DONOVAN McNABB wore white. Andy Reid wore black, as usual.
All the scene lacked was a little piped-in organ music, someone with the authority to consecrate the union, and maybe a best man.
No one among the assembled media was wearing a clerical collar, but reporters tried to fill one of the missing roles: "Do you, Andy, take Donovan to be your duly appointed No. 1 quarterback, through slumps and the occasional confused-looking 2-minute drill, over the next two seasons? If so, signify by saying 'I do.' "
Or, "Do you, Donovan, accept that you're being given 2 years of job security here, to win a Super Bowl, during which time management pledges not to mess with your head, and you in turn vow to go back to functioning as the face of the franchise, to stop questioning where you stand? If so, signify by saying 'I do.' "
Bottom line, they did. Although, if McNabb was overjoyed to get an extra $5.3 million to $6.3 million over the next two seasons, with some of his 2010 money guaranteed, he did a good job of hiding it.
"You tell me," McNabb said, when asked if the deal made him confident he will be the Eagles' starter for the next 2 years. When his questioner seemed puzzled by the response, McNabb said: "I'll be here. I'll be here for years to come."
Asked if the questions he'd raised going into the offseason, in the wake of his benching for the second half of a Nov. 23 loss in Baltimore, had been answered, McNabb said: "I'm comfortable right now. I'm comfortable at this point because of the team we have and the confidence level . . . Going into training camp, guys are excited about what we can do. That's where my comfort level is right now."
Over and over again, McNabb referred to the 2 years. McNabb did not get an extension, he got validation that the Eagles believe he is their starter right now and that he should be paid among the top 5 quarterbacks in the NFL, which is where agent Fletcher Smith said his client will be, with $24.5 million or so, plus another possible million in incentives, to be earned over the next two seasons. McNabb ranked 10th in the quarterback salary listings released by the NFLPA at the start of the offseason. He was scheduled to make about $9.2 million this season, $10 million next season.
"I looked at it as the situation that these 2 years are very important," McNabb said. "With the type of team that we have, I think it's important that we focus on what we have to do to achieve that common goal, and that's obviously to win a Super Bowl . . . Anything past that will take care of itself . . . In these 2 years, we feel like we can get the job done."
Not present in the NovaCare auditorium, because he was leading a team mainly made up of Eagles office workers in softball tournament combat on the practice fields behind the building, was team chairman Jeffrey Lurie.
Lurie took a break to explain the team's motivation, after doubling down the leftfield line against the Steelers, and eventually scoring on a sacrifice fly. He alluded to "a sense of fairness" in addressing a contract signed back in 2002.
"The franchise quarterback is really the face of the franchise, the head coach and the franchise quarterback," Lurie said, sweatily. "When you run a sports team, there's times when you have to understand what you have, and [display] a sense of fairness with a guy who's been the face of your franchise for so long. He never complained once in the 7 years of his contract. It's just a win-win, I thought."
Other Eagles with contract concerns, such as cornerback Sheldon Brown, might not quite see it that way. (Brown did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.) The Birds agreed to revise Brian Westbrook's contract last year, and Lito Sheppard didn't like that.
Brown is a valiant warrior. He is not Westbrook or McNabb. Also, in McNabb's case, as Lurie mentioned, the contract dates to 2002, and has 2 years remaining, not the 4 that Brown has left.
"It was most appropriate to make some adjustments on it so that he can be rewarded commensurate with how he plays," team president Joe Banner said of McNabb. "It was the fair thing to do. We do try to be fair with the guys."
The team started talking to Smith about a new deal for McNabb back in 2006, just before McNabb suffered a season-ending ACL tear. The premise when the 2002 deal was signed was that high McNabb cap figures would force the Eagles to revisit the matter long before expiration. But McNabb and the offense have had their ups and downs, the cap has expanded so much that McNabb's figure late in the contract wasn't all that high, and the McNabb camp has been frustrated in its attempts to get the matter addressed.
As Smith, Reid, Banner and Lurie mentioned yesterday, the expiring collective bargaining agreement and uncertainty over the future of the salary cap made an extension complicated.
"We could be here in November still working on an extension," said Smith, who added that McNabb didn't want to be dickering over his contract once the season started. "He had a sense of urgency to get it done. His objective was to put it behind him so he could concentrate on football."
But it's also true that the Eagles might be less sure about McNabb being here until retirement than they were in the fall of 2006. Adding some money to the current deal keeps the Eagles' options open. There is no signing bonus to amortize, a source close to the situation said. If the Birds really want McNabb in 2011, and haven't agreed to another deal by then, there are always such tools as the franchise tag, Lurie noted yesterday.
Maybe that facet explained why McNabb didn't seem overjoyed: The undercurrent here clearly is that the Eagles pretty much are requiring him to win a Super Bowl in the next 2 years. You can concoct scenarios where McNabb plays tremendously and the Birds somehow don't win a championship, so they still want him, but most likely, Lombardi Trophy equals Donovan retires as an Eagle. Two more years of coming up short equals Plan B, probably Kevin Kolb, although right now, Kolb, like McNabb, is only signed through 2010.
"We didn't even go there," Reid said, when asked if this agreement could lead to an extension down the road. "This is something that both sides felt we needed to get done now. Like I said, the landscape of the NFL right now is a little uneasy on what's going to take place in the future. We'll cross that bridge when it happens. Right now, both sides feel very good about this, and that's the important thing."
McNabb, 32, made it clear, though, that he plans to play more than 2 more years.
"Absolutely," said McNabb, the first player drafted by the Reid regime, second overall, in 1999. "And I've always said that I would like to retire here, but that's not going to be in 2 years. Again, like I said, my main focus, as well as coach's, is to focus in on what we have to do in these next 2 years, and we feel like with the guys we have in this locker room, we can get this job done." *
For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.