Commentary

Eagles backed into corner with McNabb

Originally Published: March 26, 2010
By Sal Paolantonio | ESPN

PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles played hardball, and now they're between a rock and a hard place.

Six weeks ago, the Eagles started getting calls from more than a dozen NFL teams to measure Philadelphia's interest in trading one of its quarterbacks -- Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb or Michael Vick. But, league sources say, the Eagles overvalued their players and may have priced themselves out of an offseason market dictated by labor uncertainty.

The result: The music has stopped, the market has nearly dried up, head coach Andy Reid may have alienated his franchise quarterback by announcing that there's a "for sale" sign on McNabb, and with just a handful of teams in the mix and the draft a month away, time is running out.

On Friday morning, returning from the league's annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., the Eagles front-office personnel were locked in the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia, trying to figure out what to do next.

Here's what we know:

After weeks of backroom discussions, no team has suggested more than a third-round pick for McNabb, league sources say. That's why a team source leaked to the Associated Press on Thursday night that the team will not accept anything less than a 42nd pick in the draft.

The Eagles front office -- team owner Jeff Lurie, team president Joe Banner and general manager Howie Roseman -- has concluded that now that Reid has said publicly that McNabb is available, the team must make a decision soon. The longer McNabb is dangled out on the trade market and is constant Internet fodder, the more the team will undermine his ability to return and be an effective starter in 2010.

"The longer this lingers, the more difficult it makes life with McNabb this season if he's not traded," said a league source with knowledge of the Eagles' thinking Thursday night.

And the Eagles are running out of possible trade partners -- with perhaps only Buffalo, Oakland, San Francisco and maybe Denver remaining.

Among the teams that have called Philadelphia about McNabb, Kolb and Vick, here's what has happened in the past six weeks.

The Browns and Seahawks -- both of which were very interested in trading for Kolb but also discussed McNabb with the Eagles -- have moved on by acquiring Jake Delhomme and Charlie Whitehurst, respectively.

In Arizona, where McNabb has an offseason home, Cardinals general manager Rod Graves recently said his team has "no interest" in McNabb.

McNabb -- who recently said on his Web site he hoped "whichever direction the Eagles go in, they do it quickly" -- has told his friends for weeks that he would like to be reunited with Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress, who spent four years as McNabb's offensive coordinator in Philadelphia.

League sources say that is partly the reason Childress recently visited Brett Favre in Mississippi, to gauge Favre's interest in returning to the Vikings for the 2010 season. Childress did not want to miss an opportunity to trade for McNabb while waiting for Favre to decide whether to come back. Childress said he asked for and got no assurances from Favre.

But the prevailing wisdom around the league is that Favre -- who is due a guaranteed $13 million in 2010 -- will return. Absent a better option, can the Eagles wait for the Vikings and Favre to make his decision official? Perhaps until the summer?

And where is that better option?

The St. Louis Rams, one of the first teams to call the Eagles about McNabb, Kolb and Vick in February, recently denied reports that they had offered the Eagles the 33rd pick in the draft for McNabb. Now the Rams appear fixated on evaluating Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford at his pro day Monday, and possibly making him the first overall pick in the draft next month.

If Bradford doesn't pass muster, the Rams may pick up the phone and call Philly.

The Buffalo Bills, also one of the initial teams to call about the Eagles' quarterbacks, still have an interest in making a trade with Philadelphia, according to sources. But so far, the Bills have balked on two important fronts:

The Bills are rebuilding and do not want to part with a high draft pick, particularly since McNabb has made it known he would prefer to play in Minnesota. McNabb, 33, is in the last year of a contract that pays him $11 million in 2010, and he wants a long-term extension -- something the Eagles have refused to do.

Sources say Bills owner Ralph Wilson has balked at the notion of renting McNabb for a season at a high salary and then investing long-term in a quarterback who turns 34 this season.

The Denver Broncos also called the Eagles early in the process, but were also put off by the Eagles' asking price. So head coach Josh McDaniels recently acquired Brady Quinn and named Kyle Orton the starter. Would the Broncos take McNabb, coming off another Pro Bowl appearance, over Orton?

Then there are the Bay Area teams, the 49ers and the Raiders. Each has a tenuous situation at quarterback.

The Raiders have not been averse to trading for aging players in the final year of their contracts (see Richard Seymour). But Oakland faces the same issue confronting Buffalo: Would McNabb want to stay?

League sources say McNabb would play in San Francisco, and the Niners have two first-round picks (13th and 16th) and most likely will not want to pay first-round bonus money to two players.

But head coach Mike Singletary has already announced Alex Smith is his starting quarterback, and the 49ers signed David Carr to back him up.

Remarkably, in this offseason, 11 quarterbacks have changed teams and none of them has involved any of the Eagles, the team thought most likely to move one of theirs.

So the Eagles, the only team with three quarterbacks in the last year of their contracts, are running out of options. And they may be left with three unhappy quarterbacks. McNabb wants to stay in Philadelphia, but has been the subject of trade talks and has no long-term financial security. Kolb may wind up on the bench for the fourth straight year. And Vick, itching for a chance to start and make more money, is relegated to a minor role in the Wildcat offense.

In other words, the Eagles are right back where they started.

Sal Paolantonio, who covered the Eagles for the Philadelphia Inquirer, covers the NFL for ESPN.

Sal Paolantonio

SportsCenter correspondent / NFL reporter
Sal Paolantonio joined ESPN as a SportsCenter correspondent in August 1995, primarily reporting on the NFL. Beginning in 2004, he also served as host of NFL Match-Up, a weekly "Xs and Os" football show produced by NFL Films.