Donovan McNabb’s low, rumbling laugh reverberated through the phone.
Had the Eagles’ all-time passing leader, now happily retired in Arizona, ever been through a week like this one -- the fan base lashing out in disappointment, the franchise quarterback dealing with anonymous criticisms that might have come from a close teammate, as a once-promising season hung in the balance?
Why, yes, McNabb said. As a matter of fact, those circumstances sounded vaguely familiar.
What advice, then, would McNabb offer Carson Wentz, under siege behind the walls of NovaCare?
“Closed ears, closed mouth,” said McNabb, who will be inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame on Nov. 7.
In other words, don’t listen to the gossip, and don’t feed the flames.
McNabb said it is important at such a time for teammates to see the quarterback working on his own game, not seeking out critics or trying to direct the parceling out of blame.
“You should be trying to perfect your craft. What are you doing wrong? What can you correct?” McNabb said. “Get it cleaned up. They need to see you working on yourself, working with the offensive coordinator.”
Wentz was asked Wednesday how much blame he accepts for the Eagles’ struggles.
“I take a lot of it. I think there’s lots of plays in these losses that I’d love to have back,” said Wentz, who turned the ball over three times in a blowout loss at Dallas Sunday night. “I think everyone would say the same thing. There’s a lot of execution, a lot of good plays we leave out there.”
Anonymous quotes, McNabb said, should be “addressed in front of everyone.”
McNabb was at the center of the storm more than a few times during his 11-season Eagles career. He tried several tactics in dealing with being the target of disaffected wide receiver Terrell Owens in 2005, starting with joking -- "As a child growing up, I dreamed of being an actor, and now I am an actor in ‘Days of Our Lives,’ ” --- and quickly moving on to directing Owens to “keep my name out of your mouth.”
Of course, although McNabb did face anonymous criticisms at times, Owens wasn’t anonymous, he was going on national TV shows that summer to call McNabb “a hypocrite,” among other things, as Owens attempted to bulldoze a path off the team that wouldn’t revise his six-year contract in the second season. This is a small-town carnival compared to that circus, which ended with Owens’ release.
Wentz went over to stretch with Jeffery at the start of Wednesday’s practice, instead of staying with the other QBs, a gesture possibly intended for the benefit of reporters watching.
“Carson stretches all the time. Next to each other every once in a while. We were just laughing, joking, having fun,” Jeffery said.
McNabb said Wentz should understand that “you can’t please everyone,” and that eventually, all of this will be resolved. If you’re the 26-year-old franchise quarterback, who just signed a four-year, $128 million contract extension, it will be resolved in exactly one way, he said.
“[Unhappy teammates] will go someplace else, and your career will continue,” said McNabb, whose Eagles tenure outlasted that of Owens by four seasons.
Wentz was asked Wednesday if he had spoken with Jeffery, who has not acknowledged being the source of the critical ESPN report.
“We’ve all had conversations and everything,” Wentz said. “Everyone’s good. Everyone’s going forward and on the same page.”
Pressed on the nature of the conversations and the identities of those conversing, Wentz demurred.
“That’s always handled internally. That’s not the way we like to do things, through the media like that, so we’re not going to resolve it through the media, either,” he said.
“Those things are all in-house things, and we put ‘em behind us.”
Does he understand the interest people have in what is being said and done, as the losses mount?
“Absolutely. You guys can have all the interest you want, but internally, we’re going to keep that stuff tight, and keep it tight going forward, for sure,” Wentz said.
“We don’t like when those things happen. Without a doubt, it’s concerning. So we handle it internally and move on.”
As Wentz deals with criticism, he can rely on a resource McNabb employed: Doug Pederson, the veteran QB McNabb learned from as a 1999 rookie, who later returned to start his NFL coaching career as an offensive assistant in McNabb’s final Eagles season. Pederson often references his time in Green Bay, backing up Brett Favre, and he did so when McNabb knew him, as well.
“Doug taught me how to prepare,” McNabb said. “He told me things Brett went through that he wanted me to avoid.”
In times of trouble, McNabb said he relied on advice from Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Favre, and Michael Jordan, along with “guys I trained with, guys I played with at the Pro Bowl.”
Wentz, asked Wednesday about his sources of guidance through tough times, went a rung higher than Jordan, even.
“To God,” he said. “I pray. I think we all need a lot of prayer. When things are struggling, I always look up and remember there’s a bigger picture. And obviously, my wife [Madison] is always there.”
McNabb wondered if the anonymous criticism Wentz took last season for supposedly relying too much on tight end Zach Ertz was affecting Wentz now – Ertz wasn’t targeted in the first half of the Dallas loss, hasn’t been targeted in the first quarter of any of the last three games.
“Now it seems like he’s trying to go through reads instead of doing what’s comfortable,” McNabb said.
Wentz said criticism “doesn’t factor into my decision-making or anything.”
Wentz’s message Wednesday was one that could have been delivered by McNabb, on any one of several occasions 10-to-15 years back.
“We’ve been in tough spots before. We’re 3-4. Not where we want to be, but we know where we’re headed, we have a lot of confidence in this locker room that we’re going to get it right,” Wentz said.
“The sky isn’t falling.”