His second-half benching last season in Baltimore highlighted the question:
How long will Donovan McNabb be the guy for the Eagles?
Yesterday's formal announcement of an improved deal for the final two years of McNabb's current contract provided an answer of sorts:
At least for the next two years.
McNabb's contract was not extended. But the Eagles quarterback will earn more money, some of it guaranteed. McNabb's agent, Fletcher Smith, said that McNabb was due to make $19.2 million over the next two years, and that the renegotiated deal is worth $24.5 million with another $1 million in incentives.
Smith said the deal made McNabb one of the top three or four quarterbacks in the NFL in terms of pay.
"This is very warranted and earned and everything else - every other term you can add to that," said Eagles coach Andy Reid.
McNabb, who said he was happy with the deal, was asked why he had not tried to negotiate an extension.
"These two years are very important," McNabb said. "We'll handle everything else later."
McNabb added that he "absolutely" planned to play beyond two years.
"I've always said I'd like to retire here. But that's not going to be in two years," McNabb said.
McNabb didn't deny that, in addition to contract talks, he had been looking for clarification that he was still the guy for the Eagles.
"There was communication with all of us," McNabb said at a news conference yesterday morning. "We talked about a few things."
"I think we have the best quarterback in the National Football League," Reid said at the news conference. "I've said that many times. I'm very partial to Donovan on that and respect him for the things he's done. That's the important part."
With the NFL's collective bargaining agreement due to expire after this season and nobody knowing what the salary cap will be after that, or even if there will be a salary cap, both sides said they were content with the current deal.
"Not having to deal with the contract talks during the course of the season, that was the urgency," Smith said. "It's an easier conversation than discussing an extension. Is it five years? Is it six years? How much guaranteed money? What about the CBA? All those issues come into play. We could be here in November still talking about an extension."
"The landscape of the NFL right now is a little uneasy," Reid said.
The contract talks really began in late February or early March, said Eagles president Joe Banner, and there was brief discussion about an extension.
"We switched to two years very quickly," Banner said. "Frankly, we both wanted to do something that was really simple, so that he could stay focused on football, and the team was focused on having the best year it could."
Both Banner and Reid made it clear that McNabb's deal didn't change the team's overall strategy in redoing contracts. Banner said he didn't "see any comparisons" between this deal and cornerback Sheldon Brown's contract situation. Brown is looking to renegotiate his deal.
"We've said that there are some very limited number of what we'd say are extraordinary situations where the value of a contract and where the market warrant addressing a contract," Banner said. "Those are very rare. They're very much the exceptions. Obviously, in this case we thought it met the criteria."
Smith said there likely would have been a conversation about a new deal after four or five seasons if McNabb hadn't gotten injured. Even when this deal was signed in 2002, there was talk of renegotiating it before it expired.
"It's eight years into his contract," Banner said. "Guessing what the value should be in the ninth year of a contract is totally difficult. It was appropriate to make some adjustments so that he was rewarded commensurate with the way he plays. . . . He's a very, very high-character, very, very competitive guy. I've never seen him in his happiest or frustrated moments do anything other than give everything he has and care deeply about winning. So none of us were worried about any of that. We just kind of wanted to do what we thought was fair here."
Banner added: "At the risk of saying something very counterintuitive to this marketplace, it was the fair thing to do. We do try to be fair with the guys. In this situation, we felt if we didn't make an adjustment in light of where he was at in the timing of the contract, it wouldn't be fair. That motivated us. He obviously had similar motivations, and it worked out."
ESPN.com reported in late February that McNabb wanted to hold off on a contract extension until he saw what personnel moves the Eagles made in the off-season.
"My main thing was to make sure the guys we have in this locker room, the guys we drafted, and [obtained through] free agency . . . are going to be able to help us, and I feel like we have that," McNabb said. "We can definitely take steps further. Last year, we were just that close. I think we can get over that hump and finish this thing off."
Asked if there was a point, a specific time, when he felt this was going to be a good situation, McNabb said, "Today."
The Eagles released DT Trevor Jenkins, a rookie free agent from Middle Tennessee State.