'THIS IS GOING to be an important offseason for us, no matter how you look at it," Donovan McNabb said. It was a truthful mouthful, prior to his customary dance.

You know the limbo, the one in which he says they need more weapons, every which way, including maybe at quarterback - ha, ha, ha - but, "I'm not pinpointing any position." You know, the one in which McNabb greeted a follow-up question with, "Nice try. You know what I mean. It's important with the draft and free agency. Nice try."

With that, the offseason dynamic begins. They had just allowed McNabb to drop back 45 times on a rain-slick field in a meaningless game, suggesting that 8-8 really was somehow significant to Andy Reid's team, suggesting that another day of confident success against another lousy defense really did mean something to McNabb after an inconsistent season.

So, after yesterday's 17-9 win over the Buffalo Bills, it really does seem as if the franchise has positioned itself in such a way that McNabb is likely to be the starting quarterback in 2008. They would be negligent not to consider a trade if somebody made a significant offer but, short of that, it sounds as if he is coming back.

It is important, though, that everyone recognizes that bringing back McNabb creates an entirely different offseason dynamic than starting anew with Kevin Kolb. It creates an imperative, a focus on now. Kolb would be about turning the page and developing and starting to keep score in 2009. McNabb is different. McNabb has to be different.

And, so, three positions:

Tight end, guard, wide receiver.

With Kolb, you can develop.

With McNabb, you should transfuse.

Start at tight end. To me, rookie Brent Celek looks like a kid who can play. He catches the ball and he seems to have some instincts after the catch. He had a really tough day blocking in the opener at Green Bay, but he seemed to improve as the season went on.

During the offseason, Celek said yesterday, his primary focus needed to be on "getting stronger and getting faster." Overall, he would seem to be a guy a team could grow with. The problem is that, with McNabb, this cannot be about growing.

McNabb himself said yesterday, "I think Celek is going to be a great player, but it would be big for us to get L.J. back."

With Kolb, you could take your time. With McNabb, you need to find a way to placate Smith or go find a veteran tight end.

Next, there is the left guard position. It is no secret that the Eagles had a problem with pressure up the middle this season, and that left guard Todd Herremans didn't have a great year. So, what do you do?

If you have time to grow with a guy, the answer would be to put Max Jean-Gilles in at left guard and move Herremans back to being a backup tackle, which not only is his natural position but also a bit of a priority, given the way Winston Justice has played in his two extended appearances this year (including yesterday, after right tackle Jon Runyan suffered a first-quarter concussion).

But can you do that with McNabb? Can you be breaking in a young left guard or do you have to go get somebody, just to be sure?

Finally, there is the wide receiver question. This, admittedly, is a minority view, but I think Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown are fine as your top two receivers. Curtis' 77-catch, 1,110-yard season speaks for itself. As for Brown, it easily can be argued that after a couple of early-season drops, McNabb stopped throwing him the ball for a while (and, really, kind of stopped throwing it to anybody on the outside).

Brown was not consistent early, and that was disappointing, but it does not mean that he cannot play. He is still a young player.

If you want to bring in a veteran third receiver, fine. But the question then becomes this: Will that placate McNabb (and, frankly, the fan base)?

It is Our Municipal Obsession, this wide receiver thing. If the Eagles do not go out and get somebody, and if McNabb starts out slowly next season, the outcry will be immediate. It will be worse than what went on for the last 6 months. You remember:

It's Donovan's fault . . .

But he has no receivers . . .

But he won't throw the ball . . .

But nobody's open . . .

My sister . . .

My daughter . . .

My sister . . .

My daughter . . .

Does anybody have the stomach for a repeat of that, only louder?

If they don't go out and get a wide receiver of some import, though, that is the risk the Eagles will run. Because bringing back Donovan McNabb creates its own set of priorities for the 2008 Eagles.

And the top priority will be now. *

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