His jersey still hangs in my closet. It’s that heinous baby blue and yellow throwback jersey that the Eagles wore against the Lions. I love those jerseys for some reason. There’s a small barbecue sauce stain on the front. I haven’t worn it for several months. It’s not my preference to wear the jersey of a former player as long as they’re still in the league but just with another team. It’s kept company by my black Dawkins and Westbrook jerseys. Yes, that good old #5 jersey is hanging there, just in a momentary retirement. Depending on who you ask, the Eagles are either awful or brilliant in making the decision to jettison McNabb. Those who think the organization was callous will point to all the wonderful things he’d done for the team over his 11 year stay. Those who liked the move point to the empty trophy case sitting in the wings of the Eagles training facilities. Everyone has an opinion, and no one is neutral with this issue.
Personally, I was in favor of the move. I also believe I’m in the minority of Eagles fans who truly didn’t want to see him go but knew it was time to move on. Just like I never wanted to see Brian Dawkins or Jeremiah Trotter or Troy Vincent or Brian Westbrook leave, it was clear that their times had come when they departed. As a fan of the amazing things they’d done for the organization, I wanted them to stay. I wanted to relish in the nostalgia of their past achievements. I wanted to see them hoist the Lombardi Trophy down Broad Street. And it goes beyond those guys. Every Eagle I’ve ever seen play falls into that category. They were all a part of the team that I love and I wanted them to be winners.
But that’s not how the game works. This game is not a game. This game is a business, and the business passes players by. The business speeds up too much as players age and they begin to blow plays. They begin to show cracks in the armor that they once wore, once seemingly invincible. McNabb showed those exact same signs. There was a time that McNabb was among the elite players in the NFL. There was a time that game planning for him was an absolute nightmare for defensive coordinators. In his prime, he could beat you in so many ways. He was the ultimate weapon (apologies to Randall). But those days disappeared on that fateful fall day in 2006 when he tore his ACL. It is my belief that tearing that ligament was his ultimate undoing. He began to lose his trademark mobility and had to really become a pocket passer, something he wasn’t designed to be. With his mobility decreased, his wide receivers didn’t have as much time to create separation and he was forced to throw into smaller windows. With every passing game he became easier to game plan for.
And the Eagles knew this. Sure, they’d never admit it publicly. It’d be in bad taste to do so. But anyone who watches the game can see that McNabb has lost a step. If us “armchair quarterbacks” can see that, then there is no possible way that an NFL coaching staff couldn’t. Now, did they want to trade him? Probably not. I think the coaching staff felt the same way I did. They wanted to see McNabb win a championship here. They wanted to see 11 years of dedication and admiration pay off. But they also knew it couldn’t happen. I firmly believe it was a solemn day around the NovaCare Complex the day that McNabb was traded.
I also believe it to be completely telling of the organization’s thoughts on his skill set that they traded him to the rival Washington Redskins. If they feared what he could do on the field there would be no way at all that they’d trade him at all, much less to a rival. No way. I don’t care about the public statements that it was out of respect for McNabb’s wishes. If they truly believed he could still play at a decent level then they would have never traded him to Washington. They wouldn’t even have considered it. Maybe that is harsh. Maybe it’s cruel. But it’s the unfortunate reality.
And so the debate will rage on. Was this the right move? Was this the wrong move? I don’t know. You don’t know. And the fact is, we won’t know for quite some time. This weekend will just be a chapter in the McNabb-Eagles saga. It won’t be the epilogue. We won’t know for several years if this was the right choice. It’s entirely possible we’ll never know.
But, maybe by the time I wear that gold and blue #5 jersey again, we’ll have a better idea.