Donovan McNabb Faces More Pressure Than Any NFL QB in 2009
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- When he wasn't defending Michael Vick or panning Terrell Owens' reality show, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb spent his Monday morning news conference talking about the Eagles. It was the first day of training camp for a team with Super Bowl dreams -- a team whose president is publicly saying has the best roster in the league. But McNabb, who showed up four days earlier than he had to so he could work with the rookies, was downplaying expectations.
"We've got a lot of 20, 21-year-old kids on this team," McNabb said. "It goes back to, can you do the same things you did in college at the pro level? Some can, some can't. So it's hard to know what we have."
Well, McNabb can soft-pedal all he wants, but the fact is there's no quarterback in the league under more pressure than he is to win in 2009.
Oh yeah, you can argue Matt Cassel in Kansas City or Tony Romo in Dallas or Jay Cutler in Chicago. They're all up against it for any number of reasons. But not one of them is facing the kind of pressure McNabb is facing this year, mainly because he has so much more going for him than any of those guys do.
Five conference championship games in eight years isn't good enough in Philadelphia. Not when the Phillies just won the World Series, not when you're losing those conference championship games to teams like the Cardinals, not with Kevin Kolb lofting those effortless spirals on the first day, and not when your team just bought you so many new toys.
The Eagles this off-season rebuilt McNabb's offensive line for him, beefing up the right side with the free-agent addition of Stacy Andrews and trading for Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters to defend McNabb's blind side. They spent their first three draft picks on a receiver (Jeremy Maclin, who's still not in camp yet because Al Davis screwed up and now nobody can figure out what to pay the first-round receivers), a running back (LeSean McCoy) and a tight end (Cornelius Ingram). They didn't give McNabb the contract extension he was looking for, but they did add a total of $5.3 million to the two years he does have left on it.
All of these moves appear designed to make the quarterback happy and comfortable so that he might do in his 11th season what he was unable to do in the first 10 -- deliver a Super Bowl title and a green-and-white-confetti parade down Broad Street.
McNabb? He's not playing along.
"For me to sit here and say we're a Super Bowl team, or we're going to win the Super Bowl, I don't believe in that," McNabb said. "I think at the end of the year we'll find that out. We have a great team. We have great talent here. We just have to put the pieces of the puzzle together, and if we do that, I think we can probably write our own ticket and be able to finish this thing off in Miami. But no matter who we bring in here, we've got to go out on the field together and perform."
He said he'll miss longtime teammate Brian Dawkins, who left via free agency and whose absence will surely be felt in the secondary. He spoke of the challenges of getting in sync with Andrews and Peters after so many years with Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan in those key spots on the O-line. He said he'd expect his team president to make a statement like the one he made the other day, and while he didn't say he disagreed with it, he wanted to make it clear that he's not the kind of guy who's going to draw any conclusions about his roster on July 27.
Which is fine.
But when you play quarterback in Philadelphia for a decade, you can't be unaware of the expectations. McNabb got benched in the second half of a Week 12 loss to Baltimore last November. And while he and the team rebounded, finished 4-1, got a ton of help on the final weekend to make the playoffs and won their first two playoff games, that benching is recent enough that McNabb shouldn't have forgotten it.
Are there questions with the Eagles? Sure. Brian Westbrook's ankle, Kevin Curtis' groin and the safety position are three big ones. But the Eagles have a ton of depth at all of those spots and should be able to find the answers. You can argue for the Giants or the Vikings or the Bears or whomever, but the Eagles look loaded and deserve to be in the late-July conversation among the favorites to win the NFC and the Super Bowl.
It's not an unfamiliar position for Donovan McNabb. The Eagles have been title contenders for the bulk of his career. He just hasn't been able to cash that in with a Lombardi Trophy.
If he can't do it this year, he may find that he's blown his best chance. And maybe his last.