It finally happened.

For the first time since becoming head coach and anointing Donovan McNabb as the Eagles' starting quarterback, Andy Reid acknowledged last night that McNabb won't hold the position for the remainder of eternity.

Until the Eagles took Kevin Kolb of the University of Houston with the 36th pick of the NFL draft, it sometimes seemed that way.

But significant injuries in the last few years - including the knee ligament tear that put McNabb out of action last season - have the Eagles thinking it might be time to find a replacement.

Kolb is only the third quarterback drafted by Reid since taking McNabb with the second pick of the 1999 draft, and the only one taken higher than the fifth round (A.J. Feeley, fifth round, 2001; Andy Hall, sixth, 2004).

Make no mistake. The Eagles believed they drafted their next starting quarterback last night. The question now is this: When does the new kid take over?

Leave aside for a moment the other question, whether Kolb was a good pick and will become a legitimate NFL quarterback. No one knows the answer to that one right now.

He has some obvious drawbacks, as did all the quarterbacks that were left on the board after JaMarcus Russell was taken by Oakland with the first pick of the draft. If you seriously want to debate whether Kolb should have been selected ahead of Drew Stanton of Michigan State or John Beck of BYU, go right ahead. There were the same debates in 1999 regarding the relative merits of McNabb, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Daunte Culpepper and Cade McNown. Only time settles those arguments.

Kolb played against so-so competition in college, never took a snap from under center, had some accuracy issues, and fumbled the ball more than one would like. He also averaged 259 yards passing in a 50-game career and threw 85 touchdowns and just 31 interceptions. Is he destined to be a McNabb or a McNown? Let you know in a few years.

Whether Kolb is the right guy is beside the point today. The point is that the Eagles are admitting it is time to find another guy.

For the last several years, as McNabb has endured injuries and lived with the fact that the Eagles came up short in the biggest games of his career, it was accepted as an article of faith that Reid would do nothing to undermine his quarterback's confidence.

That belief extended right up to this off-season, when the team's unwillingness to re-sign Jeff Garcia, who led the Eagles to an unexpected surge to the playoffs, was interpreted as another example. Garcia became a fan favorite and it seemed the team wanted no part of hearing his name chanted from the stands if McNabb's return this coming season started off slowly.

Apparently, there is no similar concern regarding a rookie quarterback who will be 23 this season as he stands on the sideline holding a clipboard, the third-stringer slotted behind McNabb and Feeley on the depth chart.

None yet, anyway.

"This is not about Donovan McNabb and his progress [in rehabilitation]. He's doing great, will continue to do great and is going to have a heck of a year and for years to come," said Reid, who left a telephone message for McNabb after failing to reach him last night.

The purpose of the call? To tell his five-time Pro Bowl quarterback "not to worry." And why would that be necessary?

Kolb (pronounced Cobb) is just glad to be drafted and was nearly as surprised as everyone else when the Eagles took him with the fourth pick of the second round, their initial selection of a very long day.

"It was a shock," Kolb said. "Obviously as an athlete, you feel you are as capable as anyone else on the board. . . . I thought I could play as well as any other quarterback on the board, but I am from a smaller school and I am used to being overlooked. I am used to not getting all the hype. I think that helped me out through this process. I kept my mouth shut, did my work, stayed right and it paid off."

So much for all the mock drafts that insisted the Eagles would use their first pick to address needs on the defensive side of the ball. Several highlyrated defensive backs, including Eric Weddle of Utah and Chris Houston of Arkansas, were still available when the Eagles took Kolb.

Obviously, the Eagles believed that getting a quarterback for the future was more important than filling the holes left by the departures of safety Michael Lewis and cornerback Rod Hood. Getting someone to replace McNabb eventually was more important than getting depth at defensive end, additional talent at linebacker, a big running back or another capable wide receiver.

As McNabb has recovered from knee surgery, the Eagles have consistently said he is "ahead of schedule."

After last night, so is the search for his successor.