Friday, February 12, 2016

Eagles draft a quarterback: Donovan McNabb


Originally published on Sunday, April 18, 1999.

Every Eagles quarterback gets booed sooner or later. Donovan McNabb surely set the record yesterday.

The Eagles selected McNabb with the second pick in yesterday's National Football League draft in New York. Moments after league commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced the selection, there were boos in Madison Square Garden. The jeering came from a contingent of Eagles fans organized by the local sports talk radio station to rally for their candidate, University of Texas running back Ricky Williams.

``I don't worry about what people write or say about me,'' McNabb said after a limousine ride from the Garden to Veterans Stadium. ``I worry about what's inside, with my new family here. I focus on that.'' 

``Ricky Williams is a tremendous player,'' Eagles coach Andy Reid said. ``I'm not taking anything away from Ricky. On Sundays, the fans will know what we've got here. '' 

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Williams wound up being drafted by the New Orleans Saints, who traded all of their draft choices to move up to the fifth spot in the draft. The Heisman Trophy winner was the second running back taken. The Indianapolis Colts shocked many by taking Miami's Edgerrin James with the fourth pick. 

McNabb, 22, may be uniquely qualified to play quarterback in the notorious media market that is Philadelphia. He earned a bachelor's degree in communications at Syracuse University. 

He also started at quarterback for four straight seasons, leading the Orangemen to postseason bowl games each year. McNabb was named the Big East Conference player of the year three times. During his career, he completed 548 of 938 passes for 8,389 yards and 77 touchdowns. 

Reid, determined to begin his tenure by bringing in a franchise quarterback, said McNabb was the ideal candidate, on the field and off.

``We said character was important to us and we meant it,'' Reid said. ``I don't want to compare him to any of the other quarterbacks out there, but I just felt he was a tremendous, solid person. ''

McNabb's ability to deal with the fans and media factored into the Eagles' decision. His agent, Chicago-based Fletcher Smith, said the team warned them about the situation. 

``They told us going in that Ricky Williams was the fan favorite,'' Smith said. ``We talked about the media here, the radio, the fans. That's fine. Donovan is a guy with a terrific personality. He can handle this and I think the Eagles understand that he can handle this. '' 

McNabb was part of a milestone draft class in which five quarterbacks were taken with the first 12 picks. Three of them - McNabb, Oregon's Akili Smith and Central Florida's Daunte Culpepper - are African Americans. That equals the total number of African American quarterbacks selected in the 63 previous first rounds. None was drafted as high as McNabb. 

For the first time since 1971, quarterbacks were selected with the first three picks. The expansion Cleveland Browns selected Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch with the first pick. Smith went to Cincinnati with the third pick.

The Browns worked out a contract with Couch before the draft. The seven-year deal is worth $48 million and can increase to as much as $59.4 million with incentives. Couch will receive a record $12.25 million signing bonus.

That deal will help the Eagles and McNabb. Last year's first two picks, quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, were negotiating right up until the week before training camp started.

Reid and Tom Modrak, the Eagles' director of football operations, said the selection of McNabb resulted from a process that began during the season. Modrak and his scouting staff began evaluating quarterbacks long before Reid was even hired.

Once that happened, though, it became clear that the Eagles would draft a quarterback. Reid said there were opportunities to trade the pick, but none that were worth the risk of losing McNabb.

``[Williams] was intriguing,'' Reid said, ``but I wanted to get the quarterback into this offense. We feel very strong about this. We went through the early process and [McNabb] was a top candidate. ''

McNabb's performance in the week leading up to the Senior Bowl, a college all-star game in January, helped establish him as the leading candidate. Watching McNabb handle Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden's West Coast-style plays for a week gave Reid a sense of McNabb's ability to make the adjustment.

Reid reiterated that Doug Pederson, the free agent he brought in from Green Bay, will be the Eagles' No. 1 quarterback. McNabb will not be expected to learn the offense and start at the beginning of his rookie season.

Reid didn't hesitate to insert his second-round pick into the starting lineup. Northwestern linebacker Barry Gardner, taken with the 35th pick overall, is expected to be the Eagles' starting middle linebacker.

``He is a playmaker,'' Reid said. ``We're getting a very intelligent person here. It's hard to step right in, but in this case we feel very comfortable with that. He's a rookie, but he's a very special rookie. ''

The 6-foot, 1/2-inch, 247-pound Gardner led the nation in tackles last year and was a first-team all-star in the Big Ten Conference, ahead of Ohio State's more well-known Andy Katzenmoyer. With his 3.35 grade-point average and degree in communications, Gardner, too, met Reid's criteria for character.

Inquirer Staff Writer
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