In the next few weeks, the Donovan McNabb era in Philadelphia just might come to an end. For many Philadelphians it's several years too late. And that's something I'll never quite understand.
A sizeable portion of Eagles fans, and a particularly vocal contingent at that, has been calling for McNabb's ouster for a long time. Every year there are rumors that this will be the final year McNabb is in Philly, met with eager anticipation by many of those that pack Lincoln Financial Field and invest so much of their time, money, energy and selves into willing their team to its first Super Bowl title.
Anything less than that championship and McNabb would be a failure. Regardless of all the other factors at play, or how much individual culpability really rested with the quarterback, he (and coach Andy Reid) bore all the burden. McNabb's inability to win the big game became a staple of the local airwaves. Don't have a great topic planned for a three-hour talk-show? Just throw this out there and let the calls pour in (consider it a "break glass in case of emergency" for the sports talk set).
For a certain demographic, no matter what McNabb did, it would not be enough. From the moment he was drafted No. 2 overall in the 1999 draft -- and greeted by boos -- McNabb faced considerable personal challenges, and handled himself with dignity and class despite it all, ultimately overcoming all but that final hurdle of bringing a Lombardi Trophy to Philly. Maybe that day will still come, but even if it never does, and even if McNabb does in fact move on, it should not diminish what he has accomplished in 11 years as an Eagle.
"Are they ever satisfied, huh?," said Eagles legend Sonny Jurgensen, a quarterback in Philadelphia from 1957-1963. "I told King Hill, who played behind me in Philadelphia (from 1961-63), I told him at the time, I said, 'You keep your mouth shut, and I'll make you the most popular guy in town.' And you do.
"Everybody loves the backup quarterback, because he's not in there making mistakes. It's what Donovan has done with (backup Kevin) Kolb. 'Sit there and be quiet, and I'll make you a lot of money, and they take their frustration out on me.'"
McNabb is the greatest quarterback in franchise history. Period. Without question. And he is one of the most prolific passers of his generation. This, too, is indisputable. And I have the distinct feeling that several years down the road some will realize precisely how good McNabb has been throughout his career.
McNabb's tenure has been far from infallible. He, like his teammates in general, has struggled in some playoff games. His accuracy is never going to be the hallmark of his game. But for sheer willpower and determination, innate playmaking ability and leadership, McNabb stands out. More than anything else, he is a born winner.
He inherited a 5-11 team in 2000, his first season as a full-time starter, and established a winning aura in Philadelphia. The Eagles made the playoffs that season, went to the first of three straight NFC championship games the following year, and went to five championship games and a Super Bowl between 2001-2008, all with McNabb at the helm.
His career mark is a sparkling 92-49-1; since 2000 only Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning have won more games. Only Manning and Favre have thrown for more yards than McNabb in that span. McNabb has the lowest interception percentage (2.1 percent), of any passer who has been a full-time starter throughout this decade. Only Favre, Manning and Brady have thrown more touchdown passes than McNabb, dating back to 2000. (For full measure, McNabb ranks sixth since 2000 in passer rating among all quarterbacks with at least 100 games).
McNabb trade could impact draft
That is the most elite company possible.
If you break the league's history down by decade -- an inexact yet interesting science -- you won't find too many quarterbacks who rank in the top five in touchdowns, yards and interception rating over the span of a particular decade. In the 1990s, only John Elway would qualify. In the 1980s, only Dan Marino and Joe Montana did so. In the 1970s, Roger Staubach and Fran Tarkenton were the only ones to do it. In the 1960s, Tarkenton and Jurgensen were the only quarterbacks to accomplish it.
All of those passers have one thing in common -- a place in the Hall of Fame.
In terms of Eagles history, no other quarterback comes close to McNabb's production. He has more games, attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns than anyone else. He has by far the best rating -- nearly 10 points higher than Randall Cunningham (minimum of 100 games with the team) -- and lowest interception percentage. McNabb has thrown for nearly 6,000 yards more than any other Eagles quarterback, and has 41 more touchdown passes than the next closest Eagle (Ron Jaworski). And to think, McNabb did much of this without a top-notch target.
"He's had a great career there. Look at the things he's accomplished with that football team when he didn't have good receivers, and when he didn't have a great team around him. He still put up numbers without question."
Consider these totals (which NFL Network researcher extraordinaire George Li found via STATS):
That's shocking stuff. The leader in every category -- by a stunning margin -- is a running back. Mediocre tight ends round out the list, and of the three receivers present -- two were reserve-level types (Thrash and Pinkston). The sheer ranking of Owens so prominently speaks to the argument; they played just 21 games together, yet Owens is right up there. Twenty-one games. Shows what McNabb could do with a premier weapon ... and how much he has done with so little.
