Eagles Quarterback Poker and McNabb is rumored to be in play

At the NFL Meetings this past week, rumors around trades for Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb were rampant

Around the NovaCare Complex whispers are pointing to one of their three quarterbacks under contract for one more season (Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, and Michael Vick) to be leaving via a trade before the 2010 NFL Draft on April 22nd.  In an offseason that has been like none other in Philadelphia, the Eagles organization is faced with some tough decisions around the quarterbacks on their roster, especially McNabb – career regular season starting record of 82-45-1.

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 a respectable 9-7 playoff record, 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 holds almost every Eagles’ passing record, but more than ever there is a canyon between the two sides of the “Donovan Debate”.

 Some fans and media firmly in McNabb’s camp want to bring him back in 2010.  These Stepford fans have continually covered the 11-year veteran’s back by saying things like “Big 5 is the best quarterback the Eagles have ever had”; “Other than Manning or Brady, name me a quarterback who is better” and “McNabb has done more with less talent around him than any quarterback in the NFL”.

While others have seen enough of the 33-year old passer and would gladly drive him to the airport, so Kolb can take over the reins of the Birds.  Common comments from this faction are “McNabb throws worm balls”, “McNabb is inaccurate causing him to not hit receivers in stride”; “McNabb lost 3 NFC Championship Game that the Eagles were favored in”; “McNabb should pack up his air guitar and leave” and “McNabb cannot win big games”.

For most of this offseason things have been surprisingly quiet on the Eagles quarterback front.  But yesterday at the NFL Meetings in Orlando, this pot started to simmer when Eagles head coach Andy Reid made some interesting comments regarding the Birds’ quarterback situation.  Reid confirmed that indeed the Eagles are entertaining offers for all three quarterbacks with a lot the talk appearing to be centered on McNabb – career passing numbers: 2801-4746, 59.0% completion rate, 32,873 yards, 216 TDs, and 100 INTs. 

As of yesterday there were rampant rumors of a McNabb to the Rams trade for the 33rd overall pick in the 2010 draft (first pick in 2nd round) and safety OJ Atogwe, though the St. Louis Rams are denying it.  Of course Reid later was coy about any trade talk by saying, “We’ll go back and look through (rumored trades) and think through them a little bit, away from this situation here. There’s nothing right now that I’d jump up and down about. But there has been some interest.”

All along it seemed like the no-brainer Eagles’ quarterback out the door this offseason was Vick.  His signing last summer caused a firestorm of activity and the fact still remains that many fans will never embrace him after his much-publicized dogfighting saga.  There also is no denying that the former Falcons star is basically a spare part on the Eagles roster – passing numbers: 6-13, 46.2%, 86 yards, 1 TD, and 0 INTs plus 24 rushes for 95 yards, and 2 TDs. 

But the Eagles being the Eagles, threw a monkey wrench into the situation by surprisingly picking up Vick’s $1.5 Million dollar roster bonus earlier in March, which has raised questions that he could very well be coming back in 2010.  To make matters tougher for any Vick trade talk, the market for him has all but dried up as teams know he may soon be released or retained as a high-priced backup by the Eagles – will make over 6 million if on the team in 2010.

That leaves Kolb, a former 2nd round draft pick in 2007 and perceived “quarterback of the future”, and McNabb left in the equation for quarterback needy teams like the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals (assuming Leinart is not the answer) and Minnesota Vikings (assuming Favre retires).  Though no one has come right out and said it within the Eagles organization, the feeling of a lot of people around the NFL is that Kolb is as close to an “untouchable” as possible.  The young quarterback, who set an NFL record in 2009 by throwing for over 300 yards in his first two starts, is rumored to be available for the kingly ransom of two first-round draft picks. 

Though it is a known secret that former Eagles GM and current Browns GM Tom Heckert has an affinity for Kolb. I don’t think that Cleveland, or any other team for that matter, is ready to mortgage its future on a quarterback that has thrown 130 passes in the NFL with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 4 to 7.  So unless the Eagles really want to trade Kolb, by lowering their asking price, you can expect him back in 2010.

So that leads us right back to the most talked about player in Philadelphia since Allen Iverson left the first time.  Going into the 2009 offseason, all along I thought that even though McNabb was entering the last year of his contract, that surely he would be back in Midnight Green come training camp in July.  Eagles head coach Andy Reid also seemed to be in the McNabb camp as he said at his end-of-year press conference and anywhere else he had access to the media before yesterday that “McNabb was his quarterback”. 

Even after a “shaky” performance by McNabb against the Cowboys in the Wildcard Round — 19/37, 230 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT and 1 lost fumble — that cemented a three-game Dallas’ sweep in ‘09, Reid still was standing by his guy.  Asked after the awful playoff loss if he expected McNabb to be the Eagles quarterback in 2010, Reid gave the curt response, “Yeah, I do.”   Later asked if he envisioned a scenario in which he wouldn’t be with the Eagles in 2010, McNabb said after the embarrassing Dallas’ loss, “I don’t see that happening.”

However something is afoot around McNabb and there are rumors of two factions of the “Donovan Debate” not only in the fan base, but also within the team’s front office.  The rift may have come from 11 years worth of frustration of not winning a Super Bowl or the fact that McNabb did not pursue an extension a couple years ago, instead renegotiating for more money.  The former 1999 3rd overall selection is due to receive a $6.2 million roster bonus May 5, so decisions need to made very soon about his future. 

In reaction to all the trade talk, McNabb said via his blog, “My position hasn’t changed. I’ve said all along that I would like to win a Super Bowl and finish my career in Philadelphia.”  He added, “I understand the situation well and just hope whichever direction the Eagles decide to go in, they do it quickly. I think that would be best for me, Kevin, Michael, the Eagles, and any other teams involved. No matter what happens, I’ve already begun preparing to have an outstanding season in 2010.”

Some folks around the league are saying McNabb would be willing to be traded to the Rams, if he were to be given a contract extension – has an established relationship with Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.  But those same sources are saying he wants no parts of playing for Buffalo or Oakland. 

Of course Reid couched any McNabb trade talk by saying in an Inquirer article, “I think it’s a great situation (having 3 ‘quality’ QBs in demand) to be in, from a coach’s standpoint. There are coaches who dream to be in this situation.”  Reid added in the Ashley Fox piece, “I’m not in any hurry to get rid of any of them. Have people talked? Yeah, people have talked. Have we listened? Yeah, we’re in the process of listening. The bottom line is if I have all three of them, that’s great.”

Right now nothing is imminent and this thing could continue to fester throughout the offseason. But at the same time, don’t rule out the odd scenario of McNabb returning as the starter, Kolb as his backup, and Vick the third-stringer. 

This is high stakes poker and the Eagles have to decide whether to keep playing or fold. 

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