Everything Still Revolves Around McNabb

By Bob Ford
Updated: March 2, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — The eras roll past quickly in the NFL, and another — one that was firmly rooted here not that long ago — rolled into history yesterday.

Congratulations to the Eagles for signing free-agent cornerback Asante Samuel, but give at least a brief nod to the tandem of Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, a pair of 2002 draft picks who started together the last four seasons and held down that position through some big games and difficult times.

Brown isn’t going anywhere, and Sheppard, whose knee problems ultimately cost him the starting job, could conceivably remain on the roster as well, although that’s unlikely. Regardless, Samuel is the new left cornerback, and you can start the clock on that particular era now.

“We’ll work things out from there,” coach Andy Reid said, after bestowing the starting position on the former New England Patriot Friday. “The cornerback position is very important, and when you have the opportunity to get the best one in the business, then you need to take a look at that.”

So, they will work things out from here. They might add other free agents, perhaps starting today with Oakland defensive end Chris Clemons, who would be a nice if less-than-earthshaking addition.

They will sign some guys, draft some guys, put together the pieces, and try to fashion a new overall era better than the current one. As always, the big picture will have something to do with extending the Donovan McNabb era as long as it might reasonably last.

Since Reid arrived in 1999 and made McNabb the cornerstone of the roster, everything else has been about that. The other eras have come and gone, but the franchise quarterback era remains in place.

At the cornerback position, for instance, was it that long ago that Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor were the two names chiseled in granite on the depth chart? That moment came and went, Lito and Sheldon’s ascendancy took hold, and now Asante Samuel is standing at the front of the room — holding up Joselio Hanson’s jersey! — and we’ll go from here.

Along the way, the team has seen the Jeremiah Trotter era at middle linebacker (twice), the Duce Staley era at running back, and various lesser eras that have risen and fallen with the tides.

It is possible that the current refurbishing of the roster — after a 24-24 record in the three regular seasons since the Super Bowl appearance — will be the last one undertaken for McNabb.

The quarterback has this year to prove himself finally healthy and rehabilitated. Beyond that, there is no reason to believe the organization will keep playing the same game again and again.

If nothing else, the front office under Reid has proved willing to turn the page when necessary. The Eagles essentially turned the page yesterday on Sheppard, who was inactive for five games last season and had to leave another two in the second half.

Turning the page on McNabb, whenever it happens, will be another deal entirely. It is heavy from all the numbers crowded there, and unwieldy because so much of Reid’s plan, and so much of the Eagles’ contingencies, are embossed on it. McNabb is Plan A, and Plan B is still unknown.

What else the Eagles will provide to The Plan this off-season is open to speculation. You could have made a list of roster needs and not ranked the cornerback position higher than fourth. Defensive end, wide receiver and safety could have been placed as higher priorities, and attention to the offensive line wouldn’t have been far behind, if at all.

Reid obviously had a different list, based on the money given Samuel, which included a signing bonus of more than $20 million. Then again, he’s supposed to have a different list from the rest of us.

Some of the other needs will be addressed in the draft, of course, as well as they can be with kids new to the pro game. Some will be addressed by additional free-agent signings.

Six months from now, we’ll begin to find out how well the refurbishing went. Until then, it is all just fantasy football, and nothing is ultimately more boring or meaningless.

It is a long wait for the real answer, a long time until the new order is in place. It is a long wait to see a defense that had to get more opportunistic and an offense that had to become more explosive. A long wait to see whether Samuel will be, as his agent promised, a “pick magnet” for the Eagles.

The little eras come and go. A new one was announced yesterday at the cornerback position, another brick in the wall that props up the only era that matters in this organization.

When that one finally falls, then we’ll really have something to talk about.