Phil Sheridan: Eagles start season with questionable No. 2 quarterback

Posted: September 07, 2012

No, the Eagles should not have brought Donovan McNabb back this year. Let's make that point clear right at the top.

Now that we have, we can take a look at what really is a strange and fascinating confluence of circumstances. On Wednesday, Andy Reid confirmed that rookie Nick Foles will be the Eagles' No. 2 quarterback - a vitally important job considering the injury history of starter Michael Vick. On that same day, the NFL Network announced that it had hired McNabb as an analyst for this season - a sign the 35-year-old has very likely played his final down in the league.

So McNabb, the best quarterback in Eagles history, is unemployable in a league desperate for competent quarterback play. Meanwhile, the Eagles are going into a playoffs-or-bust season with arguably their wobbliest QB contingency plan since Mike McMahon's year of throwing dangerously. That is quite the coincidence.

McMahon was the team's primary backup in a very eventful 2005 season. The Eagles were coming off their lone Super Bowl of the Reid/McNabb era. Terrell Owens became a human hand grenade and rolled himself into the Eagles locker room. McNabb had to deal with being fragged by his best wide receiver and a nagging sports hernia injury that finally ended his season after nine games.

The combination of McNabb's injuries and McMahon's career-ending tenure as his replacement served as an object lesson for Reid. He made sure he always had a credible second QB on the roster. He brought Jeff Garcia in for 2006 and reacquired A.J. Feeley. He drafted Kevin Kolb in 2007, then shocked the world by signing Michael Vick in 2009. We all know how things turned out, but Vince Young was considered a viable emergency starter when the Eagles signed him last year.

It is a long way from McNabb/Kolb/Vick - the 2009 depth chart - to Vick/Foles/Trent Edwards. That's no knock on Foles, who really does look like the most promising QB the team has drafted since McNabb. But he is a rookie. Even Kolb, a guy the team sacrificed immediate help to draft in 2007, was third on the depth chart behind Feeley entering his rookie season.

As for Edwards, he was out of football entirely last season. It is to his credit that he beat out Mike Kafka for the No. 3 spot, but let's keep things in perspective. He beat out Mike Kafka.

One thing has changed to make all this easier for Reid to manage. Unlike the years he added Kolb and Vick, he doesn't have to deal with the inactive third quarterback rule that complicated game-day decisions. Remember in 2008, when Reid benched McNabb in that blowout loss in Baltimore? Kolb came in and looked completely overmatched. Feeley was on the sideline.

Under the rules at the time, Reid couldn't put Feeley in without making both McNabb and Kolb ineligible to return. That rule is gone. Reid can dress two or three QBs at his discretion. It seems like a very good idea to dress all three. That would allow him to give Foles first shot in event of an injury to Vick, but also to get the kid out if things go wrong.

There's no doubt McNabb would be a more reliable alternative than either of them, but it would be immensely counterproductive to bring No. 5 back here. There's just too much history, too much potential for distraction.

It would make a lot of sense for McNabb to be in Cleveland on Sunday, though. He would be the best quarterback on the Browns' roster by several miles, and he'd be playing for old pals Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress. Even if they're committed to rookie Brandon Weeden, McNabb would be a better backup and mentor than Colt McCoy.

McNabb's credentials would make him a more appealing option, in terms of giving his team a chance to win now, than 10 or 12 quarterbacks who will start this weekend. Obviously, that means he'd be an awfully good No. 2 option for most of the teams in the league.

But McNabb's credentials clearly aren't the issue. Whatever happened in Washington and Minnesota, his two stops since being traded by the Eagles, has rendered him toxic to other teams. Even if he was completely at fault in both cases - and he wasn't; they were bad situations - you'd still think the scarcity of competent quarterbacks would create at least one opportunity for him.

Charlie Batch, Matt Leinart, and Rex Grossman all have jobs. Donovan McNabb does not. Whatever the reasons, that is stunning.

Sure, it has been four seasons since McNabb last won a playoff game. That is an eternity in the NFL. Don't be too quick to dismiss him because of that, though. It has been eight years - two eternities - since Vick has won one.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

 

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