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Less than two weeks ago, when it became clear to many NFL front offices that the Philadelphia Eagles were serious about trading Donovan McNabb(notes), an executive from an NFC club was standing in a nook of the Ritz-Carlton resort in Orlando, Fla., postulating potential landing spots. As he offered insight in the conversation, a theory was advanced about the Washington Redskins.
Some pieces of the puzzle appeared to fit: Washington was looking for a quarterback; the offensive schemes were similar; the Redskins had an aggressive new regime; and the head coaches involved – Andy Reid in Philadelphia and Mike Shanahan in Washington – had mutual ties under the Bill Walsh coaching tree. But as those realities were rattled off, the NFC executive shook his head in vigorous defiance.
"That won't happen," he said. "I see the basic logic, but the Eagles would never do that. Not inside the division."
Two weeks later, basic logic has been trumped by two NFL draft picks from the Redskins, making the trade the riskiest NFL wager of 2010. Not only has the team leveraged its future on an unproven starter in 26-year old Kevin Kolb(notes), the Eagles put themselves in a remarkably unsettling position of having to face their former Pro Bowl quarterback for what could ultimately be another four or five seasons. In one definitive swoop, the Philadelphia brain trust removed the most enduring piece of the franchise's most successful decade of sustained success. But unlike the departures of Brian Dawkins(notes) or Brian Westbrook(notes) or any other castaway, this wager has the capability to haunt the franchise for years. Maybe longer.
But is it a sucker's gamble? That was the question posed again to the NFC executive who two weeks ago shot down the seemingly faint possibility of McNabb to Washington.
"Here's the problem: Look at [Brett] Favre," the executive said. "That's a pretty clear example. Brett wants to play for the [Minnesota Vikings], and for the [Green Bay Packers] it was 'no chance in hell.' And Brett showed why that's always kind of the textbook thing in that situation. You get in that position and it's always 'get him out of the division'. With a guy like that, you don't give him the chance to come back and bite you a little bit. … I'm not saying it's the exact situation. There are a lot of variables in any deal. But it's not like [comparing] apples and oranges, either. I think they are similar. So knowing what happened with Brett, the questions you ask yourself with Donovan or any other star like that – 'Are we sure about our [young] guy,' and 'Is the compensation worth the risk of going against the logic?' "
Lest anyone forget, it was only a year ago that Kolb was faced with massive doubt – particularly after the bombed relief effort following McNabb's benching against the Baltimore Ravens in 2008 – and seemingly at a pivotal proving point in his career, needing a strong 2009 to affirm he was still worthy of the esteem that made him a second-round pick by the Eagles in 2007.
Kolb responded with a regular season flash in back-to-back games that saw him score five touchdowns – throwing for two in a loss against the New Orleans Saints that had gotten out of hand early in the third quarter, and throwing for a pair and rushing for one in a 34-14 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. The win over the Chiefs was unquestionably the paramount moment in Kolb's three years in the NFL, but it was also one that had to be put into context, too. While he looked sharp completing 24 of 34 passes for 327 yards with no turnovers, it came against a Chiefs defense that finished 30th in the NFL in yardage allowed, and which had virtually no pass rush, finishing 31st in the league total sacks.
It's worth noting that those performances also came with the fairly pressure-free reality that Kolb was simply holding McNabb's spot until his rib injury healed. Now he's faced with holding the keys to an amazingly young franchise (defensive end Juqua Parker(notes) is currently the only player on the roster older than 29), and an offense that is arguably in the league's top three or four units in terms of talent at the skill positions.
In the perfect world for Philadelphia, Kolb would follow McNabb in the same fashion Aaron Rodgers(notes) succeeded Favre in Green Bay. Or McNabb will struggle with the Redskins much like Favre did with the Jets. Anything less will translate into just how big a miscalculation the Eagles made with this move.
Clearly the Eagles felt the compensation (a second-round pick in 2010, and a third or fourth-rounder in 2011) was worth the risk. But the oddity in this deal is that the Eagles let McNabb essentially dictate this landing spot. The quarterback made it no secret through those close to him that he wasn't interested in at least two of the prime suitors involved in talks – the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills. McNabb made it clear he wanted to play for a team that appeared to have playoff-caliber talent, or at the very least, a head coach with whom he felt comfortable.
But while Reid indicated Sunday that he wanted to do right by McNabb in the trade process, it's somewhat odd that such a notoriously unsentimental regime was suddenly concerned with what an aging cornerstone wanted. Especially when that preference was getting dealt to a division rival, which places McNabb in perfect position to exact whatever revenge he thinks is necessary. It's more likely that McNabb played a much larger part in the process, by voicing his disdain for a trade to a woeful franchise and suggesting to his close associates that he would retire if he didn't like the suitor. It was hardly a believable threat, but one that put teams like Oakland and Buffalo in the unpalatable position of dealing with a disgruntled and disconnected quarterback.
As a result, McNabb now has a chance to exact some retribution. If he can't, then the risk of the trade is nullified, and the Eagles' front office comes out squeaky clean, appearing to have gotten two draft choices for a player in the fading stages of his career. And there certainly is a chance McNabb won't be able to continue his Pro Bowl level play, considering the pieces around him in Washington aren't currently on the same level as those he is leaving behind. And with Washington's porous offensive line, there continues to be the specter of health and how McNabb's aging body will fare under constant pressure.
So ultimately, the gamble is set. The Redskins have their franchise quarterback for the interim, and the Eagles have their draft picks and plenty of starting time for Kolb. Basic logic has been trumped. But like any franchise superstar who is given a chance at inflicting punishment on his former team, there will be plenty of time for logic to bite back.
- the Eagles