Rush Limbaugh once implied that Donovan McNabb was overrated. The fact that he made this point amidst a polemic rant insinuating that there was a liberal conspiracy in the sports media designed to promote the success of a black quarterback resulted in Limbaugh losing his ESPN gig and precluded a necessary discussion on the competency of Limbaugh as a sports analyst. The truth is, McNabb has always been underrated and Limbaugh has always been a blithering idiot.
It seems as though people love to hate McNabb even though the guy has done nothing but put together one of the all time greatest careers of any quarterback in the history of the game. Granted, he's without a Super Bowl ring, but so is Dan Marino and, like Dan Marino, McNabb has seen the best years of his career squandered by an overrated coach and a clumsy front office that has consistently failed to provide the weapons necessary to win championships.
McNabb doesn't even get credit for leading is team to the Super Bowl. That often goes to Terrell Owens, who actually didn't have any hand in the Eagles getting to there. Owens went down with a broken leg late in the 2004 season, missing the playoffs. Owens wasn't available until the Eagles played in the Super Bowl, which begs the question of whether or not is presence was a distraction. There was quite the media circus around Owens' recovery and potential availability.
The reality is that Owens didn't help the Eagles accomplish more than they had in previous years. It's true that McNabb and the Eagles had lost three consecutive NFC title games heading into the 2004 season but with their starting receiver out of action, the Eagles had more than a string of losses to overcome. McNabb stepped up and led his team to the Super Bowl. Owens put up nice numbers in the subsequent loss, but somebody had to throw him those 9 passes he caught and if not for Owens' penchant for occasionally losing interest in running the called route or quitting when a play is designed to use him as a decoy, Owens might have caught more. Many quarterbacks have thrown interceptions when TO has given up on a route, short-armed a high pass or simply failed to make his cut when he was supposed to. This was no different in the Super Bowl.
His statistics are enviable by all but a few of the people who have played the QB position and those who rank ahead of him consider McNabb worthy of their company. McNabb hasn't simply padded his stats year after year, he's played the game the way it should be played. He's tough, smart, athletic, he plays to win and he has delivered the Eagles franchise and their coach more wins than they deserve.
McNabb is simply the greatest player in the history of the Eagles franchise. It's hard to make an argument against him. In a league where teams struggle for decades to find a serviceable quarterback, McNabb has been outstanding. He's also been a consummate professional. When Terrell Owens tried to bait McNabb by throwing a nationally televised tantrum at the QB's expense, McNabb kept his mouth shut. When the Eagles kept their purse strings tight in the free agency market, forcing McNabb to take the field without any elite receivers or a dependable running game (Brian Westbrook was always more of a multipurpose threat than a downhill runner) McNabb resisted the urge to hold out and demand a quality acquisition or a trade. He has also lived clean in both his professional and personal life. No arrests, no sordid sex scandals, no positive drug tests...quite an accomplishment in today's NFL.
McNabb's not exactly past his prime. He's 33 and not showing any signs of wearing down. He's suffered a few injuries but he's demonstrated an ability to recover quickly and completely. The other options the Eagles have at QB aren't inspiring. Michael Vick's arm is as inconsistent as it ever was and he doesn't bring the same athleticism to field that we saw prior to his stint in federal prison. Kevin Kolb has looked impressive in limited action, but he doesn't look better than McNabb and what happens when teams get to study more film on him? It's quite common to see backup quarterbacks look great in their first three or four starts only to hit a wall later in the season. This is especially true when those QBs face divisional rivals the second time around.
The NFL is a business and that fact is driven home with cruel clarity every year. Ladainian Tomlinson saw his role with the Chargers diminish after he sustained an injury and now he's going to see if he can become the second option on a team that doesn't really need him. Joe Montana was unceremoniously kicked to the curb in favor of Steve Young and the Green Bay Packers decided they couldn't stay committed to a player who couldn't stay committed to his own career even if he had a Pro Bowl season left in the tank.
McNabb isn't pushing 40. His arm isn't held together with duct table and bubble gum. He hasn't spent an off season capitulating on is future. He was the best player the Eagles had and he provided them with their best chance to win. With 2010 being an 'uncapped' year it wasn't like the Eagles needed to unload his salary. In a business-first league, trading McNabb was a terrible business decision.
Some people believe that McNabb deserved better from the Eagles and they're right but it's also true that McNabb deserves better than the Eagles. By heading to Washington, McNabb will get to play for Mike Shanahan rather than Andy Reid and he'll play for an owner in Dan Snyder who isn't afraid to spend money. Granted, Snyder hasn't always been smart with the money, but that's why he hired Shanahan.
McNabb could very well find himself in position to win that elusive Super Bowl his detractors insist is required before we can frame him as one of the great ones. The Eagles could find themselves regretting this trade for the next 10 years.
One can only hope.