Eagles decide McNabb's time is up

PHILADELPHIA -- In 2000, Donovan McNabb's first full season as the Eagles' starting quarterback, the Philadelphia front office added a 23-year-old Fordham Law School graduate named Howie Roseman to be the salary-cap staff counsel.

On Jan. 29, Roseman -- after a decade of various promotions -- received the ultimate prize. He was named the team's general manager. His first order of business: Persuade head coach Andy Reid to trade McNabb.

Reid, who had formed a special bond with McNabb, was at first reluctant to part with his franchise quarterback. But the writing was on the wall.

With the departure of his longtime consigliere, Tom Heckert, to the Cleveland Browns, Reid was faced with a shifting power base. Roseman, a protégé of team president Joe Banner, was putting a total roster purge in place, and McNabb was the final piece of the puzzle.

Roseman -- who got calls from nearly a dozen NFL teams about all three Eagles quarterbacks -- was adamant that McNabb, who will turn 34 in November, had to go, according to league sources. McNabb was due a $6.2 million roster bonus May 5 as part of a restructured contract that expires after the 2010 season.

In 2011, McNabb would be an unrestricted free agent. He had publicly expressed a desire to finish his career in Philadelphia, but he would have options; notably the Minnesota Vikings, where his former offensive coordinator Brad Childress, now the head coach, has just one more year obligated to Brett Favre.

So here were the choices: Wait until 2011 and get perhaps a third-round compensatory pick for McNabb. Or trade him now and get something better in return.

But McNabb's agent, Fletcher Smith, made it clear to Roseman in recent conversations that McNabb was not thrilled about being shipped to Buffalo or Oakland, the two teams that had expressed the most interest in acquiring McNabb.

Roseman wanted the best deal for the team, but Reid wanted to make sure McNabb was also happy. So once the Washington Redskins, who had called the Eagles about McNabb in February, came up with the right compensation -- a second-round pick -- the Eagles jumped on the offer. Why? Because on Sunday afternoon, McNabb signed off on the idea of playing in the nation's capital for a two-time Super Bowl champion coach.

"This was a decision that we thought was best for Donovan and, at the same time, the compensation was right for us," Reid said. "We certainly took into consideration Donovan's feelings here. … We wanted to inevitably do what was good for us and good for Donovan."

In the 12 years Reid has coached here, and with all the players he has released or traded, that is the first time the stoic coach has ever uttered those words, or anything remotely like them.

Reid and the organization are certainly taking big broadsides of criticism from fans for trading McNabb within the division. Bill Belichick traded Drew Bledsoe to the AFC East rival Buffalo Bills in 2002, but he could justify it because the Patriots received a first-round pick in exchange.

Many fans and critics of the deal suggest the Eagles should have gotten more from an NFC East rival with the talent and a head coach -- Mike Shanahan -- capable of exacting revenge on an Eagles team in the midst of a total shakeup.

Indeed, no team in the NFL has undergone a more complete overhaul this offseason. In all, 12 players from last year's team are gone, allowed to leave or traded. That's the highest number of departures of any roster in the league.

The average age of those 12 players: 30.2 years old. The team has added six players, with an average age of 25.3 years. In fact, the Eagles now have the fewest position players in the league age 30 or older: one, defensive end Juqua Parker, who is 31. And the average age of the Eagles' prospective starters on offense is 24.

And, in the first year with no salary cap since it was instituted in 1993, the Eagles have shed more than $20 million in salary obligations from the roster.

So by dealing McNabb and hastily ushering in the Kevin Kolb era (Kolb is 25), Roseman has remade the team in his own image.

But why trade McNabb, who made the Pro Bowl as an alternate last season and lead the Eagles to a wild-card playoff berth?

First, it was a matter of timing. McNabb's contract pays him $11 million this year (including the roster bonus), and the Eagles were not going to offer him a long-term deal -- something he asked for and did not get last season.

And, more importantly, after 11 years in the league, McNabb was just too inconsistent for the Eagles' front office, a fact that Reid often rationalized or ignored. Last season, McNabb finished 17th in the league in passing yards, and 20th in completion percentage (60.3). In the final two losses to the Dallas Cowboys -- a completely demoralizing two weeks -- McNabb completed only 53 percent of his passes.

In fact, the Eagles averaged 10 points a game in three losses to Dallas last season. And something had to give.

But sending McNabb to Washington, making the Redskins instantly better and handing the keys of the kingdom to the inexperienced Kolb, is a huge gamble for this franchise.

"If you're lucky enough to stay around as long as I have, then you're going to go through situations like this where you have to go in a different direction," Reid said. "Obviously we have a lot of confidence in Kevin Kolb to make this decision. He will be the starting quarterback. As far as Washington goes, we thought this was the best for Donovan, and obviously the compensation was right. This will be a good situation for Donovan."

But the big question remains: This time next year, will it be a good situation for the Eagles?

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