Five observations about Philadelphia's Sunday night trade of Donovan McNabb to Washington:
1. Philly's not afraid of No. 5.McNabb being moved after 11 seasons as an Eagle was something that had started to feel inevitable in the past 10 days or so. But McNabb being dealt to division rival Washington, where he could conceivably haunt his former team twice every season, that's the stunner.
Obviously, the Eagles aren't worried about McNabb rubbing their face in it the same way Green Bay was desperate to not play against Brett Favre as a Viking. The Packers made sure to deal Favre away to the AFC-based Jets in the summer of 2008, believing the further away he got from the NFC North, the better. When the reports surfaced that Oakland was the leader in the McNabb trade talks last week, it looked like the Eagles were thinking roughly the same thing: Don't let No. 5 come back to beat us.
But apparently not, which speaks volumes about either Philadelphia's level of respect for new starting quarterback Kevin Kolb's game, or its lack of respect for where McNabb's game is headed as he enters his 12th NFL season. Either way, the Eagles didn't worry about the revenge factor when it comes to McNabb, they were just after the best possible trade partner. And with the 37th pick in a very deep 2010 draft to dangle, that proved to be the Redskins. NFC East, or not. That makes Redskins at Eagles this season's must-see game of the year, akin to Favre's return to Lambeau in 2009. And Eagles at Redskins won't be too shabby, either.
2. Washington's in win-now mode with new head coach Mike Shanahan.You don't go after a starting quarterback who turns 34 in November because you see yourself in the early stages of a rebuilding program. You get McNabb because you think he still gives a team a window of Super Bowl opportunity, and you're intent on seizing it.
Dealing for McNabb says the Redskins don't have to feel pressured to take a quarterback like Jimmy Clausen with their No. 4 overall pick this year, or make an even bolder move by trading up in the Rams' No. 1 slot for Sam Bradford. They can sit tight and go in whatever direction they feel best, perhaps adding the starting offensive left tackle they so desperately need in Oklahoma State's Russell Okung.
Come what may, McNabb gets 2010 to show where he can take the Redskins, and then we find out how long the relationship might last. Washington probably winds up extending McNabb before he ever takes a snap as a Redskin, because having him play out the final year of his contract isn't the signal you're trying to send with this move. You're getting him because you think he's still one of the best quarterbacks in the game, and he's got another two or three years of playing at a high level left in him.
Does McNabb preclude the Redskins from taking a quarterback of the future in this draft? Definitely not. But it probably isn't good news for Clausen's shot to go fourth overall, unless Washington trades down out of that slot. The Redskins could still trade the 28-year-old Jason Campbell and draft a quarterback to develop behind McNabb for a while. But if they do that, McNabb would ironically be right back in the same situation he faced in Philadelphia, with Kolb drafted in 2007's second round with the expressed intent to eventually take his job.
For the Redskins, the move seems to underline the belief that Shanahan, 57, is not interested in having a long tenure in Washington, just a three- or four-year run with a hefty salary, before hopefully turning things over to his son, current Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. First and foremost, this is a trade for 2010. Like in the old days when head coach George Allen first hit town almost 40 years ago, the future is now again in Washington.
3. McNabb will be hailed in D.C., but not greatly missed in Philly.With his track record of accomplishment, and Washington's long drought of legitimate Super Bowl contention, McNabb will get, and certainly deserves, a bit of the rock-star treatment from the Redskins. He's played in five of the past nine NFC title games, and that must sound like nirvana for Washington's frustrated fans, who have endured the likes of Patrick Ramsey, Danny Wuerffel, Gus Frerotte and Heath Shuler in the past two decades.
McNabb makes the Redskins instantly better at the game's most pivotal position, and maybe the last time Washington had a QB approaching his expertise was when Joe Theismann was in his prime (and yes, we know Mark Rypien won a Super Bowl in Washington).
But, know this, too: The belief that McNabb's departure will leave a giant-sized leadership void in the Eagles locker room simply isn't true. Sources close to the situation in Philadelphia have told me in recent months that McNabb does not have close relationships with the younger Eagles play-makers like DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and Jason Avant. Those players are actually tighter with Kolb, who came to Philadelphia in 2007. So many of McNabb's closest friends on the Eagles are now ex-Eagles. As a tight veteran group, they won a lot of games in Philadelphia and went to a Super Bowl together, but many of them have moved on in the past two or three years.
"It's not going to be the huge leadership hole in the locker room that some portray,'' a club source said. "I think guys will miss him to some degree, but it's not as if he was beloved by this particular group of his teammates. The younger guys have only played with him for a year or two, and they're not as close to Donovan as they are to Kolb.''
4. The Redskins are still the Redskins.They've been painfully quiet this offseason so far, way more quiet than we're used to seeing the Redskins be under the 11-year ownership tenure of Daniel Snyder. But even after they sat out most of free agency, the Redskins still found a way to make the kind of splash they're known for in acquiring McNabb.
I'm not ready to say that McNabb's arrival changes the calculus in the NFC East, where I still see Dallas, New York and Philadelphia all having more pieces of the puzzle put together as we await the 2010 draft.
But if nothing else, Washington has to be taken more seriously, having added two proven commodities like Shanahan and McNabb in the past three months. Coaching and quarterbacking are two keys to success in the NFL, and how can anyone not acknowledge the Redskins' have upgraded both areas dramatically since their 2009 season ended? McNabb and Shanahan bring relevance back to the Redskins.
5. Philadelphia had to make this move.In the NFL, they say you're either rising or falling, and there's no in between. But I don't know if I buy that, because the Eagles are one franchise where the status quo was locked in place -- and it had become synonymous with failure of a sort.
Which team in the NFC wouldn't have traded places with Philadelphia in the past nine years, with the Eagles going to five conference championship games and one Super Bowl? But McNabb had come to personify Philly being consistently good, but never great. And it was hard to see the storyline ever changing dramatically with him still under center for the Eagles.
Yes, McNabb was the greatest quarterback in Philadelphia franchise history, and Kolb faces huge shoes to fill in that respect. But in the end I think AndyReid made this deal because he couldn't stomach one more season that held such promise, but ended in disappointment.
The 2009 Eagles were the perfect example of the maddening pattern that seemingly never ended in Philadelphia. Late in the year, the Eagles looked unstoppable on offense and were easily the NFC's most dangerous team. But then, with a No. 2 seed on the line, the Eagles fell flat in Week 17 at Dallas, dropped to the NFC's sixth seed, and wound up losing again the following week to the Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs. One and done.
Maybe in time the Eagles will regret this trade and miss McNabb's winning ways in the regular season. But I understand why something had to change in Philly. The Eagles may not be better right away with Kolb. But it was time to be different. The status quo, as good as it was, wasn't enough anymore.