Les Bowen: McNabb will probably return to Eagles next season

Posted: January 08, 2010

OK, LET'S SAY the Eagles lose tomorrow. Not a huge leap, at this point.

The premise in some quarters is that Donovan McNabb will be gone.

I think a lot depends on exactly what happens in Dallas; if McNabb throws seven interceptions, then sprints to the parking lot, hot-wires the team bus, drives it through the tunnel onto the field and mows down DeSean Jackson, sure, they'll be wanting to make a change at quarterback after that.

Otherwise, I think it would be a really odd, uncharacteristic move for this organization.

Let's say the team endures a more conventional loss, not as humbling as last week's but similar in that Sean McDermott's defense can't get off the field, and the Eagles' offense, sitting on its hands for a half-hour at a time, coughs and sputters enough that the Cowboys carry the day.

So, the response to that would be to can a perfectly healthy, 33-year-old, first-Pro-Bowl-alternate quarterback, who led the team to a franchise points record this season? A quarterback who compiled his highest passer rating (92.9) for a non-injury-shortened season since 2004? Who has gone 19-10-1 in games he has started over the past two seasons, 21-11-1 if you include the postseason?

I've lived here throughout the Andy Reid/McNabb era, and I've covered the team since 2002, so I get that people are sick of the same franchise faces, the same excuses, the same endgame, which never is a Super Bowl championship. That collective municipal emotional fatigue did not keep management from extending

Reid's contract, though, and I can't see how McNabb has had a worse year than the coach.

Short of a McNabb meltdown tomorrow, what changing quarterbacks in the offseason would look like, to me, is exactly what the talk-show screamers were accusing McNabb of earlier this week - it would look like scapegoating. Like trying to dodge the fallout and deflect the blame.

Maybe the difference between Reid and McNabb is, the Eagles do not have a coaching equivalent of Kevin Kolb waiting in the wings. I like Kolb, think he's a fine guy, and a promising quarterback. His Wednesday news conferences would be less stilted and more fun than those of McNabb, who carries onto the NovaCare stage 11 years worth of scars, none of which he has ever allowed to fade. (Fade, heck, I think he gives them all names and counts them to get to sleep.)

But I'm assuming the Eagles, after tweaking the "best roster in the NFL," perhaps with a little help for Trent Cole and Quintin Mikell, among other things, will see themselves as strong Super Bowl contenders next season. They want to go for that with an untested quarterback?

Yeah, I saw how good Kolb looked, beating Kansas City back in September. Call me psychic, I doubt the Super Bowl next year will feature the Chiefs. Kolb showed in that game and in the loss to New Orleans that he is not a stiff or a wasted draft pick, as some people labeled him, prematurely. It would still be a huge gamble, with McNabb healthy and reasonably productive, to go to the backup, just because people are sick of Donovan.

As far as the history of playoff failings goes, I'm not sure what happened in 2002 or 2003 has much to do with today. The only playoff loss McNabb has participated in in the last 5 years was the NFC Championship Game at Arizona a year ago, and I thought he played pretty well that day.

McNabb has a year left on his contract. When the Eagles gave him more money without extending him last June, the sense I got was that he would have either one or two more shots to get this done. One if he got hurt, or really stank. Two if it turned out the defense wasn't good enough, or that the young weapons needed more seasoning. Right now, this looks like the second scenario to me.

As for him being a lame duck next season, or walking away with the Birds getting nothing in return at the end of the year, there is always the franchise tag, as Jeffrey Lurie pointed out to me when they reworked McNabb's deal.

If the Eagles do lose this week or next week, McNabb probably will play in his sixth Pro Bowl; one of the other quarterbacks is virtually certain to make it to the NFC title game and drop out of the all-star contest. I'm trying to think of less-than-ancient, Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks who have been discarded, not because they were washed up (Steve McNair) or coming off a serious injury (Drew Brees), but because fans and management just got frustrated. If you can think of one, drop me a line. Don't hand me Brett Favre and his retirement soap opera; that's way different.

Can I see the Eagles moving on without McNabb? Sure. A

really disastrous day in Dallas would call his leadership into question. I don't sit in film study. Maybe the coaches somehow envision Kolb cashing in all the chances McNabb has missed this season.

But assuming Donovan is gone is such a predictable annual exercise in futility. We have seen over and over again that what the Eagles think is not what the talk-show nation thinks. Google the stuff written in the middle of the 2007 season, or after the second-half benching in Baltimore in 2008. It was an established fact that the McNabb era was over, except it wasn't.

McNabb seemed to laugh at the idea this week, when someone mentioned it.

"No matter what happens I will be here for a bunch of years," he said. "Does that clean it up? Do I have to answer this question every year?"

Until he's holding a Lombardi Trophy, the answer there apparently would be "yes." *

Send e-mail to bowenl@phillynews.com

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