The Eagles did the right thing by Donovan McNabb. Now it's up to McNabb to do the right thing by the Eagles. To his credit, the franchise quarterback fully grasps what that right thing is.
"I think it's important that we focused in on what we have to do in order to achieve that common goal, and that's obviously to win a Super Bowl," McNabb said yesterday. "These two years are very important to me, because I believe that we can get the job done."
From the day he was drafted with the second pick in 1999, McNabb has been treated by the Eagles as an elite quarterback. He certainly has been paid like one. By tweaking his contract to keep his pay scale among the top QBs in the league, the Eagles ensured that he would continue to be paid like one.
The expectation for elite quarterbacks is simple: Win a championship. That has been the expectation for McNabb from the beginning, the companion to the series of contracts, bonuses, and salaries he has collected during his career. He received this latest bump in pay because he has demonstrated to the satisfaction of reasonable minds that he is capable of meeting that expectation.
That he hasn't yet is a source of frustration to everyone from Jeff Lurie to Andy Reid, to the fans who pack Lincoln Financial Field and spike the TV ratings every week, and to McNabb himself.
"You know when you get so close six times - one time to be in the Super Bowl - you feel like it's going to happen," McNabb said. "When is it going to happen? Well, hopefully in these next two years."
At another point, he said, "Last year, we were just that close, and I think we can get over that hump and finish this thing up."
There is plenty of room for debate on why the Eagles have fallen short during the Reid-McNabb era. Some people blame the coach. Some people blame the quarterback. Some people blame the owner and club president Joe Banner. Some people blame the tides or the lunar cycle or that ticked-off Quaker, Billy Penn.
The feeling here has always been that McNabb is a good enough quarterback, that he has been asked to do more with less than his ring-wearing contemporaries, and that each near-miss resulted from a unique set of circumstances. This position can be reduced to a simple observation:
Every year he has been healthy since he became a full-time starter, McNabb has taken the Eagles to the playoffs, and the only year he had a world-class wide receiver (Terrell something-or-other), he went to the Super Bowl.
But debating old issues really isn't the point here. Even if you're like me and you don't blame McNabb for the lack of a Lombardi Trophy in the NovaCare Complex lobby, it is still reasonable to expect him to deliver one before his career is over. If he wasn't the problem, he can still certainly provide the solution.
That is what great quarterbacks do. They find ways to win, even if it sometimes means overcoming shortcomings elsewhere. It is why they tend to be better paid than everyone else in the locker room. It is why the job comes with a complimentary lightning rod.
There is no double standard here for disgruntled cornerback Sheldon Brown, by the way. The Eagles have treated elite players a certain way for years: McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Brian Dawkins. All this means is that they don't consider Brown to be in the class of player who needs attention with four years left on his contract.
McNabb's 2009 and 2010 salaries were based on a contract negotiated in 2002. As Banner said, there was no way to know back then what would be fair now. Sliding him back among the top five quarterbacks in compensation acknowledges both what he has accomplished and what is still expected from him.
It doesn't hurt that it also puts a few issues to rest. McNabb will be the starting quarterback this year, next year, and probably beyond that. The belief that Kevin Kolb was on deck, ready to take over at the first sign of decline in McNabb's performance, has been dispelled. Everyone - most important, the 51 other players on the roster come opening day - understands that McNabb is still the man here.
That's as important for an NFL QB as it is for a coach or manager in other sports. There's nothing worse than the whiff of lame duck.
So the Eagles did the right thing here. They continued to treat McNabb like an elite NFL quarterback capable of taking this team all the way. They continued to set the Super Bowl as the reasonable expectation for McNabb and this team.
Now would be a really good time for McNabb to return the favor.