EVERYONE has an opinion about Donovan McNabb, including me. I say bring him back, but with a qualifier. He needs to see a shrink. Because my armchair analysis tells me that what ails him is in his head.
He's the Sybil of the NFL.
The only thing consistent about McNabb is his inconsistency. On the field, it's been well-documented. Flashes of greatness followed by depths of despair. A week of Hall of Fame-quality play and then an afternoon of utter offensive collapse.
It's the same off the field.
There's the McNabb who played the air guitar and banged the plexiglass while making an entrance at Cowboys Stadium. And the McNabb who sinks into an emotionless stupor on the sidelines.
The McNabb who cracks a nervous smile after a poor throw or a bad play. And the McNabb who is professorial during the postgame press conference.
Like an actor, he seems always "on." We watch back-to-back subpar performances against the hated Cowboys to end the season.
Then we read McNabb's review: "We had an outstanding year this year. Just about two, three weeks ago, everybody was happy with the guys we had at each position. Now we're talking about who's going to be here, and who's not going to be here.
"I don't look at that. I look at we have an opportunity to work with these guys through the offseason, and a full season of working together and hopefully changing the outcome of what happened tonight."
McNabb can claim to not "look at that" all he wants. But beneath that exterior, my hunch is that there lurks an increasingly nervous professional, well-aware of the fact that his legacy, especially among Eagles fans, will be determined almost entirely by his ability to win a Super Bowl before he retires.
Consider his words after Saturday's loss:
"When you get later in your career, these moments and these opportunities, you just never know when it's your last. I don't mean that in if you're here or not, I mean that you've got to count down your days playing football.
"This is 11 years for me, going on 12. How many years after this, we'll never know. When you have a talented team like we have, things we were able to do this year, you just don't see it ending. You look up at the scoreboard and you see it's over, you just look forward to the next opportunity."
After 11 seasons here, he must know this much: He can throw as many touchdowns and captain as many talented teams as he wants.
But in Philadelphia he'll be judged by one stat. Just ask Randall Cunningham. He was the last quarterback who had a long-term hold on the job. He was one of the most exciting players we've ever watched, but at the top of most fans' minds is that he failed to win it all.
Playing quarterback for the Eagles has to be the most stressful job in the city. And given that McNabb has lined up under center more often than anyone else in Eagles history, I think that the burden is taking its toll mentally.
Joel Fish, director of the Center for Sport Psychology in Philadelphia, echoed that analysis.
"I think, as an athlete, when you talk about pressure, there is a cumulative effect. The pressure that he's going to feel next year if he's back is not just next year," said Fish, who's consulted for the Flyers, 76ers and Phillies.
"It's an accumulation of 12 years of expectations and feelings that people have built up over time around him."
It's not that McNabb isn't mentally tough. Playing at such a high level for so long in one city is a rarity in an era of 24/7 fixation and free agency in sports. No player amasses stats and wins like McNabb has - Super Bowl win or not - without being tough.
But Fish made reference several times in our conversation to the "patterns" McNabb and the Eagles have shown over the years. A couple come to mind: The bungled two-minute drills. The 1-4 record in NFC championships. The inability to make successful regular seasons translate into dominant postseasons.
Said Fish: "It's like in football, if you keep running the same play and you're not getting a gain, at some point you run another play.
"If he's mentally prepared a certain way, and he keeps hitting a certain roadblock, let's run another play to get you around that roadblock."
Agreed. And no matter what accounts for that roadblock - the stress of being under a constant microscope in this city or otherwise - I'm giving No. 5 one more offseason to put it behind him.
But forget running stairs or lifting weights. McNabb should start by putting his feet up on a professional's couch.
Listen to Michael Smerconish weekdays 5-9 a.m. on the Big Talker, 1210/AM. Read him Sundays in the Inquirer. Contact him via the Web at www.smerconish.com.