Rich Hofmann | The future was Randall, now it's Kevin Kolb

Posted: April 30, 2007

ONCE UPON a time, the Eagles took a quarterback in the second round of the NFL draft, a quarterback named Randall Cunningham. It was 1985. The incumbent starter at that point was Ron Jaworski, age 34. Jaworski had played in a Super Bowl and had been ridiculously healthy before suffering a broken leg toward the end of the previous season.

The day of the draft, Cunningham was described as a strictly for-the-future guy. As coach Marion Campbell said, "It's no secret we're looking for a young quarterback. And if we don't start now, when are we going to start?"

But it was only a start, as they all emphasized. Cunningham was raw and, besides, Jaworski's leg was fine. Ted Marchibroda, the Eagles' offensive coordinator, said that day that Jaworski had "at least a few more good years."

Looking back, those years flew by so quickly. The rookie QB started in Week 2.

Now, this isn't then. This coach is not a panicky man coming off two consecutive losing seasons and trying to impress a new, impulsive owner. (Which didn't work anyway; Campbell flip-flopped back to Jaworski, won seven games and got fired by Norman Braman.)

Andy Reid is not Marion Campbell and 1985 is not 2007. Just don't kid yourself. As fast and as expertly as Reid dances, there is no hiding what happened this weekend with the Eagles' selection of quarterback Kevin Kolb with the 36th pick of the draft.

This might not be the end for Donovan McNabb, but the Eagles obviously are worried that you can see it from here.

It is like you are reading a novel, really digging into it, really enjoying it, staying up way too late in the process - and then you look and see that you are on Page 297, and then you hold the book up at a side angle and realize how little there is to go.

It surprises you. Caught up in the entertainment of the thing - the ups and downs, the familiarity with the main character, the identification with his personality and his travails - the pages turn and turn. Then you look, and it hits you - only a couple of chapters to go.

There is no other way to read this. The Eagles know that. Why else would Reid feel the need to call McNabb to tell him "not to worry"?

Why? Because anybody would be worried. Any living, breathing, competing NFL player would see this as a threat. After having suffered significant injuries in three of the last five seasons, including the last two, maybe this is just to be expected. But I didn't expect it and you didn't expect it and you know McNabb didn't expect it.

Reid insisted, "I'm partial to Donovan. I think he's the best in the NFL. He doesn't have anything to worry about. He'll go do his job. It's strictly how the board fell. I wasn't trying to send a message, or that Donovan's hurt. It's none of that. That's not what this is all about."

It is easy to believe some of that, except for the part about how "it's strictly how the board fell." I mean, come on. You only make a move like this with a purpose.

The potential repercussions - with McNabb, and the rest of the team, and the fan base - are too big to be fooling around. You do not leave it to the accidents and happenstances of the draft board.

Reid acknowledged yesterday that this scenario - trading out of the first round and selecting Kolb - was gamed out by the Eagles in the days leading up to the draft. The guy did not just fall into their laps. Whether or not they ever intended to draft one of the safeties who went earlier in the first round is known only by them. But once the guys they supposedly liked began to disappear, the machinery began moving and the trade with Dallas to move out of the first round was completed.

They can acknowledge it or dismiss it or dance around it, but they knew they wanted Kolb right there. They had to know. This was orchestrated. They did not just like this kid - they felt they needed to begin the transition, to begin building the bridge between McNabb and the future.

In two press conferences so far, Kolb has come across as polished and direct. Yesterday, at the NovaCare Complex, when asked about the guys wearing Eagles paraphernalia at Radio City Music Hall who booed on television after he was selected, and about the general shock in town at the move, Kolb acknowledged that he was kind of shocked, too.

"I just think [the fans] weren't expecting to take a quarterback that high," Kolb said. "I think they just need to trust coach

Reid's opinion and his decision. Obviously, he senses something that fit well and they have a plan for the future. Now it's time to go on with that plan."

Indeed it is. You do not fall in love with a young quarterback and make him sit forever. You do not take a kid that high without the intention of getting him on the field at some point between now and, say, the beginning of his third NFL season.

The intervening details are unknown, but the intentions are now obvious enough. And while this is not 1985 - repeat, not - very little between now and Kevin Kolb's debut will be predictable. That is the way these things go in the final chapters. *

Send e-mail to

hofmanr@phillynews.com.

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http://go.philly.com/hofmann.

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