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Eagles Quarterback Poker and McNabb is rumored to be in play by Lloyd Vance

At the NFL Meetings this past week, rumors around trades for Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb were rampant

Around the NovaCare Complex whispers are pointing to one of their three quarterbacks under contract for one more season (Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, and Michael Vick) to be leaving via a trade before the 2010 NFL Draft on April 22nd.  In an offseason that has been like none other in Philadelphia, the Eagles organization is faced with some tough decisions around the quarterbacks on their roster, especially McNabb – career regular season starting record of 82-45-1.

For over a decade in Philadelphia, the name “Donovan McNabb” has been both a lightning rod for both passion and scorn.  During this period McNabb has risen to the heights of a respectable 9-7 playoff record, 5 Pro Bowl selections, and a Super Bowl appearance in the 2004 season.  While also facing the depths of boos at the 1999 NFL Draft, coming back from an ACL injury in 2006 and defending his play in four NFC Championship Game losses.  McNabb holds almost every Eagles’ passing record, but more than ever there is a canyon between the two sides of the “Donovan Debate”.

 Some fans and media firmly in McNabb’s camp want to bring him back in 2010.  These Stepford fans have continually covered the 11-year veteran’s back by saying things like “Big 5 is the best quarterback the Eagles have ever had”; “Other than Manning or Brady, name me a quarterback who is better” and “McNabb has done more with less talent around him than any quarterback in the NFL”.

While others have seen enough of the 33-year old passer and would gladly drive him to the airport, so Kolb can take over the reins of the Birds.  Common comments from this faction are “McNabb throws worm balls”, “McNabb is inaccurate causing him to not hit receivers in stride”; “McNabb lost 3 NFC Championship Game that the Eagles were favored in”; “McNabb should pack up his air guitar and leave” and “McNabb cannot win big games”.

For most of this offseason things have been surprisingly quiet on the Eagles quarterback front.  But yesterday at the NFL Meetings in Orlando, this pot started to simmer when Eagles head coach Andy Reid made some interesting comments regarding the Birds’ quarterback situation.  Reid confirmed that indeed the Eagles are entertaining offers for all three quarterbacks with a lot the talk appearing to be centered on McNabb – career passing numbers: 2801-4746, 59.0% completion rate, 32,873 yards, 216 TDs, and 100 INTs. 

As of yesterday there were rampant rumors of a McNabb to the Rams trade for the 33rd overall pick in the 2010 draft (first pick in 2nd round) and safety OJ Atogwe, though the St. Louis Rams are denying it.  Of course Reid later was coy about any trade talk by saying, “We’ll go back and look through (rumored trades) and think through them a little bit, away from this situation here. There’s nothing right now that I’d jump up and down about. But there has been some interest.”

All along it seemed like the no-brainer Eagles’ quarterback out the door this offseason was Vick.  His signing last summer caused a firestorm of activity and the fact still remains that many fans will never embrace him after his much-publicized dogfighting saga.  There also is no denying that the former Falcons star is basically a spare part on the Eagles roster – passing numbers: 6-13, 46.2%, 86 yards, 1 TD, and 0 INTs plus 24 rushes for 95 yards, and 2 TDs. 

But the Eagles being the Eagles, threw a monkey wrench into the situation by surprisingly picking up Vick’s $1.5 Million dollar roster bonus earlier in March, which has raised questions that he could very well be coming back in 2010.  To make matters tougher for any Vick trade talk, the market for him has all but dried up as teams know he may soon be released or retained as a high-priced backup by the Eagles – will make over 6 million if on the team in 2010.

That leaves Kolb, a former 2nd round draft pick in 2007 and perceived “quarterback of the future”, and McNabb left in the equation for quarterback needy teams like the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals (assuming Leinart is not the answer) and Minnesota Vikings (assuming Favre retires).  Though no one has come right out and said it within the Eagles organization, the feeling of a lot of people around the NFL is that Kolb is as close to an “untouchable” as possible.  The young quarterback, who set an NFL record in 2009 by throwing for over 300 yards in his first two starts, is rumored to be available for the kingly ransom of two first-round draft picks. 

Though it is a known secret that former Eagles GM and current Browns GM Tom Heckert has an affinity for Kolb. I don’t think that Cleveland, or any other team for that matter, is ready to mortgage its future on a quarterback that has thrown 130 passes in the NFL with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 4 to 7.  So unless the Eagles really want to trade Kolb, by lowering their asking price, you can expect him back in 2010.

So that leads us right back to the most talked about player in Philadelphia since Allen Iverson left the first time.  Going into the 2009 offseason, all along I thought that even though McNabb was entering the last year of his contract, that surely he would be back in Midnight Green come training camp in July.  Eagles head coach Andy Reid also seemed to be in the McNabb camp as he said at his end-of-year press conference and anywhere else he had access to the media before yesterday that “McNabb was his quarterback”. 

