowl Champions. 

Season 3 after a franchise passer showed a slight downward trend, but a better winning percentage than the last season with the franchise quarterback.  The 26 teams in their third season without their franchise passer had a combined regular season record of 221-175-4 (winning percentage of 55%) with 11 losing records, 9 playoff teams, zero Conference Champions, and 2 Super Bowl Championships. 

We will see just how long the “McNabb Trade” saga takes to finally play out.  But these statistics show that sometimes the grass is not so much greener on the other side.  Remember the Eagles were an 11-5 playoff team and scored a franchise-record 429 points in 2009 with McNabb.


Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)


3 Responses

  1. McNabb : the least intercepted quarterback per pass attempt in NFL history who has the second-best touchdown-to-interception ratio of all time and has the third-highest winning percentage among active quarterbacks…might be the best Igglez QB ever

    hard to part with, especially with no signs of slowing down….yet

    Kolb learned from a good one, but it is a gamble to go with him solo…because his backup, Vick, isn’t really a QB

  2. […] Kolb taking over, but I caution Eagles’ fans to be careful what they wish for.  In a past research article that I wrote, most teams after jettisoning their franchise quarterback struggle in their first […]

  3. […] Kolb taking over, but I caution Eagles’ fans to be careful what they wish for.  In a past research article that I wrote, most teams after jettisoning their franchise quarterback struggle in their first […]

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