The sense of respect is understandable, as is the sense of fairness. Even the friendship bond holds some water.
Donovan McNabb has been good for Andy Reid's exceptional NFL longevity. Reid certainly has done his share to help McNabb last as long as he has as a starting quarterback, while piling up plenty of cash, statistics and individual honors along the way.
But as a coach, Reid is the one who has beaten the greater odds of surviving in this bottom-line, what-have-you-done-for-me-this-second league. Bad quarterbacking gets coaches fired. Good quarterbacking gets them contract extensions. The quarterbacks? They often get to hang around, sometimes long after causing their former coaches to lose their jobs.
Yet, as strong as those feelings of respect and fairness and friendship might have been, how could Reid allow himself to pull the trigger on a deal that sent McNabb to the Washington Redskins on Sunday night? How could he do something that is likely to go a long way toward making a division rival significantly better?
Without McNabb, or another quarterback with his skill level, the Redskins are not a contender. With him, they are. And no, that same rationale doesn't apply to the Raiders or Bills because they haven't taken the previous major steps toward vast improvement that the Redskins have by hiring an elite coach, Mike Shanahan, and a top-notch general manager in Bruce Allen.
And that is a very real possibility.
McNabb might not be the first prominent quarterback to change divisional addresses, but there's every reason to think he'll carry as high a degree of motivation as any player could into a game against his former employer. He'll be driven by much more than the Eagles' refusal to allow him to finish his career in Philadelphia. He'll be driven by the fact that he never felt accepted by the Philly fans, a loud contingent of whom were in New York to boo the Eagles' selection of him in the 1999 draft because they wanted their team to use the second overall pick on Ricky Williams.
Deep down, McNabb has never forgotten those demonstrators or the larger message they were delivering on behalf of the entire city: You are not who we wanted. He no doubt changed many opinions by setting every major passing record in franchise history, but he also took the brunt of the fans' wrath for repeatedly coming up short in the NFC Championship Game and for the Eagles not winning the one time he got them to the Super Bowl.
Kolb also faces the enormous pressure of trying to fill the cleats of the greatest quarterback in Eagles history while having to outperform his former teammate at least twice in his first full season as starter. Philadelphia's notoriously impatient and unforgiving followers will do nothing to make the chore any easier.
The Eagles, who also have shown the door to Brian Dawkins and Brian Westbrook over the last two years, are making a push toward youth. In that regard, it made sense to part ways with McNabb -- who had been with them for 11 seasons -- and go with a much younger replacement.
But it is a tremendous risk to put McNabb in the hands of a coach and an offensive coordinator (Shanahan's son, Kyle) who know every bit as well as Reid and the Eagles' coaching staff how to get the very best out of McNabb. Maybe the perspective would be different if Jim Zorn were still at the Redskins' helm. Maybe, under those circumstances, McNabb wouldn't have wanted any part of them, either.
The Redskins might not have been one piece away from assembling a Super Bowl-quality puzzle. However, the new piece they have added will allow them to be a much more formidable team than they would have been with Jason Campbell under center in a tough division. Even if the Redskins had drafted a quarterback in the first round (someone like Oklahoma's Sam Bradford or Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen), they probably wouldn't have done a whole lot of damage while either going with Campbell for part of the season until turning to the rookie or living with rookie growing pains from Day One.
McNabb instantly elevates the offense, even before Shanahan and his staff do what they were hired to do. McNabb brings confidence, leadership, big-game experience, a talented arm, and a decent amount of athleticism left in his 33-year-old body to be effective enough to offset some of the shortcomings of a franchise in transition. Washington's already solid defense should only enhance his contribution.
The Redskins do need to fix their offensive line. Now that they have their quarterback, they can use the fourth overall pick of the draft to get a tackle who has a good chance of providing an immediate upgrade. Allen can find help elsewhere in the draft and from whatever might be available in the open market over the next several months.
It is conceivable that the Redskins could move ahead of the Eagles this season. Obviously, the Redskins' goal is to move ahead of all their NFC East opponents. But if, at the end of the 2010 season, McNabb and his new teammates are staring down at the Eagles, Reid and his fellow decision-makers are going to have a problem.
"You can't say that we didn't think about that," Reid said. "We did, but this was a decision that we thought was best for Donovan and, at the same time, the compensation (a second-round pick this year and a third- or fourth-rounder next year) was right for us. We certainly took into consideration Donovan's feelings here, too."
Maybe to a fault.