There has been a lot of talk since the end of the Eagles’ season about the future of Donovan McNabb and whether or not Birds fans should expect him to be back in Philadelphia next season.
Maybe he will be, maybe he won’t, there are cases to be made for both sides. But I think the real question is: who is this team have without 5 on their side? What’s left?
Think about what happened to the Eagles in 2009. They started out the year with a surprising but ultimately disappointing run to the familiar territory of the NFC Championship Game, a run that included the emergence of young offensive stars in DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek.
They had a strange offseason that featured a skill-position focused draft, the departure of iconic safety Brian Dawkins, the firing of a team employee who called them “retarted” for letting Dawkins go, disgruntled contract talks with Sheldon Brown, a statement by their silver-spoon owner that they had the best roster in football, the death of Jim Johnson (the heart and soul as well as the brains of the Eagles defensive dominance over the last decade), a season-ending ACL tear for Stewart Bradley, and a two year mini-extension for the most debated quarterback this side of gunslinging and dog fights, Donovan McNabb.
They scuffled through the regular season to an 11-5 record where they lost to every playoff team they came up against AND lost to the Raiders but still somehow duped everyone into thinking they were the “momentum” team coming into the playoffs while their defense turned into a weakness of Thrashian proportions and Brian Westbrook Aikmaned his way to two separate concussions and became 2006-08 Shaun Alexander.
Then, in back to back weeks, their most hated rivals the Cowboys beat on them like Brett Myers on his wife after he got demoted to the minors. Also, somewhere in there they snuck in a contract extension for the coach that has redefined sports blueballs for a fanbase that knows a thing or two about sports blueballs.
(By the way, while I feel that sports blueballs is a pretty self-explanatory term, this is my second reference to it on this site and I think I will have to flesh it out fully in a future post…stay tuned.)
That is a weird year. Sure the Eagles made the playoffs for the 8th time in the decade and have some very promising young players, but look at the leadership void. Their best offensive player (B-West) disappeared due to injury, their defensive stalwart (Dawkins) was shown the door, and their mastermind coordinator of a unit that used to cover for the Birds’ offensive stagnancy lost his battle with cancer.
Now we are talking about ushering out the all-time franchise leader in passing yards, touchdowns, and every other measurement of a QB?
Think about this: if Donovan McNabb is traded or released this offseason, the longest continuously tenured Eagle will be David Akers (followed by the malcontent Sheldon Brown and the guy that failed to be Brian Dawkins’ replacement, Quentin Mikell). Do you really see any of those guys as leaders of a team? Is Jeremiah Trotter’s corpse considered a leader? If it falls to the next most talented player, is DeSean Jackson the new face of the Eagles franchise? (http://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/Desean_Jackson_You_Are_an_IDIOT_Video_of_his_Premature_Fumbl_itis/333459) Is it Asante Samuel, the defensive player who never learned how to tackle?
For 11 years now, Donovan McNabb has given Eagles fans 8 playoff berths, 5 NFC Championship Games, 1 Super Bowl appearance, 6 Pro Bowl seasons, and every different injury you could imagine for a quarterback. But more than that he has given this team an identity, a national relevance that was missing from Philadelphia football since the departure of Randall Cunningham and Reggie White. Whether he was getting booed on draft day, taking on Rush Limbaugh about race issues, selling Chunky Soup with his mom, doing the “Thriller” dance after a touchdown, puking in the Super Bowl, or just throwing the ball at a receiver’s feet and then laughing and pounding his chest to indicate it was his fault, he was always the center of attention and the unquestioned face of the team. He has always been a leader of the team if not the leader, and the only thing more numerous and difficult to understand than his hairdo/facial hair combinations over the years have been the range of emotions he has brought upon the Philadelphia fan base.
So if not McNabb, then who? Michael Vick, the Eagles controversial moral reclamation project and virtual non-factor on the football field, will probably not be in Philadelphia next year, and if he is chances are it will not be as a starter. He showed this season that while he can still make some pretty ridiculous throws (i.e. 76 yard flick pass to Jeremy Maclin vs. Dallas), he is not yet consistent enough to be relied on as the starting quarterback on a contending team in the NFL. Also, along with Vick comes the question of whether you want a convicted criminal and character question mark as the face of your franchise.
In baseball, nerds who have never kissed a girl and would rather stand in line for Marlon Anderson’s autograph than chug beers and sing Miley Cyrus with a bunch of dudes (is that gay?) keep a statistic that they call VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). Without knowing a whole lot about Kevin Kolb, I have to think that he is not going to come in next year and throw for 3,000-plus yards if he replaces McNabb—a number McNabb has eclipsed 7 times in his Pro career. And more importantly, replacing Donovan McNabb with Kevin Kolb would be like replacing Snooki with another Sam in Jersey Shore. Would it be a little more palatable product? Possibly. But what is Jersey Shore without Snooki?
What are the Eagles without McNabb?