Even after a “shaky” performance by McNabb against the Cowboys in the Wildcard Round — 19/37, 230 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT and 1 lost fumble — that cemented a three-game Dallas’ sweep in ‘09, Reid still was standing by his guy.  Asked after the awful playoff loss if he expected McNabb to be the Eagles quarterback in 2010, Reid gave the curt response, “Yeah, I do.”   Later asked if he envisioned a scenario in which he wouldn’t be with the Eagles in 2010, McNabb said after the embarrassing Dallas’ loss, “I don’t see that happening.”

However something is afoot around McNabb and there are rumors of two factions of the “Donovan Debate” not only in the fan base, but also within the team’s front office.  The rift may have come from 11 years worth of frustration of not winning a Super Bowl or the fact that McNabb did not pursue an extension a couple years ago, instead renegotiating for more money.  The former 1999 3rd overall selection is due to receive a $6.2 million roster bonus May 5, so decisions need to made very soon about his future. 

In reaction to all the trade talk, McNabb said via his blog, “My position hasn’t changed. I’ve said all along that I would like to win a Super Bowl and finish my career in Philadelphia.”  He added, “I understand the situation well and just hope whichever direction the Eagles decide to go in, they do it quickly. I think that would be best for me, Kevin, Michael, the Eagles, and any other teams involved. No matter what happens, I’ve already begun preparing to have an outstanding season in 2010.”

Some folks around the league are saying McNabb would be willing to be traded to the Rams, if he were to be given a contract extension – has an established relationship with Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.  But those same sources are saying he wants no parts of playing for Buffalo or Oakland. 

Of course Reid couched any McNabb trade talk by saying in an Philadelphia Inquirer article, “I think it’s a great situation (having 3 ‘quality’ QBs in demand) to be in, from a coach’s standpoint. There are coaches who dream to be in this situation.”  Reid added in the Ashley Fox piece, “I’m not in any hurry to get rid of any of them. Have people talked? Yeah, people have talked. Have we listened? Yeah, we’re in the process of listening. The bottom line is if I have all three of them, that’s great.”

Right now nothing is imminent and this thing could continue to fester throughout the offseason. But at the same time, don’t rule out the odd scenario of McNabb returning as the starter, Kolb as his backup, and Vick the third-stringer. 

This is high stakes poker and the Eagles have to decide whether to keep playing or fold. 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

NFL Overtime Rule Changes pass by a comfortable margin by Lloyd Vance

Kickers, like the Redskins’ Justin Medlock, will no longer be able to win postseason overtime games via coin-toss winning first-possession field goals after the NFL owners recent vote 

At the 2010 NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando, NFL owners approved changes to the existing overtime rules by a vote of 28-4 — the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals voted negatively.  Under the new rules, the team that loses the coin toss at the start of overtime will now get a chance to also score if the coin-toss winning team scores a field goal with their first possession. 

Right now the new overtime rules will only apply to the postseason. But everyone is expecting NFL owners at their next set of meetings (May 24-26, in Dallas) to discuss and possibly adopt the overtime changes for the upcoming 2010 regular season.

Here is a detailed look at the new postseason overtime rules

• Both teams must have the opportunity to possess the ball once during the extra period, unless the team that receives the opening kickoff scores a touchdown on its initial possession, in which case it is the winner.

• If the team that possesses the ball first scores a field goal on its initial possession, the other team shall have the opportunity to possess the ball. If [that team] scores a touchdown on its possession, it is the winner. If the score is tied after [both teams have a] possession, the team next scoring by any method shall be the winner.

• If the score is tied at the end of a 15-minute overtime period, or if [the overtime period’s] initial possession has not ended, another overtime period will begin, and play will continue until a score is made, regardless of how many 15-minute periods are necessary.

The current “Sudden Death” overtime rules, which have been around since 1974, have recently come under fire and you knew the owners were poised for change. In support of their proposal, the NFL had painted a statistical picture where the main reason for overtime rule changes was the increased accuracy of field goal kickers – made 81.3% of overall field goal attempts in ’09. 

After the NFL made the change in 1994 to move kickoffs from the 35-yard line to the 30-yard line, coin-toss winning teams tended to get better field position off kickoffs.  The better field position equated to shorter distances for kickers to get opportunities to end overtime games via kicking 50-yard or longer field goals.  Since 1994, kickers have better than a 50 percent accuracy level on field goals longer than 50 yards.

“We’ve had this discussion for a number of years,” NFL Competition co-chairman Rich McKay recently said on a pre-Annual Meeting conference call. “We feel this year’s proposal gave us the opportunity to a pretty good rule. Statistically we felt it needed to be changed. It wasn’t creating the fairest result as far as field goal accuracy field goal distance and drive starts.”  McKay also said one of the bigger selling points of the new overtime rule that they maintained the sudden death aspect of overtime.

