Donovan McNabb and His Almost Unfathomable Fall From Glory: Why No. 5 Needs to Retire Now

By Cody Swartz

Donovan McNabb’s career in Philadelphia was marked by controversy. Ask 10 Eagles fans how they feel about McNabb and you’ll likely get 10 different answers.

The facts are what they are: McNabb was a six-time Pro Bowler who led the Eagles to five conference championship games and a Super Bowl. He passed for over 30,000 yards, 216 touchdowns, and just 100 interceptions in 11 years with the team.

He provided some of the most memorable moments in franchise history – completing a memorable 4th and 26 pass in a playoff game, scrambling around for 14.1 seconds against Dallas on Monday Night Football, and throwing four touchdown passes on a broken ankle.

He was also inconsistent, erratic, labeled a choker, and injury-prone. He all but entered the NFL with a chip on his shoulder after a select group of Eagles fans booed his selection at the draft. He was booed repeatedly when the Eagles failed to advance to the Super Bowl after three straight appearances (and losses) in the NFC Championship Game.

It was said McNabb didn’t have what it took to lead the Eagles to a title, and whether you pin the blame on McNabb, the subpar wide receivers, the defense, or Andy Reid’s coaching, the end result is that the Eagles never won the big game with McNabb.

Management picked Kevin Kolb in the second round of the 2007 draft, all but signaling the end of McNabb’s career in Philly. McNabb lasted three more years with the Eagles, earning playoff trips in both 2008 and 2009. He even handled an embarrassing benching against Baltimore with a lot of class, bouncing back the following week by throwing four touchdowns against the Arizona Cardinals on primetime television.

Despite a fine season in ’09 (22 TD, 10 INT), the organization felt Kolb was their future, and chose to part ways with McNabb on Easter Sunday in 2010 in a shocking move that sent McNabb in a trade within the division.

We all know the story in Philly – Kolb gave way to Vick, who earned a $100 million contract over the next six years. What was more shocking was McNabb’s fall from glory, first in the nation’s capital and then in Minnesota.

The Eagles initially traded McNabb to the Washington Redskins, a move that seemed in the best interest of McNabb. After all, his new coach, Mike Shanahan, had helped John Elway win two Super Bowls late in his career, and it seemed hopeful he could do the same for the 33-year old McNabb.

McNabb’s numbers weren’t as impressive early on in Washington, and Shanahan even benched him in a game against Detroit, claiming backup quarterback Rex Grossman was more equipped to handle the two-minute drill.

That backfired, as Grossman’s first snap was fumbled and picked up by Lions’ defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for a game-sealing touchdown. Shanahan all but apologized to McNabb just one week later, rewarding his QB with a massive five-year, $78 million contract that was worth up to $88 million in incentives.

McNabb certainly didn’t live up to the contract, posting a passer rating of 81.7 or less in each of the next five weeks, before Shanahan made his most shocking move yet: He demoted McNabb to third-string, behind both Grossman and John Beck.

After the season, McNabb was mercifully released from Washington and latched on with the Minnesota Vikings, hoping to be able to provide veteran leadership to a team that was just two years removed from an appearance in the NFC Championship Game.

McNabb started the first six games, going 1-5. His numbers weren’t too bad: 60.3 completion percentage, 4 TD, 2 INT, 82.9 passer rating. The Vikings went with rookie first-round pick Christian Ponder, a move that many had expected.

McNabb didn’t respond to the benching well, telling the media that he felt he provided a spark to the team that Ponder didn’t. Reports also surfaced that McNabb was out of shape in Minnesota and didn’t put in the time necessary to succeed. He eventually asked for and was granted his release from the Vikings on December 1.

It was a messy, messy divorce, as it marked now three coaches (Reid, Shanahan, and Leslie Frazier) that have essentially told him they didn’t want him – all in a span of 19 months.

McNabb, who was hoping to latch on with an injury-ridden team in need of a quarterback, has gone unsigned in the last week.

