Donovan McNabb is currently a free agent.
The 35-year-old Syracuse grad, and six-time NFL Pro Bowler, has spent the offseason getting back into shape after a few years of piling on stifling girth and paunch. The once-elusive 240 pound scrambler, considered a proper heir to Randall Cunningham’s physical magic in Philadelphia, was relatively bloated in his disastrous runs through Washington and Minnesota. The Washington Post reported in May that McNabb has dropped fifteen to twenty pounds in the hopes of regaining his athletic prowess.
So far, there have been no takers.
If this is indeed the end for McNabb, the #2 overall pick in 1999 by Philadelphia, then 2017 would be the first opportunity for Canton’s Board of Selectors to decide the fate of his legacy.
The mental film reel of McNabb’s career is sure to produce some laughable embarrassments and indignation. Listing off just a few of the shortcomings, he didn’t understand that a game could end in a tie, and he admitted it. That was during his tenth season in the league. He vomited in the Super Bowl. He let Terrell Owens verbally berate him at a point in which McNabb was supposed to be the team leader. His end zone celebrations reeked of amateur hour. Andy Reid once benched him at halftime of a close game, and had an assistant inform McNabb personally. He received a huge mid-season contract extension in Washington early on a Monday, and then was trounced by the Eagles on national TV that night. He’s a proud mama’s boy in both soup commercials, and at games in which TV cameras focused on Wilma frequently (it could have been worse; it could have been Allen Iverson’s mother).
Does that about cover it?
Oh yeah, he also couldn’t win the big one.
Alright, that about covers the dark side of Donovan McNabb’s moon. Very few Hall of Fame quarterbacks have taken the lashings that McNabb’s endured over thirteen seasons, much less been led to the public gallows so many times.
But Canton doesn’t make their choices on spats with a mouthy wide receiver, or cornball commercials. On-field statistics and achievements are the measuring stick, so how does McNabb match up?
For one thing, McNabb has 234 touchdown passes in his thirteen-year career, good for 22nd all time. That marks him two ahead of a Hall of Fame inductee, Steve Young. Of the twenty-one men ahead of McNabb on the list, twelve of them are in the Hall of Fame. Of the remaining nine, three of them (Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady) are active. Of the remaining six, Brett Favre is a shoo-in for induction. The others are Drew Bledsoe, Boomer Esiason, John Hadl, Vinny Testaverde, and Dave Krieg. And compared to those five, McNabb has a superior career quarterback rating of 85.6. The best of those five compared to McNabb is Krieg, at 81.5.
In fact, McNabb’s rated favorably in passer rating against many modern-era quarterbacks that happen to be Hall of Famers. Troy Aikman’s career rating is an 81.6. The pass-crazed Dan Fouts boasts an 80.2. TV-age icons in Joe Namath and Terry Bradshaw, with their five Super Bowl titles combined, post ratings of 65.5 and 70.9 respectively. McNabb, if he retired now, would finish less than a point behind the reliable Dan Marino at 86.4.
There are twenty quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame that played the majority of their careers from the 1950s onward. McNabb has a better career rating than all of them except Marino, Joe Montana, and Steve Young. He’s had more career efficiency than Roger Staubach, Bart Starr, Fran Tarkenton, and even John Elway.
But still, Tarkenton never lost his lunch during the big dance, right?
What attributes to McNabb’s above-average passer rating is his low amount of interceptions. Yeah, you can say he threw a lot of passes into the ground, or he chose to scramble in tough situations, but he didn’t turn the ball over as much as those in football’s penthouse. McNabb’s thrown 117 interceptions over thirteen years. Now let’s look at the rogue’s gallery: Elway 226, Bradshaw 210, Namath 220, Tarkenton 266, Marino 252, Johnny Unitas 253.
Of those twenty modern era HOFers I mentioned, only two of them have less picks than McNabb: Young with 107, and Staubach with 109. Even Joe Montana, “Joe Cool” as he may be, threw 139.
So we’ve established that McNabb maintained a modicum of efficiency over thirteen seasons, and put up numbers that are comparable to the current Hall of Fame list. In many cases, he has exceeded their output.
What’s next to prove?
Alright, let’s do yards. For all you know, based on the information given, McNabb’s efficiency may be tied to short dinks and dunks, right?
McNabb’s total passing yards: 37,276, good for seventeenth all time. He has seven Hall of Famers, and four surefire Hall of Famers (Favre, Manning, Brady, and Brees) ahead of him. Testaverde, Esiason, Krieg, Bledsoe, and Kerry Collins make up the rest. That’s an impressive 2,867 yards a season, or 223 yards per his 167 regular season games. Brady and Brees are the only players ranked higher than McNabb that have played less than thirteen seasons, which indicates a remarkable pace for McNabb to have reached his career numbers. Fouts has over 43,000 yards, but it’s over fifteen seasons. Could McNabb, with two more solid years, have hit that number?
But we’re not dealing with the hypothetical, otherwise Terrell Davis would have been voted into Canton on principle. In fact, let’s throw out most stats for a moment, and focus on Al Davis’ favorite stat, and the only one that matters: winning.
Was McNabb a winner? Factoring in playoff games (in which McNabb was 9-7 as a starter), McNabb’s career record is 107-69-1. That’s a 60.8% winning percentage over his career.
