Looking Back at the McNabb Trade Process

Andy Reid Donovan McNabb Trade Process Front Office Philadelphia Eagles

The eighth and final piece in the Inquirer’s “Deciders” series documents the lead up to the Donovan McNabb trade within the Eagles front office more thoroughly than any previous article. Since that’s a topic which pretty much dominated this blog for months, it’s worthwhile to go through a few of the main interesting tidbits and revealing quotes.

Starting at the beginning, we discover that the Eagles knew by early March what their plan was:

Very early that month, inside the NovaCare Complex in a conference room connected to Reid’s office, the core four - Reid, team president Joe Banner, general manager Howie Roseman, and owner Jeffrey Lurie - met to finalize their decision, to talk strategy…

They weren’t going to announce it to the world - or even tell McNabb, not yet - but the Eagles’ brass had already concluded they were ready to look to the next decade. They’d had so many discussions in smaller groups that their decision to trade McNabb felt inevitable.

Just to emphasize, all that talk about how they hadn’t made a decision, or how Donovan was going to be the 2010 starting quarterback, or how eventually all the quarterbacks were on the market? That was all bluff.

It also nicely debunks the stupid rumors that there was some sort of divide among the Eagles top people. Andy, and some of the others, may still have though McNabb had a few more good years left in him, but when push came to shove they were all united. As the article describes, and I’ve talked about before, the decision was obvious. They couldn’t afford to lose both quarterbacks after 2010, and McNabb still had trade value this offseason.

I also like that they acknowledge the discussions had been taking place for years, if less intensely:

One participant said quarterback discussions went from occurring “two years ago, every now and then, ‘What do you think?’ - to this year, quite a bit. Many of them were brief. Some of them were a little more in-depth.”

Another interesting fact:

Lurie said he, Reid, and Banner have always wanted to bring a quarterback along slowly and not rush him into a starting role before he is ready, like they did with McNabb during his rookie year out of Syracuse…

“This is what we always wanted to do,” Lurie said. “Have a player develop for a few years and really develop all the tools necessary so that when the time was to come, you weren’t developing a rookie or putting a rookie in there.”

Even beyond the tired “Donovan is not a typical west-coast quarterback” theme, perhaps Kolb was really the quarterback that Andy and Co. wanted all along. Rebooting a franchise requires that you grab any good young quarterback you can, and the Eagles certainly chose wisely the first time around. But it did prevent the coaches from teaching McNabb the way they clearly wanted.

Oh, the path not taken.

“He’s got two to three years [left] at a high level of play, minimum,” Mornhinweg said of McNabb. “He has had some injury problems, got a little bit of age to him. That’s what I put. The details - it was very detailed - to all of his strengths and weakness…”

Considering Marty was going out of his way to praise Donovan, this doesn’t come across as high praise to me. More like a warning of future danger.

Another Eagles offensive lineman, Todd Herremans, said, “I would say probably the majority of the players are younger players, and they drew to Kevin a little better as the last year went on, especially being able to get in there and actually play with them a couple games. The younger players in the locker room kind of wanted to see Kevin take over and get their own print on the team. As long as Donovan was on the team, it was going to be his thing, not the young kids taking over.”

Entering his sixth season, Herremans said, “We would’ve loved to play with Donovan another year. But the majority of the locker room was leaning toward Kevin. It was not age or ability. They wanted to make their own mark in Eagles history right now.”

The Eagles locker room split seems to be one of the most underrated elements of this whole deal. Andy and the rest of the front office aren’t stupid. If you’re deciding between two players, and one relates to and has the support of more than half of the locker room, while the other is increasingly marginalized by age — who are you going to keep?

The rapid shift to a youth movement gave rise to a corps of confident, even arrogant, new faces on the team. Maybe everything would have been fine for another year, or two, or three. But maybe not. By keeping things the same the Eagles would have been constantly working to alleviate a natural schism in the workplace. By shifting to Kolb, they embraced the team’s cultural shift and coopted the “Young Guns” movement into a unifying force. Very smooth.

If the Eagles hoped they could keep their cards face down, waiting for the trade market to offer up a McNabb trade offer worth taking, it didn’t happen…

Initial offers to the Eagles for McNabb clearly weren’t appealing. A third-round draft choice wasn’t going to cut it. Were some teams calling the Eagles’ bluff, forcing them to be more proactive, to make offers of their own? The marketplace can work like that.

“I really kind of listened - if I thought it was insulting, I said, ‘No, that’s ridiculous,’ ” Reid said. “You’ve got to figure out who’s interested and who’s not, and I didn’t want to just give anybody away.”

This final part of the article, where the reporters discuss the actual trade dicussions, is mostly hearsay and speculation. But the passage forced me to confront what I wrote a few months ago when Andy first told the media that his quarterbacks were up for sale.

At that point I thought that it was a strategic mistake to announce that the quarterbacks were on the market. I assumed that by making it public, other teams would think the Eagles were desperate. Now I’m not so sure.

Giving the front office a little credit, it could be that teams were actually offering a lot less before Reid went public. As long as the Eagles were only reaching out through backchannels, it would have seemed that they were afraid of the truth getting out, that they would take less to keep things quick and quiet.

Once that was impossible, other teams may have been forced to make more realistic offers for McNabb. They knew there was some sort of semi-public auction going on, and they would have to outbid a few other suitors for the quarterback.