The Houston Texans have said they are sticking with third-stringer T.J. Yates, and after Yates’ strong outing against the Atlanta Falcons, there is no reason to think they will want McNabb. The Dallas Cowboys were linked to McNabb as a possible backup to Tony Romo with Jon Kitna banged up, but Dallas never made a claim for McNabb.

The Chicago Bears seem to be the obvious choice, as Jay Cutler is injured, Caleb Hanie has struggled immensely, and this is McNabb’s hometown. They haven’t made a move for No. 5 yet, and sources have linked them to Brett Favre before McNabb. Special teams superstar/wide receiver Devin Hester has made it known he has no interest in playing with McNabb.

It’s almost sad what has happened to McNabb. He was my all-time favorite Eagle (tied with Brian Dawkins). He had his flaws, and I knew that – McNabb wasn’t clutch, he didn’t keep himself in as good of shape as he should have, and he almost felt he was better than the rest of the team since he was the starting quarterback.

But he was the first quarterback I really knew. I don’t remember the days of Rodney Peete, Ty Detmer, Bobby Hoying, or Doug Pederson. McNabb was drafted when I was just nine years old, and I grew up idolizing him. How could I not like a guy who turned the Eagles into perennial playoff contenders? He always had a smile on his face, and he was fun to watch play.

It’s been painful watching him since he left Philly. I don’t think he is nearly as bad as the national media and most football fans believe he is at this point in his career. He was a Pro Bowler just two years ago for the Eagles.

Of course he didn’t succeed in Washington behind a paper-mache offensive line. Trent Williams and Jamaal Brown were essentially gaping holes at the tackle position, and Kory Lichtensteiger was the worst pass blocking guard in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Ryan Torain didn’t help him out much in the running game, and although Santana Moss was and still is a good receiver, Anthony Armstrong, Joey Galloway, and Roydell Williams weren’t a quarterback’s ideal weapons.

It’s tough to succeed in an environment like that, and in spite of that, McNabb’s stats weren’t that bad. The 14 touchdowns and 15 picks weren’t the Pro Bowl numbers of the year before, but he was on pace to throw for over 4,100 yards and set the single-season franchise record in Washington.

There was no reason for the Shanahans (Mike and his son, Kyle, the team’s offensive coordinator) to all but publicly humiliate McNabb – first with the ridiculous benching, then the demotion to third-string.

Even in Minnesota, McNabb didn’t produce a lot of offense for the Vikings, but he limited his turnovers (his 1.3% interception rate would be the best of his career) and still completed over 60 percent of his passes. I believe if he were still in Philly, he would be viewed as one of the better quarterbacks in the league right now. He wouldn’t be elite, but he would be in the top half – alongside guys like Joe Flacco or Ryan Fitzpatrick.

At this point, I don’t think there’s any reviving McNabb’s career.

He’s become almost a laughingstock of the league. I can’t really remember any player as good as McNabb has been his whole career who was less respected by his peers, other teams, and the national media.

If McNabb signs with a team this year – the Bears seem to be the most likely (and only) option – I don’t see it going well. He will be entering a new system on a new team and at this point in the season, the Bears are right on the bubble among NFC playoff contenders. McNabb will essentially have to learn on the go, and there won’t be time for a slow start.

It’s not going to work out. McNabb is a deeply prideful man, and he’s never responded well to criticism. He won’t be welcomed with open arms in Chicago, especially after the way he left Minnesota.

Retiring seems to be McNabb’s best option.

He won’t make the Hall of Fame, and he probably wasn’t ever going to make it without winning a Super Bowl. History should still view him as one of the best quarterbacks of his generation, especially if he quietly leaves before things get even worse.

He’s got a great personality, and he would probably make a great analyst if he started a new career on ESPN or NFL Network.

There’s just no point in hanging around in the NFL anymore. He won’t be able to sail off into the sunset, like Elway or like the dream McNabb likely envisioned when he signed with Washington. It’s unlikely a lot of people will really miss him at all.

Time to file the retirement papers.


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