Those who wondered if Donovan McNabb might have accomplished more with a better head coach are about to find out.

With all due respect to Andy Reid, who has been a very good head coach during McNabb's tenure in Philadelphia, Washington's Mike Shanahan has two more Super Bowl rings than he does. That Shanahan won them in Denver with a late-career John Elway should not be lost on anyone.

"Things like this happen in the National Football League," Reid said late Sunday night.

Good luck thinking of anything like it. You can go back to the Eagles' 1964 exchange of quarterbacks with Washington: Sonny Jurgensen for Norman Snead. That was a different era, but it didn't exactly work out in the Eagles' favor.

Other than that, it's impossible to think of an elite quarterback being sent to a division rival for some draft picks. It is a high-risk, low-reward move. For extra added class, the Eagles disrupted what for many people is the most important religious holiday of the year.

And it is deeply disturbing that this franchise would hang on to Michael Vick while tossing away a quarterback who has been a better player, better human being, better representative of the NFL, better everything during the course of his career.

Fans and media who have been pushing for the Eagles to make a change of this magnitude like to cite Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.

It is safe to say Einstein would have a very different word to describe giving an elite head coach in your own division the elite quarterback he needs to beat you twice a year. And that word is not genius.

But that is what the Eagles have done. Whether it's out of foolishness or sheer hubris, they have conceded the NFC East for the next two or three years. Dallas was already better than they were, as proven dramatically in McNabb's final two games as an Eagle. The Giants won a Super Bowl just a couple years ago, on Reid's watch.

Washington has stumbled around in the NFL wilderness for years, led poorly by a shortsighted, short-tempered owner named Daniel Snyder. Maybe the Eagles just assume the stumbling will go on forever, that there's no chance of Snyder's franchise finding the winning path.

That is incredibly presumptuous in a league where the reigning champions are the eternal doormats, the New Orleans Saints.

Let's put it this way. Washington now has a better head coach, better defensive coordinator (Jim Haslett), and better quarterback than the Eagles have. That's a lot to overcome.

Howie Roseman, the Eagles' new general manager, said the other day that the team is not in rebuilding mode. He's right. The Eagles are in full demolition mode. They have taken a wrecking ball to their roster and their payroll. The rebuilding hasn't even begun yet.

If they have a master plan - and their history suggests they do - it is a long, long way from being made clear to the rest of us non-Einsteins.

One guess: Reid will give Kevin Kolb all the opportunities he denied McNabb over the course of his career. Already, Kolb (or Vick, if Reid really has lost his mind) will have the best set of wide receivers of the Reid era. It will be telling if the coach makes philosophical changes in pass protection and offensive balance in order to help Kolb succeed.

If he does those things, and if good moves are made to reinforce the offensive line and remake the defense, the third act of Reid's tenure might prove successful. It might.

The first two acts, the development of a winning team around a franchise quarterback and the maintenance of that team, were successful largely because of Donovan McNabb. Eventually, all but the least rational of McNabb's critics will come to appreciate that.

The next act of McNabb's career is going to be fascinating. He is free now from the sometimes toxic environment that surrounded him here. The frustration of those Super Bowl and NFC championship game near-misses stays in Philadelphia. In Washington, McNabb will find fans who have been looking with envy toward Eagles fans for more than a decade.

Best of all, for him, McNabb will play for the same head coach who helped transform Elway from a QB who couldn't win the big one to a two-time champion. Shanahan hasn't won a Super Bowl since Elway retired, mostly because he couldn't find a quarterback of that caliber to replace him.

Shanahan has that kind of quarterback now.

It has long been a parlor game for Eagles fans: Who would have a better chance to win a Super Bowl, Reid without McNabb or McNabb without Reid? We have our answer. For the short term, thanks to Reid, it is McNabb.