But I believe the NFL is being “reactionary” – as usual — after two high-profile playoff games recently ended on the coin-toss-winning team’s first-possession.  And you know the “sticking” point in those two highly watched playoff games was that two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks never got an opportunity to step on the field for a comeback in overtime. 

In the 2008 postseason – Wildcard Round, the Indianapolis Colts lost 23-17 to the San Diego Chargers (won the coin toss) in overtime with the game-winning points coming on a Darren Sproles’ 22-yard touchdown as Colts QB Peyton Manning could do nothing but watch. 

An even brighter spotlight was shined on the subject in the 2009 playoffs when the New Orleans Saints earned a trip to Super Bowl XLIV by beating the Minnesota Vikings 31-28 in overtime via a 40-yard game-winning-field by little known kicker Garrett Hartley.  However as soon as the Saints started celebrating their first-ever NFC Championship – Thanks to Hartley — a lot of people only wanted to discuss was “Sudden Death” and giving both teams a chance.  One NFL fan emailed me saying “Honestly… How could the NFL not give Brett Favre an opportunity to answer a measly field goal, when a Super Bowl berth was on the line?”

My whole take on the past “Sudden Death” overtime system, is “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  I grew-up loving the white-knuckle nature of one score and done in NFL overtime games.  Quite frankly overtime game always kept me glued to the edge of my seat.  

One of my all-time favorites came in a 1988 game between the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants at the Meadowlands.  When the Eagles were attempting an overtime game-winning field goal, it was blocked by Lawrence Taylor, only to have Eagles defensive end Clyde Simmons scoop-up the ball and run 15 yards for the winning touchdown in a 23-17 thriller.

No one around the league (players and coaches) was really “crying” over the “Sudden Death” rules and I believe it was mainly a minority group of fans and media who made the most noise.  Most players and coaches, that I talk to, do not mind the old overtime format and liked  the opportunity to fight it out in “One and Done” fashion.  “Old-Schoolers” believe in the motto, “Just have your defense stop the other team” and I totally agree with them.

However the NFL owners in their infinite wisdom – and their love for tinkering with the game — have decided that both teams deserve a chance.  So now we are stuck with new overtime rules for the 2010 postseason and possibly regular season.  And I can assure you that there is over a 60% chance that some kind of controversy will happen in 2010, after this new set of overtime rules affects a Big Game.  Just ask the Baltimore Ravens, who were “jobbed” by the “Brady Rule” — passed at the 2009 NFL Owner’s Meetings — in a 27-21 loss to the New England Patriots during Week 4 of the 2009 regular season. 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

The 2010 NFL Annual Meeting Begins by Lloyd Vance

Commissioner Roger Goodell will be a “busy” man during the 2010 NFL Annual Meeting

I still cannot fathom how anyone can think that nothing goes on in the National Football League after the Super Bowl and before the regular season begins in September.  Sure there is not any on-field game action after the Super Bowl, but everyone always needs to remember, “The NFL Never Sleeps”.  To accentuate that point, every fan should have their eyes focused on Orlando, Florida – of all places — this week.  No there will not be more Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints players celebrating at Disney World.  The event that will take center stage is the 2010 NFL Annual Meeting from March 21st to March 24th.

The annual league meeting, which is basically a three-day conference for NFL powerbrokers, definitely deserves attention.  As “hot” topics from possible competition rule changes to labor relations to overtime rules will be all discussed in great detail.  The headliner at the annual league meeting will be NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who will address the owners on Monday morning with the state of the league and most importantly you can expect him to be talking about labor relations between the NFL and its players. 

Even though the owners and players are definitely not seeing eye-to-eye right now on several items, specifically a player payout of 60% of revenues according to the owners.  Hopefully Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, head of the NFL Players’ Association, can hammer out a new deal for “the good of game” before the current CBA expires in March 2011.  Fox Sports analyst Jimmy Johnson was right when he said of a possible lockout in 2011, “I think there’s too much money at stake. Everybody involved, owners, players, everybody understands it’s in everybody’s best interest to get a new CBA done”.

Other topics that are sure to be discussed in the hotel’s board rooms and lobby are listed below.  But remember, any vote needs at least 24 of the 32 NFL owners to be in agreement.

Sudden Death Overtime Rules – Ever since the New Orleans Saints defeated the Minnesota Vikings 31-28 in overtime of the 2009 NFC Championship Game.  With the game-winning points coming via a field goal on the Saints’ first possession after winning the coin toss, everyone wants to talk OT.  “In the last four or five years, sometimes we have not proposed anything [to change the overtime format] because we’ve thought, ‘Well, if it’s not going to get enough votes, let’s not propose it,’ ” Atlanta Falcons president McKay said during a conference call with reporters. “This year I think we came back with the idea that we need to go back and look at it because the statistics are so compelling and we need to get the discussion going again.”

