Where is the most hated man in sports – an extraordinary distinction, wouldn’t you agree, given the inexhaustible supply of candidates? – regarded as a savior?
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Philadelphia, of course.
Only in Philadelphia, land of perpetual quarterbacking controversy, could a mistake as asinine as the dumping of Donovan McNabb beget another mistake, to wit, the dumping of Kevin Kolb.
Actually, dumping Kolb is the least of it. On Sunday, coach Andy Reid swore up and down that Kolb was still his starter. On Monday, he repeated himself: “Let me state it again, I know I’m using poor English here, Kevin Kolb is the No. 1 quarterback.”
By Tuesday, it was Michael Vick’s team.
Now, in making the change, Reid shows himself to be as fickle as the Eagles fans – but less honorable. What a combination: knee-jerk like a fan, two-faced like a politician.
Let’s rewind. The last couple of Sundays have seen Michael Vick account for 599 yards (459 passing, 140 on the ground) without an interception. He was particularly impressive on Sunday against the Lions, when he threw for 284 yards and two touchdowns, earning his first win since 2006.
Of course, the fans wanted Vick. The backup quarterback is always the savior – only more so in Philly. Problem is, the coach is supposed to be take a longer view than the guys swilling bad beer and eating chips.
As Vick’s miraculous performance came against the league’s 31st-ranked defense, it’s worth recalling how Kolb tore up the NFL’s 30th-best just a year ago. Again, it was the season’s third Sunday. Kolb went 24 for 34 for 327 yards, throwing two touchdowns without an interception. As it happened, that game – a 20-point victory over Kansas City – turned out to be his 2009 finale. Though it made Kolb the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300-plus yards in each of his first two starts – both for an injured McNabb – he wouldn’t throw another pass all season.
Still, Kolb’s audition was more than enough to fortify the McNabb haters, whose ranks had been legion since draft day 1999, when they booed his selection over Ricky Williams. Such a reception was preceded by a warning from none other than Mayor Ed Rendell: “If you don’t draft Ricky Williams, we’ll meet at City Hall and burn the Vet down.”
Welcome to Philly. McNabb would be selected to six Pro Bowls. He’d lead the Eagles to five NFC championship games and a Super Bowl. But what he couldn’t do was always more talked-about than what he could. An alternative line of thinking evolved among the haters: You can’t win with the guy. Gradually, it became the company line.
Finally, last April 4, McNabb was traded to a division rival, the Washington Redskins, for a second-round pick and either a third- or fourth-round choice next year. In short order, Kolb was given a contract extension. With a $10.7 million signing bonus – as reported last week by our Adam Caplan – it’s worth $12.26 million guaranteed through next season.
The Eagles gave away the most difficult position to fill, that of franchise quarterback. Still, right or wrong, their choice was clear. Vick, you may recall, was never part of the conversation. It was between McNabb and Kolb. And in going with Kolb, the Eagles had marked a course for their future. Going into the season with an average age of 25 and no starter older than 29, the Eagles figured their quarterback would mature with the rest of the roster.
But all that measured, rational talk of building for the future lasted a mere fortnight into the regular season. McNabb threw for 426 yards on Sunday, a week after engineering an upset of the Cowboys, a team the Eagles lost to three times last season. On that same opening day, Kolb was concussed on Philadelphia’s second possession.
Rendell, now the governor of Pennsylvania, wasted little time, arguing on his local post-game show that the Eagles “cut their losses” with Kolb.
As Rendell is in his final term, let me be the first to nominate him for Eagles GM.
Maybe he could sign Vick to a long-term deal.
For the record, I consider myself pro-Vick, at least since his release from prison. Actually, let me rephrase that. I’m not pro-Vick so much as I’m pro-redemption.
Still, the prospect of Vick’s redemption doesn’t make trading McNabb any less of a mistake. This decision only proves what a boneheaded move it was. If the Eagles wanted Kolb to be their future, they had to be willing to let him fail a little before he could succeed a lot. Troy Aikman, John Elway, Warren Moon, Steve Young and Peyton Manning all threw more interceptions than touchdowns in their first years as starters.
What did Kolb get? Two lousy series before he was concussed. Two sets of downs does not a chance make. The guy deserved better.