The Eagles have a problem. A big problem. They've lost control of their franchise quarterback, and that has the potential to get real ugly.
It might not seem like a big deal, but Donovan McNabb went on a public-relations blitz yesterday, far away from the protective eyes, ears and hands at the NovaCare Complex. He didn't inform the Eagles of his intentions. He just had his new publicist, a longtime Eagles employee whom the team recently let go, set up interviews with The Inquirer and a few other media outlets so McNabb could get his message out.
That message? He's not upset that the team used its top pick in last month's draft on a quarterback, but he isn't happy that there is a perception that he is upset.
After a series of public-relations missteps, there is an inaccurate portrait of the quarterback, he said, and it's time for it to change.
"Every situation I felt could have been handled the right way, and I don't think it has [been]," McNabb told The Inquirer. "From what has been put out there when I don't speak to when I do speak, what comes after that, there shouldn't be a battle of the words I said. . . . Once I say something, they can take it however they want. That's the main thing. No matter what I say or how it comes out or how people may perceive it, I can't control that."
The Eagles did not know about McNabb's scheduled interviews yesterday until I told them. They were dumbfounded. In one second, they had lost control.
If we've learned anything about the Eagles under the regime of Jeffrey Lurie, Joe Banner and Andy Reid, it is this: The team and all the decisions that affect it are theirs. They run the show. The popular vote doesn't rule. They do.
So you take control away from this regime, and what do you have?
This might seem soap operatic, but McNabb clearly was upset that the Eagles recently fired Rich Burg, an assistant director in their media services department for more than a decade. One of Burg's top priorities in recent years was to coordinate McNabb's interviews. He was McNabb's guide through the maze that is the national media market.
Burg handled all of McNabb's requests, and typically sat in on the interviews. Although Burg apparently had some inadequacies the Eagles decided they no longer could live with, McNabb trusted him.
So after getting hammered for not publicly reacting to the Eagles' choice of Kevin Kolb with their second-round draft pick, McNabb decided yesterday to get some things off his chest. In most but not all cases in the NFL, the team would have arranged the interviews. McNabb asked Burg to do so.
The Eagles said they offered to issue a statement on McNabb's behalf last week and then offered to set up interviews for McNabb in advance of this weekend's minicamp. The quarterback is rehabilitating his right knee after a torn anterior cruciate ligament ended his 2006 season.
Told about the statement offer, McNabb said: "Really? Is that what they said?"
McNabb was told that the Eagles said he was not interested in offering a statement.
"First of all, that's a shock to me," McNabb said. "I'm not here to bash the Eagles at all. I felt like when the time for me to speak was there, I would speak. My main focus is on my rehab and to get myself back healthy and ready to go. I would love to participate in this camp. That was my focus, but I knew I wasn't going to be able to participate in this camp, so there was no need for me to put out a written statement or send a message.
"The quote for that should have been, 'Well, he's focusing on his rehab.' You're hearing different things of people speaking for me, or 'he's not available to talk because he's hurt.' I didn't know about that, either."
The team said McNabb rebuffed its offers with vague uh-huhs and maybes. Whatever the truth, McNabb clearly had his own plans, and he didn't feel the need to enlighten his employer about them. That's a problem for the Eagles. A me-versus-them dynamic appears to have developed.
Things might have started going south at the end of last season, when Reid abruptly canceled a McNabb news conference. McNabb wanted to give an update on his rehab and talk about his expectations for next season. Reid didn't think that was necessary.
"I wasn't told not to speak," McNabb said. "It was a matter of whether that was a situation: Was it the best thing for me to speak? We both talked about it, and I thought it was best that people understood that I was rehabbing and looking forward to getting back. That was kind of the statement I needed to get out. . . . Then you hear that injured guys don't talk."
And so it goes.
Plenty of NFL players employ independent publicists, so McNabb's decision is not unprecedented. But McNabb's displeasure has to trouble the Eagles. There is disharmony. He obviously feels people inside the organization are not looking out for his best interests, and that's not good.
"You hate to see somebody you've trusted and has worked wonders for you go," McNabb said of Burg. "That's why I'm working with him now, and we're hoping to change some of the things around that have happened. I trust Rich, and he has done wonderful things for me, and we will continue to work well together."
Granted, it could be much worse. But it's problematic nonetheless.