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Indecision 2010: McNabb or Kolb?

Rumors Swirling, Eagles Face difficult Decision at QB

By Lance Epstein

Yesterday, as the New Orleans Saints won their first Super Bowl in franchise history, Eagles fans agonized as another franchise with decades of futility surpass them in Lombardi trophies. However, that was not the only agonizing subject bothering the Eagles organization and their fans.

Just about four weeks removed from the Eagles season ending in an embarrassing 34-14 loss to division rival Dallas, the Kolb versus McNabb debate has been the hot topic. Before the kickoff of the Super Bowl, Adam Scheffter of ESPN reported numerous teams have inquired about all three quarterbacks on the Eagles. Fellow ESPN reporter stated three teams had conversations with the Eagles about trading Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb. Those three teams (all AFC teams) are the Broncos, Bills and Browns.

Then later on in the evening, after Paolantonio contacted with his local Eagles insider and reporter, Howard Eskin, that Sal Pal believed McNabb is not going to be moved and Kolb will again be second fiddle.

Besides these three teams, a logical assessment of the NFL landscape would insist that there are more than just three suitors lined up. Minnesota’s Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre has said he probably (use that term loosely with him) played his last NFL snap and Arizona Cardinals signal caller Kurt Warner has recently retired. Both franchises are knocking at the door to a Lombardi trophy (neither has one currently) and might take a chance on the aging star.

Although if the Eagles want to trade McNabb, they would likely be inclined to trade him outside of the conference and not to two teams whom they might face in the playoffs. Nevertheless, if the Eagles are offered a first rounder for McNabb by one of these teams or any team, Andy Reid and newly appointed GM Howie Roseman will face a difficult dilemma.

In order to trade McNabb, the Eagles’ management has to deliberate on three key and significant issues before pursuing any franchise altering decision. First, the Eagles have to decide whether they can co-exist with McNabb and Kolb both on one-year contracts?

Last year off-season, McNabb took it to heart and proclaimed the benching by Reid hurt him. The Eagles moved quickly to resolve the problem after losing in the NFC Championship game by throwing more money at McNabb, revamping his offensive line and getting him some more weapons.

Allowing McNabb to be a lame duck quarterback might create tension between the organization and McNabb. Not the ideal situation for a team expected to compete and win a Super Bowl. In opposition, Kolb, 26, is also under a one-year contract and is not getting any younger. Kolb has played nice with the Eagles (still claims to do so) but wants to be the starter.

"I want to be a starter in the NFL," Kolb said. "That’s my No. 1 goal right now. I want that opportunity. But I’m going to be a team player. I trust [coach] Andy [Reid]. I trust his decisions and his ability to see what’s in the future and plan out my career the right way. Hopefully, we’ll do those things to get me on the field at some point, not knowing when it’s going to be."

Both players are not going to enter the season with one-year contract, so whichever, quarterback the Eagles give an extension to, probably means the other’s time is up in Philadelphia.

The second issue that the Eagles face is determining the trade value of McNabb or Kolb. McNabb is 33 years old but does has not shown signs of slowing down. Coming off a Pro Bowl season, McNabb still has a good three to four season of high quality football left, especially with the way the NFL rules benefits quarterbacks.

One problem with trading McNabb this off-season is the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement that is ending and what looks to be a lockout in 2011. Teams might not be willing to ante up a new contract with a hefty signing bonus to McNabb (McNabb will most certainly ask for if traded) for one year since the lockout might eliminate the 2011-12 season, plus a first round pick.

All that being said, McNabb is still a valuable commodity in the quarterback driven NFL. A plethora of teams are in need of McNabb to complete their puzzle. McNabb is worthy of a first round pick and maybe even a fourth rounder as well. It would be insane of the Eagles to settle for anything less.

As for Kolb, his situation is eerily similar to Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub. Schaub sat behind Michael Vick (ironic) for a couple of years until the Texans gave up two second round picks.

Many experts think Kolb has the “it,” to be a very good quarterback in the NFL. For a 26 year-old quarterback, which will be someone’s franchise quarterback, anything less than what the Falcons got for Schaub would be a disappointment.

Lastly, the most imperative issue facing the Eagles, does Kevin Kolb give the Philadelphia Eagles a better chance at winning a Super Bowl now or at least playing him now prepare the Eagles for a run in the next two years? As cynical as some Eagles fans are towards McNabb or pro-McNabb they are, this is a challenging question.

Kolb has only started two NFL games in his career, which happened to be fresh in the Eagles fan base’s mind since the starts came this past season while McNabb recovered from broken ribs. In his first game against the Super Bowl Champion Saints, he threw for 391 yards, three touchdowns but also had a costly three interceptions (one returned for a TD by Darren Sharper).