According to McKay, between 1974 and 1993 the team that won the overtime coin toss won the game 46.8 percent of the time, and the team that lost the coin toss won the game 46.8 percent of the time. Since 1994, McKay said, the team that won the overtime coin toss won the game 59.8 percent of the time, while the team that lost the coin toss won the game only 38.5 percent of the time. Of course the competition committee is blaming the increase in coin-toss teams winning in OT on my “favorite” players, field goal kickers, saying are more accurate than ever — made 84.5% of overall field goal attempts in ‘08..

Here is the new overtime plan that will need to be discussed:

  • Proposing a rule on the modification of the sudden death procedure in overtime for the playoffs, and Super Bowl, but not the regular season. There will be an opportunity to possess in the event the first team with the ball does not score a touchdown.
  • The club that gets the opening possession of overtime could win the game by scoring a touchdown. If that team gets a field goal, the other club would get a possession and would have a chance to win with a touchdown or tie with a field goal. If that team gets a tying field goal, the game would be sudden death from then on. If neither team scores on its first possession of overtime, the game would proceed on a sudden-death basis.

Player safety rules – The league owners are going to discuss a number of recommendations and rules proposals around “protecting” players.  The main rules that will surely cause the most discussion will probably be around protecting a defenseless player. 

a)       More rules for protecting “defenseless” receivers — Giving additional protection to the receiver even after the receiver has caught the ball. Possible rule change could protect the receiver until he has an opportunity to defend himself from hits to the head by defenders launching upwards towards his head.

b)       Long Snappers protected — Protecting long snappers more on field goal tries and punts.  Proposing that no one can line up within the frame of the body of the snapper to try to give him an opportunity to get his head up and get himself protected.

c)       No Helmet Rule — Proposing a rule that creates the ball being dead if a runner loses or has his helmet come off during a play, which is a college rule they’ve had and used.  The league watched tape where there are instances where players are running in the field of play without their helmet.  In our mind their mind it was not a safe situation. 

d)       Possibly more unnecessary roughness legislation – Not only the defenseless player legislation will be looked at, the league is looking into other in-game unnecessary roughness situations.  I have heard as many as possibly seven other playing rules. Some of them are smaller and others will be based on last year’s play. 

e)       Ball hitting a scoreboard revisited — One bigger rule that will be looked at further is the 2009 “dead” ball rules established last year after the Cowboys Stadium pre-season punting situation.  In case you didn’t know, the Cowboys have a huge scoreboard that is 90 Feet above the playing field that was hit in warm-ups and during a preseason game.  So before the start of the 2009 Regular season “Dead Ball” rules were put in place, but luckily during the regular season no punts hit the score board.

f)        Dead ball fouls to be looked into — On the offense, currently dead ball fouls do not have the ability to carry over to the second half and/or overtime from the fourth quarter – See Flozelle Adams’ incident from 2009 where he was able to play in the 2nd half even after some mischief before halftime.  The league is proposing that those could be carried over on offense and defense too.

g)       Instant replay on last play – The league is proposing a rule a rule change for instant replay with respect to the game clock on the last play.  This was put in for the 2009 playoffs and the NFL wants to review the rule and possibly clean it up.

Windows and Curtains to be discussed – With newer stadiums like the ones in Dallas and Indianapolis having retractable roofs, windows, and curtains, the league wants to talk about how to handle stadium configuration (i.e. Interior Design). The NFL wants to standardize all that language to match up with the retractable roof policy already in place.  So home teams with windows and curtains will need to declare in their game configuration 90 minutes before the start of play.

Possible new numbers for defenders –The league will look at the rule on player uniform numbering systems to possibly expand the opportunity for players to wear different numbers.  The NFL seems to be acknowledging the fact that more teams are playing a 3-4 defense and you can have players who end up being both defensive ends and linebackers (ex. Philadelphia Eagles DE/OLB Trent Cole wears No. 58).  However the NFL better look out as their league may soon look like college football, where defensive players can wear more creative numbers –- ex. Former Miami Hurricanes linebacker Jessie Armstead wearing No. 1 in college for the “U”.  And who could not remember the ill-fated fight by Brian “The Boz” Bosworth trying to wear his fabled Oklahoma No. 44 in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks. 

More rules to the 10-second rule – The current 10‑second runoff situation via instant replay will be discussed.  Inside the last minute when a call on the field is reviewed and reversed and there should be a running clock, the league wants to standardize a 10‑second runoff.

Fans can also expect at the 2010 annual league meeting, positions on the Competition Committee to be filled and discussion around NFL bylaws and resolutions plus announcements of some high-profile early-season games. 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)