Why McNabb’s Silence Beats Favre’s Audible

By Phil Sheridan
Updated: May 6, 2005

Donovan McNabb & Brett Favre

PHILADELPHIA — The star receiver, unhappy with his contract, skipped a minicamp. The superstar quarterback made no attempt to hide his feelings.

“He’s going about it the wrong way,” the quarterback said. “When his agent tells him not to worry about what his teammates think and all that stuff, I’d tell him I’ve been around a long time and that stuff will come back to haunt you.”

The quarterback, Brett Favre, was talking to the Green Bay Press-Gazette about Javon Walker. The Pro Bowl receiver hired agent Drew Rosenhaus to help him get a new contract, and the first step was to boycott a mandatory camp.

The situation is very close to the one in Philadelphia, where Terrell Owens hired Rosenhaus and held out of the Eagles’ minicamp. The enormous difference is that Favre, age 35 and bulletproof at this point in his career, has no reason to bite his tongue when controversy arises.

“I sure hope the Packers don’t give in to him,” Favre told the Press-Gazette. “Maybe I’m old-school, but I always thought you honor a contract. Sure, sometimes guys pass you up in salary, and maybe it’s a lesser player, but it’s all based on what a team has as far as value in that person… .

“The sky’s the limit for that guy, and I’d be the first to defend him, but he’s going about it the wrong way. What happened to honoring your contract and saying, ‘Let’s work as a team to see if we can get this done?’ Why not go about it that way?”

Amusingly enough, Favre made his comments in a telephone interview from his off-season home in Mississippi. He was excused from the minicamp by head coach Mike Sherman, who apparently thought Favre would be better served by rest than by throwing passes in shorts and a T-shirt.

There are two good reasons to bring Favre’s comments to your attention. The first is that he really did pull the curtain back and offer an unusual glimpse into the way NFL players really think. Few will criticize a teammate on business matters. It’s a matter of solidarity, with players forming an Us against a Them that includes coaches, club executives, league officials and the media.

Favre, with his Hall of Fame career mostly behind him, feels comfortable in stepping outside the cone of silence. He’s not alone, either. Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck had similar criticism for three offensive starters who skipped a Seahawks minicamp. Hasselbeck doesn’t have Favre’s credentials. He just has a loose tongue.

The lesson here is that an individual player’s contract problems can have an impact on team unity. It’s not hard to see that happening. If Walker or Owens sits out of training camp, for example, then struggles at some point in the regular season, teammates are going to grumble about it among themselves.

The second reason to bring this up here in T.O. Town is to contrast Favre’s approach to that of Donovan McNabb. While it’s interesting to hear Favre’s honest assessment – “I’d just as soon go without [Walker],” he added – McNabb’s speak-no-evil policy ultimately is better for his team.

It may well be that a player’s holdout is bad for team unity. It’s definitely true that a star player publicly ripping his teammate’s holdout is bad for team unity. The biggest risk in holding out is that you’ll create a rift in the locker room. Favre’s comments are a rift in the locker room.

All of that makes Owens’ unfortunate comment about McNabb getting “tired in the Super Bowl” even more ill-advised. If he hadn’t been dragged into it by Owens’ smart-alecky remark, you can be sure, McNabb wouldn’t have said anything remotely negative about Owens’ absence from minicamp. He’d have handled it just as he handled Brian Westbrook’s absence, just as he handled Duce Staley’s holdout a couple of years back.

In the tug-of-war over public opinion, a tug from Favre pulls Walker’s side right into the mud. When Favre says, “We can win without him,” that pretty much ends the debate in Wisconsin.

“I need to be a leader, and even though I may not like having to do it, I think some things needed to be said,” Favre told the Press-Gazette.

McNabb is a pretty good leader, too. He’s built up equity with his teammates by working hard, by winning games, and by creating a forceful presence in the locker room. It’s rare that he challenges coach Andy Reid or the front office in public, and maybe that’s why it’s effective when he does. Last year, he lobbied for impact off-season moves, and the Eagles added Owens and Jevon Kearse.

So McNabb’s words carry weight. You wonder whether Owens appreciates just how easy it would have been for his quarterback to bring that weight to bear against him.