Most scouts and analyst around the league were impressed by his numbers in his first ever career start against the hottest team on the planet. While his numbers are great in fantasy football and in the first half, the Eagles still lost by 26 points. Yes the defense and special teams were flat out awful but his turnovers did hurt the Eagles too.

Ellis Hobbs fumbled the opening kick-off and the Saints converted the turnover into a touchdown. With the Eagles squarely behind the eight ball, down 24-13, Kolb threw an ill-advised pass that set up the backbreaking Mike Bell touchdown for Saints.

Some will say that the interception was inexperience from not playing, however some will see this as a gunslinger mentality. The bigger questions to be asked is whether McNabb would have kept the Eagles close or even comeback to win the game? Of course, this cannot be answered but one would think the veteran presence of McNabb would have prevented the game from getting out of hand.

The most alarming turnover came as Sharper returned the Kolb interception 97-yards for a touchdown towards the end of the game. Eagles fans have seen this before from Kolb, last year after replacing McNabb in Baltimore, Kolb threw a NFL record 109-yard interception return for a touchdown to Ed Reed.

The reason for the unsettling feeling is a quarterback must be better, more efficient and careful inside the red-zone. Kolb has not yet proven he recognizes the magnitude of coming out with points in the red-zone rather than nothing.

With all that being said, Kolb did demonstrate in the next game against Kansas City a glimpse of what he can bring to the table. From his first career start to his second start, Kolb emerged with more confidence in his receivers and in his abilities. The young former Houston Cougar finished the game 24-for-34 for 327 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 120.6.

Kolb’s performances in his first two career starts are a promising sign bearing in mind he became the first quarterback to ever throw 300 yards in his first two career starts. On the contrary, does this mean he gives the Eagles the best chance at winning the Super Bowl next year?

This is a complex question because of the unknown of free agency, the draft and whether the Eagles defense can regain their 2008-09 form with Stewart Bradley back at middle linebacker. There is no right answer to this particular convoluted inquiry.

In spite of this, McNabb perhaps still gives the Eagles the best chance to win the elusive Lombardi trophy next year. Even at 33, problems with his accuracy, McNabb still has the tools to lead a team to the Super Bowl. McNabb has been the face of the organization, the best quarterback in the franchise’s history, and led the Eagles to 11 victories with a bad and decimated defense and offensive line.

As good as Kolb looked in his starts, he played both games at home. It is an unknown if Kolb has the mental make-up to win games on the road that McNabb is capable of pulling out. Winning a road game in the NFL is a different animal.

Maybe just as important as being proficient on the road is can Kolb endure the passionate, hungry and Super Bowl driven fans in Philly? While McNabb is pretty much blamed for everything (even the snow falling today) by Eagles enthusiast, he still produces. Philadelphia is a tough sports town on their athletes, so Kolb must have thick skin otherwise all the talent in the world will not matter.

Kolb is the future of the Eagles (strongly believe he will be a NFL starting caliber quarterback), whether that future is in now or if it starts down the road (maybe even for another team…rumors also report the Browns are very interested in Kolb as well) comes down to Big Red.

The Eagles should patient and through in whatever decision they make, because this is a franchise altering decision. If the Eagles are correct on Kolb like they adamantly believe, then the drop off should be a short one (maybe even non-existent).

On the other hand, if Kolb fails to maintain the “Gold standard” that McNabb brought during his era, then Reid, Joe Banner and Roseman might find themselves in the unemployment line.

Before the Eagles reach their final verdict, previous history will show a varying signs about trading or having a franchise quarterback retire. In the two classic examples, the Broncos with John Elway and the Dolphins with Dan Marino, illustrates organizations years detached from their star quarterbacks, still struggling to find their next quarterback.

In the most recent (and most overdramatized) situation, the Packers moved away from the ageless Favre and Aaron Rodgers developed arguably into one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL.

Whatever path the Eagles organization elects to choose, the players believe in both quarterbacks. McNabb has the history of winning and being best quarterback to ever wear an Eagles uniform. While the young wide receiving core believes enough in Kolb’s ability, grasp of the offense and leadership to approach him for advice over McNabb during the season.

The most flattering comment might have come from starting tight end Brent Celek who compared Kolb to Drew Brees on WFAN.

It’s possible Kolb will follow in the footsteps of Brees by moving to another organization and striving. Alternatively, Eagles fans hope Kolb can eventually imitate Brees’ career, but in Philly and thus bring them a Super Bowl title.

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