You would be hard pressed to find a more mundane list of favorite targets for any quarterback of McNabb's stature in league history, I'd venture. Sure, McNabb's 59 percent completion percentage is not as high as you would like. Detractors would point to his 1-4 record in conference championship games as well. But let's not forget all the games McNabb won to reach that level, or the fact that he is 8-2 all-time in the playoffs in rounds other than the conference championship and Super Bowl.
Whatever quirky impediment came his way -- booed at the draft, Rush Limbaugh's insensitivity, Owens' boorishness -- McNabb tended to rise above. Never quite embraced by the City of Brotherly Love, yet distinguishing himself nonetheless.
If the right offer comes along, and the Eagles determine that, with McNabb now 33, it makes best sense to move on with Kolb as the starter, then McNabb can be secure that he has left a profound legacy in Philadelphia. It may not be fully appreciated there now. Some day it will be.
Of this, Jurgensen is certain.
"Donovan has had a great career," Jurgensen said. "And believe me, whoever takes over is going to have the same problems, and they'll dislike him as much as Donovan. And then they'll realize, 'Hey, wait a second, he was pretty good.'
"I think that happened when I left. They didn't like me and booed me and this and that, but I came back in the first game and threw five (touchdowns) against them, and they said, 'Maybe he wasn't as bad as we thought.' And that's going to happen. If Donovan leaves, he'll come back and whip up on them somehow, and then they'll realize how special he was for them."
McNabb isn't the only big name who could be moved
More star players could also be dealt before the draft. The next three weeks will see plenty of jockeying and discussions, with teams looking to move up and down in certain rounds, and clubs still seeking to fill voids.
The Ravens placed a first-round tender on tackle Jared Gaither, but a deal for a high second-round pick could well get done around the draft as well. Maybe Dallas comes around and offers its first-round pick -- I doubt that, but I can definitely see the Cowboys being active in trying to deal for a restricted free-agent tackle like Gaither -- but Washington or Seattle would be among the teams that could make sense here as well, especially if it starts to look like those teams may not take a tackle in the first round.
Seattle guard Rob Sims is drawing sustained interest as a restricted free agent, but with the April 15 deadline for an offer sheet drawing near, that offer might not materialize. A trade remains a very real prospect, with Sims not a great fit in Seattle's blocking schemes. Detroit is seriously mulling putting together a trade offer for Sims as well.
The Redskins have talked about defensive end Andre Carter being a part of their future, but he has been an awkward fit in a 3-4 defense in the past and could still be dealt around the draft. Moving back to linebacker is not something that comes natural to him, and he would be willing to waive his no-trade clause for the right deal. This is worth keeping an eye on, for sure.
St. Louis, similarly, could end up moving end/tackle Adam Carriker. Carriker hasn't blossomed in their system, has struggled with injuries, and perhaps a change of scenery would be best for all parties.
Points of interest
» The 49ers continue to work on a long-term contract with defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin, with both sides hopeful of reaching a resolution beyond him playing 2010 on the franchise tag. Given the run of contract extensions in recent weeks for defensive tackles -- Ryan Pickett, Casey Hampton and Vince Wilfork -- the market and comparables have been set.
» The closer we get to the draft the more you will hear about Tim Tebow being selected in the first round of the draft. And I suspect he will be gone by the first 10 picks of the second round at the very latest.
» With so much attention given to the quarterbacks at the top of the draft, two mid- to late-round selections shouldn't be overlooked. Tennessee's Jonathan Crompton wasn't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, but he is drawing interest from several teams. San Diego, Oakland, Seattle, Jacksonville, Tennessee and Detroit are all meeting him privately, according to a source. Some believe he might go as high as the fourth round. Similarly, Levi Brown of Troy was worked out by Kansas City coordinator Charlie Weis, and I'm told Weis was impressed. Tennessee, San Diego, Buffalo and Carolina are also expressing interest. It's not uncommon for the gem of a quarterback class to come in the late rounds -- or in some cases not drafted all. Good food for thought as the hype machines go into overdrive.
» Donte' Stallworth will meet the Baltimore media Thursday afternoon for the first time since signing with the Ravens, and for the first time since being reinstated by Commissioner Roger Goodell following his jail sentence for manslaughter after killing a pedestrian in a drunk driving accident. The Ravens wanted to give Stallworth ample time to get to know the team, the players and coaches, and get integrated into the offseason program, before meeting the media. He's made a strong impression on the organization these past few weeks, and I have a feeling he'll be contrite, humble and impressive Thursday as well as he takes another step in his return to football after a horrific mistake. I will be heading over to Ravens headquarters Thursday to ask a few questions myself.