If Donovan McNabb is traded, Kevin Kolb will go from being the most popular Eagles player in town to being the starting quarterback.

It's a tough adjustment to make but the Eagles apparently believe he can handle it.

Of course, McNabb has not been traded and Kolb is technically on the market as well. But the die was cast when Andy Reid said last week that the Eagles were "entertaining offers" for their three quarterbacks (read: McNabb).

Now that it's out there, it would be remarkably hard for Reid and company to bring back the player who has been the face of their franchise for the last decade. And even if McNabb were to return, Kolb would likely get his chance in a year barring some unforeseen event, such as a Super Bowl title.

Of course, just because many fans have shifted their championship aspirations onto Kolb's shoulders doesn't mean he's going to deliver.

Although a couple of rookie quarterbacks have recently taken their teams deep into the playoffs, they enjoyed advantages Kolb probably will not have. Baltimore's Joe Flacco and the New York Jets' Mark Sanchez benefited from run-oriented offenses and stout defenses. Right now, the Eagles have neither.

Indeed, if Kolb is the guy, the Eagles may have to take a small step back. After three years of tutoring, the Eagles think he is ready, but is he really prepared to handle one of the toughest jobs in all sports?

"He's been trained well, and the position comes naturally to him," said a former NFL head coach who did not want to be named. "I think he has it. But there's really only one way to know for sure, and that's to throw him out there."

The first time Kolb played significant minutes, he replaced an ineffective McNabb two years ago against the Ravens in Baltimore. It was a disaster.

Last year, however, when McNabb fractured a rib in the opener, Kolb fared much better.

He had a solid first half against New Orleans but threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown to open the third quarter, and everything went downhill from there. Struggling against the eventual Super Bowl champions can be excused.

The next week, Kolb was near-perfect against the lowly Chiefs, completing 70 percent of his passes and tossing two touchdowns with no interceptions. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 300 yards in each of his first two starts.

That was the last he played, but the seed had been planted.

"With Kevin, you get younger [than McNabb], and you get a little more consistency," the former head coach said. "But you lose experience, and experience counts. [McNabb] is safe. You know what you get."

Kolb will be 26 by the start of next season. McNabb will be 34 in November. McNabb has a 59 percent completion percentage over his 11-year career, but his accuracy has improved in recent seasons.

Kolb doesn't have McNabb's arm strength, but he's more accurate, throws as well on the run, and is better suited to Reid's offense, at least according to one NFL scout who also wanted to remain anonymous.

"He can throw the slant better than McNabb," the scout said. "And that's a throw you'd want to master if you're playing in the traditional West Coast."

McNabb is a proven winner with a 65.1 winning percentage (92-49-1). At 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, McNabb is bigger than Kolb (6-3, 218), and more athletic. And even though McNabb is eight years older, he's more mobile.

It has been often noted that McNabb's best attribute is how well he protects the ball. He has the NFL's all-time lowest interception percentage, and his touchdown-interception ratio is third-best overall.

Kolb's performance against New Orleans last year could be a microcosm of his first full season - meaning he'll be great at times and occasionally, not so much.

His advocates liken him to Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, who sat behind Brett Favre for three seasons before the Packers finally gave him the huddle in 2008. Rodgers went 4-3 in his first seven games as a starter, but Green Bay had other problems and limped in with a 6-10 mark. Then last season, the Packers went 11-5 and reached the playoffs with Rodgers compiling Favre-like numbers.

There has been a theory that the Eagles were floating so many McNabb rumors to drive up the market for Kolb. But some believe it would take two first-round draft picks to entice the Eagles to trade their future. The organization has always been one built for the long run.

The Eagles may have finally decided to put on a new pair of sneakers. Will Kolb fit or not?

Just Like Kolb

Here are six NFL quarterbacks who, like Kevin Kolb, had to pay their dues on the sidelines before taking over as a starter:

Aaron Rodgers,

Green Bay: After watching Brett Favre for three years, he completed 63.6 percent of his passes as a first-time starter in 2008.

Philip Rivers, San Deigo: He watched the game for two seasons before taking over as starter in 2006 and throwing for 3,388 yards.

Matt Schaub, Houston: He threw a total of 161 passes over three seasons for Atlanta before starting for the Texans in 2007 and tossing nine TDs.

Tony Romo, Dallas: He threw for 2,903 yards in 2006 after sitting for three seasons.

Jake Delhomme, Cleveland: He sat for four seasons in New Orleans before throwing 19 TDs for Carolina in 2003.

Matt Cassell,

Kansas City: A backup for three seasons with the Patriots, he threw 21 TDs his first season as the man, in 2008.

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Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.