The Eagles decision to trade Donovan McNabb to the rival Redskins, of all teams, is a move that wouldn't have happened if Philadelphia's coaches, management, and ownership -- and some players -- didn't think Kevin Kolb was capable of taking over the reigns.
McNabb clearly isn't on the downside of his career, based on the strong numbers he's put up the past two seasons and Philadelphia's overall success. Despite that, though, the Eagles' brass has seen far more of Kolb than any of us, and they must think he's ready to be the new face of the franchise.
"This is very much like what Green Bay went through with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers," an NFC general manager said. "They knew Favre could still play at a high level, but they felt Rodgers was ready and they were going to commit to him. So they made a tough decision."
The Eagles' decision might not have been as tough as many of us think. Economically, it was almost a slam dunk. Get something now in a trade before McNabb could walk away as a free agent after the 2010 season. But if Kolb isn't ready, the Eagles would be talking extension with McNabb instead of sending him to one of their rivals.
Mind you, Philadelphia typically doesn't make decisions that aren't well thought out or rational.
The focus is now on Kolb, a three-year veteran who was taken early in the second round in 2007 and has played rarely enough for anyone outside the organization to know if he's any good.
In fact, with his poor showing in 2008 when McNabb was benched against Baltimore and his overall performance in spot duty that season (17 of 34, 4 interceptions, 0 TDs) left far more questions than answers. With the team's signing of Michael Vick last summer, the perception of Kolb was that he didn't have the goods -- and might not ever.
He played in three games early last season -- two of them starts -- when McNabb was hurt, but he finished the season moving back and forth between being the backup and No. 3 quarterback with Vick. In his first start, the Eagles were smothered by the Saints as Kolb completed 31 of 51 passes for 391 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Not bad, but New Orleans won 48-22.
The next week, though, Kolb found something. It was against the lowly Kansas City Chiefs, but still, he completed 24 of 34 passes for 327 yards, two touchdowns and no picks in a 34-14 win. His shine was overshadowed because it was Vick's first game back in the NFL after being out since 2007 following a conviction on dog fighting charges.
Kolb didn't take another snap the rest of the season. In all, he completed 62 of 96 passes for 741 yards, 4 TDs and 3 interceptions. McNabb, meanwhile, was 267 of 443 with 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. With the numbers being so tilted, and McNabb getting the Eagles to the playoffs again, how could Kolb be ready?
One coach who watched Kolb on film said he doesn't read the entire field well, yet -- he's more of a half-field reader. He also doesn't check or audible much, but that could have been the game plan. The arm strength and mobility are very good, but his pocket awareness needs some development. He also needs to process information quicker. All of his shortcomings can only be corrected by playing time, the coach said, and with Kolb's skill set, he should be able to handle things.
There are still questions.
Nobody knows that more than the Eagles, but they also know more about Kolb's strengths than anyone. The public and media are hardly as familiar with Kolb as the Eagles are, so it's easy for us to think that dealing McNabb could be a huge mistake, especially for a team that was better than most in the NFL last season. They see Kolb every day at practice, and besides looking good running plays with and against teammates with whom he's familiar, coaches gauge how teammates respond to him.
They apparently respond well. I spoke with two Eagles players at the Super Bowl who spoke highly of Kolb -- not disparagingly of McNabb -- and with everything that's been going on lately, their favorable opinions jibe with the team's approach in listening to trade offers for McNabb. Vick is also well-liked, but the Eagles' long-term plans center around Kolb, not Vick.
Kolb, like Rodgers in Green Bay, now faces new challenges after taking over for a star No. 1 QB.
Rodgers also was dealing with replacing a multiple MVP winner, Super Bowl champion and man of the people in Green Bay. Kolb is stepping in for a quarterback whose fan base was split, who has lost a Super Bowl, which, in Philly, means nothing to just get there without winning it.
The season before Rodgers stepped into the starting role in 2007, he completed 20 of 28 passes. His in-game body of work was significantly less than Kolb's. The Packers were 13-3 that season and a Favre interception away from going to the Super Bowl. Even with the Packers being a close-knit team, a change was made. They were different circumstances than what's going on in Philly, but if the Packers wanted Favre badly enough, they could have figured out a way to keep him.
They Packers were ready to move on because they thought Rodgers was ready. And ready, it turns out, he was. Rodgers became the first NFL quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons as a starter, and last year led the Packers to an 11-5 record and a spot in the playoffs.
Now Philadelphia is ready to move on. Maybe not so much because they think McNabb has run his course, but because Kolb is ready to start his.