YOU HAD TO read between the lines, which were being painted in vivid shades of blue, red, green and yellow yesterday afternoon, at the Potter-Thomas School on North Sixth Street in West Kensington.
Eagles president Joe Banner put down his paintbrush at the Eagles Youth Partnership's 13th annual playground build long enough to talk to a few reporters, who pressed Banner for information on the possibility of a reworked contract for quarterback Donovan McNabb, first reported by Comcast SportsNet's Derrick Gunn on Tuesday evening.
Banner did not want to go into specifics about McNabb's situation. But by the time he had finished addressing "hypothetical" scenarios, explaining why in a circumstance like McNabb's a reworking might be conceivable, it seemed clear that the Birds must indeed be discussing such a venture with agent Fletcher Smith, who could not be reached for comment. It seems unlikely something like this will drag on too long - Banner has a bunch of rookies to sign before training camp starts July 26 at Lehigh. McNabb should be renouncing his vow of silence and resuming his role as the smiling face of the franchise before that date.
"I don't want to speak about individual situations, but we've been really clear there are situations that warrant being aggressive," Banner said. "We did it with Brian Westbrook. So we aren't sitting here with some sort of inflexible, absolute rule, that sign a contract and you're toast. There are circumstances, and from our perspective they have to be fairly extreme.
"You have a situation here where Donovan is 5 years into a 7-year contract [extension], and obviously not only the numbers but the distance into a contract somebody is will affect our evaluation as whether something warrants being addressed.
"Our position has been in those very limited number of instances where there's a really compelling case that something's dramatically out of line enough that a fair thing to do is adjust it, we've already proven that we're willing to do that."
Banner agreed with a reporter's recollection, that when McNabb's deal was signed in 2002, both sides felt a $10 million cap charge by 2009 would be so high that the Eagles would be highly motivated to rework the contract. That was one of the arguments the team used in getting McNabb to agree to the deal.
The salary cap was $71 million back then. It's $127 million now, and the once-unfathomable McNabb cap figure is pretty mundane. The team's motivation now is to keep McNabb happy and focused, as the Eagles try to take their place where Banner yesterday said he feels they belong - among the top echelon of Super Bowl contenders.
"We thought the cap number would be too high, it'd be eating up too big a piece," Banner agreed.
He also agreed that the prospect of an uncapped year in 2010 and a new collective bargaining agreement affects "everything," presumably including contract extensions, which was what McNabb originally sought. Reworking the existing years ought to be a lot less complicated.
McNabb did not want to discuss his contract, when approached in the locker room after yesterday's workout. He indicated he has decided to communicate solely through his blog for now, since, he feels, everything he says is blown out of proportion. "I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't," he lamented.
McNabb was willing to discuss the NBA Finals - he likes the Lakers in six, and feels Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu might be playing better on the road than at home because Turkoglu and his wife have an infant daughter. (You'll recall DMac slumped right before his wife gave birth to twins last season.) Also, McNabb feels Jameer Nelson has been out too long to come back and be a difference-maker in the Finals.
Obviously, the first thing many people thought of when they heard a reworking might be in progress for McNabb was that cornerback Sheldon Brown would love to get such consideration. Brown asked for a trade in April, and is sitting in South Carolina right now instead of attending the current round of voluntary organized team activities, because the Eagles have refused to address his contract. He signed his extension in 2004, and it runs through 2012.
There are good reasons why a team might want to rework Brown's contract, starting with the fact that he has been the epitome of a team player, never missing a game in seven seasons, playing through fairly serious injuries, such as a sports hernia. But Brown has 4 years remaining, not 2, and he does not have the stature of McNabb, or even Westbrook, who eventually got his compensation adjusted last year with 3 years remaining on a contract.
Nobody in the locker room wants to talk about whether this guy ought to get something while that guy does not. But several players and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg made it clear yesterday that they see McNabb as being vital to the team's Super Bowl hopes.
"There's no question" about the organization's commitment to McNabb, who is "right in the middle of an outstanding career. I think one day he'll be most likely elected to the Hall of Fame," Mornhinweg said.
Mornhinweg indicated that McNabb "has some work to do" before the Hall is a certainty, but said McNabb "has been and will play at a high level for quite some time."
"That's our guy," said wideout Kevin Curtis. "Guys like him don't come around every day. I sure hope he's not going anywhere any time soon. As long as I'm here, I want him back there."
Wideout Hank Baskett, scheduled to play this season under a 1-year, restricted-free-agent tender, said he sees no sign that McNabb is aging as he prepares for his 11th season, at age 32. "The guy's got great ability now, and he has many years left, I obviously feel."
Wideout DeSean Jackson said McNabb is "the same Donovan, he hasn't changed, goofy, having fun, jumping around" during this week's workouts.
"I think [the contract] eventually will happen," Jackson said. "It's no rush. Of course he wants to get it done, and everything, but as long as it happens, that's the biggest thing. I think he's patient . . . he's not going to be a bad person about it, at all." *
For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.