Pressure is on: Cardinals, Eagles have legendary shoes to fill

  • By Vic Carucci
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Associated Press
The Cardinals and Eagles are both looking for the next quarterback to lead their respective franchises.

No one said it would be easy.

The question is, just how hard will it be for the Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles to replace their respective legendary quarterbacks, Kurt Warner and Donovan McNabb?

"It's going to be very difficult because the bar was set so high by Warner and McNabb," Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts said.

Based on some of the summer performances of the men trying to succeed Warner and McNabb, "very difficult" could be putting it mildly. You can dismiss it as being a function of the lack of genuine scheming and other rag-tag aspects of preseason play.

Yet, that hasn't stopped a fair amount of hand-wringing from going on in or around the Cardinals and Eagles.

Matt Leinart, who was given first crack at the No. 1 job in Arizona, struggled enough through training camp and two preseason games that Derek Anderson replaced him as the starter for the third contest. Both played and were solid, which seemingly doesn't make the task of picking Warner's replacement any easier for coach Ken Whisenhunt.

The Eagles anointed Kevin Kolb as McNabb's successor on Easter Sunday, when they traded the greatest quarterback in franchise history to the Washington Redskins. Kolb has been mostly unimpressive in the preseason, but the Eagles are planning to sink or swim with him regardless.

That neither team is undergoing a smooth process shouldn't come as a much of a surprise. History shows these succession plans rarely work well.

For some teams, the search to replace a Hall of Fame quarterback is seemingly without end. Are the Buffalo Bills ever going to find anyone approaching Jim Kelly (or, for that matter, even a reliable starter)? How about the Miami Dolphins post-Dan Marino? When will the Denver Broncos fill that massive hole left behind by John Elway?

The most recent example that can be deemed a success -- at least after two seasons -- is Aaron Rodgers taking over for Brett Favre in Green Bay. The all-time best took place in San Francisco, beginning in 1991. That was when one Hall of Famer, Steve Young, took over for another, Joe Montana, who the 49ers eventually traded to the Kansas City Chiefs following the 1992 season.

"Everybody else has had problems," Fouts said.

Warner weighs in on Leinart
What does Kurt Warner think about someone trying to replace him in Arizona? The retired quarterback discussed the topic during a Tuesday interview on ESPN Radio, and had this to say.

"Matt is a guy who hasn't played in a while, a young guy, still growing into the position. There was no way you can expect him to come out and do the things that I have done, especially right away."

The quarterback transition in Arizona became extremely challenging the moment Warner decided to retire after last season.

The Cardinals had made Leinart the 10th overall pick in the 2006 draft with the vision that he would become their franchise quarterback. They had acquired Warner a year earlier, so there was no intention of sticking with him any longer than was necessary. The problem was Leinart forced their hand by continually squandering every chance to seize the job.

Eventually, Warner was the one who put a stranglehold on it, and he nearly led the Cardinals to a Super Bowl victory.

"Kurt Warner finished his career (as a starter in Arizona) for one reason: Because Matt Leinart wasn't ready and didn't take advantage of his opportunity," former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms said. "They wanted Kurt Warner on that bench. They did everything they could to groom Matt Leinart. He hasn't delivered."

Warner was still going strong last season before deciding to call it quits. But rather than make a big-splash move for a new quarterback (such as, for instance, dealing for McNabb before the Eagles shipped him to Washington), the Cardinals seemed content to take their chances with Leinart. They picked up Anderson after the Cleveland Browns released him. Anderson was a Pro Bowler in 2007, but he was never truly seen as a viable alternative to Leinart ... that is, not until the preseason began.

Not only is there the unenviable task of trying to step in for a strong Hall of Fame candidate, but there also is the added burden of doing so without elite wide receiver Anquan Boldin, whom the Cardinals traded to Baltimore. Then there are the key free-agent hits that Arizona took on defense: Linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Antrel Rolle.

The Cardinals are going to need their quarterback to pick up a good deal of the slack. They're going to need Warner's replacement to play a lot like, well, Warner.

"I know Ken Whisenhunt well, and I respect him and we talk," Simms said. "But, wow, you talk about getting a situation and scrambling it up. It looks pretty scrambled."

Mike Roemer / Associated Press
While Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers is the exception, finding long-term job security after the departure of a star QB has proven tough for many replacements.
How long replacements have lasted after a star QB exits
Quarterback Replacement Starts for team
Troy Aikman Quincy Carter 31 from 2001-03
John Elway Brian Griese 51 from 1998-02
Jim Kelly Todd Collins 13 in 1997
Dan Marino Jay Fiedler 59 from 2000-04

Whoever comes out on top in Arizona, one thing is certain: He's going to feel plenty of heat. "I think there's a lot of the pressure," former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher said.

More than Kolb is feeling in Philadelphia, with its notoriously impatient fans and media?

Multiple close observers of the NFL think so. They point to the fact that Eagles coach Andy Reid and the rest of the team's top brass made Kolb a second-round pick from the University of Houston in 2007, intending for him to eventually replace McNabb.

They also note that, once the Eagles were convinced Kolb was ready to be a starter, they traded McNabb. They parted ways with him by choice; the Cardinals could only wave goodbye after Warner chose to walk out the door.

"The Eagles did have a vision for Kevin Kolb," Cowher said. "This is a guy that they put a lot of time into. They believe in him. With Kevin, it's, 'Listen, we knew what we had when we got rid of Donovan.' And they initiated that. I don't think it was right, but they looked at Donovan as, 'Well, we did as much as we could with him. Let's give this kid a chance.'"

They're doing exactly that. Consequently, they're dealing with all of the blunders that typically go with tossing the keys to the offense to a player who has made only two starts (both last season) in three years.

For Eagles fans, it has been something of a culture shock to see an offense that has looked anything but explosive, which was what defined the bulk of the McNabb Era. They're used to seeing quick-striking plays in the passing game. They came to expect McNabb to find a way to make something big happen with his arm or his legs. Kolb doesn't have McNabb's big arm, so he won't regularly connect with receivers on those deep, game-changing touchdown throws.

But the Eagles faithful, as well as the team's decision-makers, were beyond frustrated with McNabb's inability to deliver a Super Bowl victory. They also became weary of the glaring flaws in McNabb's game, such as inaccuracy.

The Eagles' primary attraction to Kolb was that he'd be a perfect fit for their West Coast offense, which emphasizes short and intermediate passing, because of his exceptional accuracy. During the preseason, however, Kolb has had his share of throws that have been way off the mark. When he wasn't hitting a receiver in the feet, he was putting the ball in places where it could have easily been intercepted (in addition to the one gift he launched that was picked off as if the defender were fielding a punt). He has shown some questionable decision-making as well.

In short, Kolb has looked every bit like a virtual rookie starter is expected to look. Of course, he is 26 years old. When McNabb was that age, he had already led the Eagles to the second of four successive appearances in the NFC Championship Game.

It's far too early for anyone to start pining for the good ol' days of McNabb. Besides, he's wearing the uniform of an arch enemy.

It's a different story in Arizona.

"With the Cardinals," Cowher said, "if Kurt wanted to come back, they would have embraced him to come back."

Instead, like the Eagles, they are going to make do with what they have.



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