Donovan McNabb Goes to Washington

In by far the biggest news of the 2010 offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend traded Donovan McNabb to their division rivals in Washington. McNabb was Philadelphia's quarterback for 11 years, a six-time Pro Bowler who was 92-49-1 as starter, equivalent to 10.5 wins per season. He is the Eagles' all-time leader in every major passing category and ranks among the team's top 10 in rushing yards and rushing TDs. He played more games for the Eagles than any other QB in franchise history.

Does all of that mean the Eagles are losers in this trade? Not necessarily. McNabb is 33. His contract is almost up, and his best days are probably behind him. The team has Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick in place, so it won't need to search out a replacement. And for a fairly mild-mannered guy, McNabb attracted a surprising amount of controversy. It began when he was booed on draft day, by fans who thought the Eagles should have drafted Ricky Williams. And as the most successful black QB since Warren Moon, maybe the most successful ever, McNabb was the go-to guy whenever the media raised issues about "black quarterbacks", and he was often asked to address the subject during otherwise unrelated interviews. Now the team has the far less controversial Vick. Well, Kolb seems pretty low-profile, at least.

Frankly, the Eagles have been locked into a move like this ever since Kolb was drafted. Although he was technically a second-round pick, Kolb was the team's first selection in the 2007 draft, and you don't use a pick like that on a guy you hope won't have to play. Nor do you sign a lightning rod like Vick just to use him twice a game out of the Wildcat formation. McNabb has played at such a high level, though, that it didn't make sense for the team to move him earlier.

McNabb is coming off a Pro Bowl year, a season in which he threw more than twice as many TDs as interceptions. The previous season, he set a career high for passing yardage. Over the whole of his time with the Eagles, McNabb has joined some very select company:

Only QBs to start in five Conference Championship Games: Terry Bradshaw, Tom Brady, John Elway, Brett Favre, Jim Kelly, Donovan McNabb, Joe Montana, Ken Stabler, Roger Staubach

Only QBs with 100 more TDs than INTs: Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Donovan McNabb, Joe Montana, Steve Young

Only players with 30,000 passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards: John Elway, Donovan McNabb, Steve McNair, Fran Tarkenton, Steve Young

McNabb is also tied with Neil O'Donnell for the best interception percentage in history (2.11%) of any QB with at least 2,000 pass attempts. What distinguishes McNabb is his ability to produce positive plays — he is top-20 all-time in combined passing + rushing yards (36,122) and in combined TDs (244) — while avoiding negative ones. It is this quality that makes him such an intriguing fit for his new team.

For several years, Washington has been a good defensive team with a punchless offense. Over the last decade, many teams have been successful with great defenses backing up conservative offenses: the 2000 Ravens, '02 Bucs, '06 Bears, '09 Jets, etc. But typically, you need at least some level of production from the offense, and Washington has been missing that. Jason Campbell doesn't throw a lot of interceptions, but he doesn't create plays, either. Since he was drafted in 2005, Campbell has never posted a TD% above 4.0%. Over the same period, McNabb has never been below 4.0%. In fact, he led the league in Campbell's first season as starter.

Washington's problems are bigger than the quarterback — offensive line has become a huge issue — but McNabb represents an obvious and significant upgrade. Campbell seems like a nice guy, and he's put up with a lot of garbage, handling difficult situation mostly with dignity and restraint. That said, fans are most interested in how a player handles himself on the field, and Campbell had problems with both his reads and his downfield accuracy. He took too many sacks and fumbled too often. He didn't take chances downfield or in the red zone, and his coaches eventually lost faith in his pressure-situation abilities. His decision-making was spotty.

Now, for a relatively small price — a second-round pick this year and either a third- or fourth-round draft pick in 2011 — Washington has brought in a top-10 QB the team can build around while it searches for its long-term future at the position. The team may even be able to recoup the lower pick by trading Campbell. With a new coaching staff coming in, Campbell would have had to learn a new system anyway, so McNabb — who has 11 years of experience in a Bill Walsh-style offense — won't be behind on the learning curve.

Ultimately, I like this trade for both teams. It doesn't make Washington a contender, but it makes the team respectable and gives fans legitimate reason for optimism. It probably makes the Eagles weaker in the short term, but it fits with the team's strategy of building for the future, which was a blueprint for sustained success throughout the last decade. This is a reasonable time for the team to start looking to the near future, rather than trying to muster an unlikely Super Bowl run in 2010.

Why the Trade is Good for Washington

* Significant upgrade at QB
* Increased fan interest in a team that went 4-12 last year
* Fresh start for new coaching staff
* Weaken a division rival at least temporarily

Why the Trade is Good for Philadelphia

* See what they've got in Kolb
* Pick up a high draft choice (37th overall)
* Part ways with a high-profile player who was sometimes a distraction
* Unload a player who probably wasn't going to be the starter much longer anyway

These are two teams that I think would both be content to finish 8-8 this season, though I wouldn't be surprised if Philadelphia is a little better than that and Washington a little worse. It's an odd trade — Washington dealing away the future despite that it's obviously not a contender right now, and the Eagles giving up a proven franchise QB for a fraction of what Jay Cutler netted the Broncos last year — but it also makes a weird sort of sense on both sides. I think it's easiest to like this deal as a Washington fan, because of the obvious short-term benefits. McNabb is a proven winner and a good fit for the team. Philadelphia, on the other hand, seems truly committed to rebuilding, and between Kolb (the presumed starter) and Vick (an experienced backup) should be able to keep the ship afloat in the meantime. I've talked myself into it: good move for both teams.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site