How does that stack up against some of his peers?
Joe Montana’s winning percentage is 71.1% (133-54). Bart Starr’s is 64% (103-58-6). Terry Bradshaw led his Hall of Fame-filled Steelers to a 68.4% clip (121-56). Truly, you were gifted with good odds having such legends calling your signals. McNabb does, admittedly, fall a bit below their totals.
But there are some in the Hall of Fame he DOES exceed. Troy Aikman’s winning percentage, counting his postseason glories, is 58.3% (105-75). Dan Fouts may have been master and commander of the Air Coryell offense, yet his percentage (50.3%, 89-88-1) undercuts him. Don’t look at his scrambling ancestor Fran Tarkenton; he mustered just 53.3% (130-114-6) while leading perennial Super Bowl also-rans. He even tops Dan Marino, albeit barely (60.1%, 155-103). Sonny Jurgensen finished his career below .500 as a starter. Namath broke even at 64-64-4, playoffs included.
McNabb is a better WINNER than many of those in the Hall of Fame.
And before you talk about how he “never won a Super Bowl”, you’re right. Neither did Marino, Tarkenton, Fouts (who never even MADE it to one), Jim Kelly or Warren Moon. You can find their busts pretty easily, I’m sure.
Lastly, let’s compare McNabb to a different kind of peer group: the quarterbacks that he played against in his career. For “Super Five” to really stand out enough to earn enshrinement, he should also stand out in his “class”, so to speak. After all, not just anybody can be a Hall of Famer.
In McNabb’s eleven years as the Eagles’ offensive leader, which yielded seven playoff berths (excluding 2006, when he was injured and Jeff Garcia took over), a number of other quarterbacks stood out on their own. Sure, we can establish that Brady, Brees, and the Mannings have had more spectacular careers, and will all likely go to the Hall of Fame, but let’s look at some other “at-large” stars from the 2000s.
For purposes of this experiment, I’ve chosen Kurt Warner, Daunte Culpepper, Matt Hasselbeck, Steve McNair, Jake Delhomme, Rich Gannon, Jeff Garcia, Kerry Collins, and Marc Bulger. All of them have had Pro Bowl accolades, or played in a Super Bowl, or at least had some spectacular years.
How do they compare to McNabb?
McNabb has more touchdowns than each of them; Warner and Collins are tied for first in the core group with 208 each (26 less than McNabb). McNabb tops all of them in yards except for Collins, who beats McNabb by about 3700 (40,922 to 37,276). Of course, Collins does have four more years of experience.
Garcia, Culpepper and Bulger get points for efficiency, being the only three quarterbacks with less interceptions (83, 107, and 93 respectively) than McNabb (117). Warner, Culpepper, and Garcia have better ratings (93.7, 87.5, 87.8) than McNabb’s 85.6.
But in career victories, McNabb stands atop the throne. With 107 wins, he makes McNair the runner up (96). Collins is third with 84, then Hasselbeck with 83. Warner, the only one of the core group I’d consider for the Hall of Fame, has but 76 wins, thanks to some benching during his unlikely successful career.
As for those guaranteed Hall of Famers in Manning, Brady, and Brees? Win totals, respectively: 150, 140, and 97. Yes, Brees has two less years of experience, and he’ll certainly pass McNabb by the end of 2013, but McNabb looks like he belongs, at the very least, to the most well-regarded quarterbacks.
And, it must be noted, McNabb didn’t always have the best help when compiling this great career. From 1999 to 2003, who was his best wide receiver? James Thrash, the overpromoted slot receiver? Todd Pinkston, the frail wonder? Torrance Small, the wandering journeyman?
Don’t even get me started on Freddie Mitchell.
McNabb somehow won four playoff berths, three division titles, secured homefield advantage twice, and won five playoff games with a receiving corps that a secondary of tortoises could adequately cover. McNabb made it work. And when he got Terrell Owens in 2004, that glorious 2004, McNabb hit the juvenation machine and put up his greatest statistical season ever (31 TD, 8 INT, 3875 yards, 104.7 rating).
You think about things like, what if McNabb had ALWAYS had a TO to throw to? What if the Eagles had drafted Reggie Wayne (yes, that was a possibility) in 2001 over Mitchell? McNabb did pretty well for himself with skillful dump-offs to Duce Staley and Brian Westbrook, but there could have been so much more, especially after Owens bitched his way out of Philly. Beyond him, McNabb got a touched-by-God year out of Kevin Curtis in 2007, and worked with a feisty DeSean Jackson in his formative years.
McNabb carried an unimpressive offense with trick plays, smart deference, and making big plays on his own. People laughed when McNabb accounted for 70-75% of the team’s offense in 2000. He was just dusting off Randall Cunningham’s “Ultimate Weapon” crown for his own use.
Ask Randall what it’s like to have to carry the offense.
Donovan McNabb may never get his golden jacket on the steps of the Hall of Fame building, nor will his bust be engraved as an immortal visage. But damned if he doesn’t deserve those honors.
Justin Henry is a freelance writer whose work appears on many websites. He provides wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture columns for CamelClutchBlog.com, as well as several wrestling columns a week for Wrestlechat.net and WrestleCrap.com. Justin can be found here on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/notoriousjrh and Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/cynicjrh.