Eagles camp report: McNabb deal puts heat on Kolb, Reid

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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BETHLEHEM, Pa. –- I get the feeling that this year's Philadelphia Eagles aren't so much about Kevin Kolb or LeSean McCoy or an extraordinarily young roster as they are about the head coach, Andy Reid.

Because it is Reid who took the bold and calculated gamble to trade away star quarterback Donovan McNabb -- to a division rival, no less -- and it is Reid who released star running back Brian Westbrook, arguably the team's most valuable player of the past five years. Furthermore, it is Reid who over a year ago decided not to re-sign the conscience of the club, star safety Brian Dawkins, who then went to Denver.

The moves weren't popular, but pro football coaches aren't made by winning popularity contests -- and no need to remind Reid. If he paid attention to focus groups he would've chosen running back Ricky Williams, not McNabb, with his first pick of the 1999 draft, and in all likelihood be somewhere else today.

Reid is unafraid to make the difficult decision, and he has made plenty of them in the past year and a half -- all in the name of what's best for the future of the franchise. Well, that future is now, and get ready for the next chapter in the legacy of Andy Reid.

By overhauling his club, with no starters left from the 2004 team that reached the Super Bowl, Reid has put himself squarely in the line of fire -- with no McNabb, no Westbrook, no Dawkins, no nothing to deflect the criticism that is as much a part of Philadelphia as Rittenhouse Square.

"I don't care about that," Reid said. "This is about our football team, and I'm part of it. There are risks involved when you're in a leadership position, and I've never been afraid of risks before. And I don't worry about them now.

"People consider change a risk, but sometimes change can be good. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. But I don't worry about that. I really harp on getting better and don't worry about not being better."

Well, then harp on this: With Kolb, who has only two career starts, the Eagles may have an improved and more consistent passing game. I said "may." Kolb is an accurate quarterback, with good feet, a strong arm and a bright future. What he lacks is the experience -- particularly the big-game experience -- that helped make McNabb so dangerous and so successful.

Andy Reid will have a lot of explaining to do if his gambles don't pay off for the Eagles. (Getty Images)  
Andy Reid will have a lot of explaining to do if his gambles don't pay off for the Eagles. (Getty Images)  
But the Eagles went as far as they could with McNabb, who turns 34 in November and is in the last year of his contract, and they wanted to give Kolb the chance they think he deserves. So a trade was made, and Kolb was handed the football. Now, we await a verdict, with Reid -- not Kolb -- the one on trial.

"Everybody has the pressure," said Kolb. "The great thing is that we're all in it together. But one of my main goals this year is that I want to prove those guys right. They stepped out on a limb for me, and I want to prove them right."

Reid acknowledged that Kolb will have his "ups and downs," but that's normal for a quarterback in his first full season. Only Kolb is not in his first season. He's in his fourth, and that's good. I look at what happened in San Diego when the Chargers started Philip Rivers after he sat for two years behind Drew Brees and wonder why it can't happen here.

Rivers was 14-2 in his first season as a starter. I don't expect that to happen with Kolb. What I do expect is that no matter what happens the season becomes a referendum of one of the game's most successful head coaches.

"It's not just coach Reid," safety Quintin Mikell said. "It's the organization as a whole. Mr. Lurie [owner Jeff Lurie] came out and said, ‘We're not averse to taking risks,' and that [the McNabb deal] proved it right there. We have a franchise -- possibly Hall-of-Fame type -- quarterback, and we let him go to a division rival. That takes a lot of cajones.

"At the end of the day, that's part of the game, and they know that. They know it's a big risk, but I'm sure it's an educated risk. I'm sure we'll be fine with it."

I'm not, but I do know it's worth a try. Look, McNabb is in the last year of his contract, and he wasn't going to gain an extension from the Eagles. So while he had been so good that Reid called him "the greatest quarterback in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles," the time was right to make a move.

"It's better to make a move on someone a year or two before they're finished," said one NFL assistant, "than a year or two after."

Exactly. But he didn't have to make the decision. Reid did, and when moves of this magnitude don't work out they can cost people jobs. Of course, if that were a concern Reid wouldn't have budged. But it wasn't. The concern was the health of the Eagles, and Andy Reid believes the club will be better off for what happened in the offseason.

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And if they're not? Then get ready to duck, Andy Reid.

"I have no problem with it," he said.

Of that I am certain. Andy Reid is tough. He is resilient. He is immune to criticism. And he is smart. Very, very smart.

"He's a guy with thick skin," quarterback Michael Vick said. "As a unit and as a team, we're going to do everything we can so coach doesn't have to deal with the ridicule. The coaches' job is to coach us; our job is to go out and put it all to work. If we understand the game plan and what we're supposed to do, and we go out and execute, then there's no ridicule from anybody. I think coach understands that."

I don't. I think Reid understands that no matter what happens there's ridicule from somewhere, but so what? Hey, it's Philadelphia, where fans aren't happy unless they're unhappy. And they're unhappy that Reid has not made the Super Bowl the past five seasons. It doesn't matter that he went to five conference championship games in eight years, including four straight. They want more.

All of which makes this season more intriguing than ever in Philadelphia. Reid believes he has a future winner in Kolb, but fans may not be willing to wait. So guess who takes the heat if he struggles early? One hint: It's not Kevin Kolb.

"I think he did it on purpose," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, a former Philadelphia assistant, said of Reid. "Andy would tell you, ‘Yeah, I'm a big target,' and then he would laugh. That's the way he would play it off.

"But he has a young team, and he's told me he's rejuvenated. With a bunch of young guys, he feels like he's young again. He's healthy, they work hard and probably with Kolb they run the offense a little more in a traditional way."

Maybe. We'll see. What I know is that Andy Reid stuck out his neck ... again ... and we're about to assess the results. Most people think trading McNabb for Kolb will cost the team in the short run, with the Eagles a trendy choice to finish third, maybe even last, in a division they dominated over the past decade.

I wouldn't be so sure. If there's something I learned long ago it's never, ever, ever to underestimate Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles.

"Rebuilding?" asked Minnesota coach Brad Childress, another former Eagles assistant. "Yeah, sure. They're just going to reload."

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