INDIANAPOLIS - When the Eagles finished the regular season with a New Year's Eve win over the Atlanta Falcons, it was reasonable to wonder whether A.J. Feeley could have duplicated the magical run that Jeff Garcia helped orchestrate after starting quarterback Donovan McNabb went down Nov. 19 with a season-ending knee injury.
Feeley, playing with a cast of reserves on offense, completed 22 of 33 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns against the Falcons' first-team defense in what amounted to his only significant playing time of the season.
There's no way of knowing for sure whether Feeley could have performed that well during a four-game stretch in which the Eagles and Garcia beat Carolina, Washington, the New York Giants, and Dallas to claim the most unlikely of coach Andy Reid's five NFC East titles.
What we do know for sure now is that if McNabb is lost to a season-ending injury again in 2007, Feeley is going to be calling the signals instead of Garcia. By giving Feeley a three-year contract extension through the 2010 season yesterday, the Eagles ended any chance that Garcia had of returning to the team for a second season.
"If you don't feel like you're capable of doing the same thing [that Garcia did], you probably shouldn't be in this business," Feeley said during a conference call.
Details of Feeley's new deal were not released.
Details of the negotiations between the Eagles and Garcia were. In short, they were almost nonexistent.
"I think Jeff was their number-one choice to be brought back, but he was their number-one choice to be brought back at their numbers," Garcia's agent, Steve Baker, said at the Indianapolis Convention Center yesterday. "The problem is I don't even know what their numbers were. The Eagles never made an offer. They gave us some initial parameters that were extremely low, then backed off them, and there was no further offer.
"The main reason I came to Indy was that I wanted the Eagles to know I was here, and I wanted them to know I was available to talk."
The Eagles declined to talk about the negotiations with Baker. But from their perspective, the agent's arrival in Indianapolis was too late because they had already entered into negotiations with Feeley, which meant they had let the six-year veteran know they wanted him to be their backup quarterback next season.
"The Eagles were very up-front," Baker said. "They told us if they couldn't get a deal done, they were going to aggressively negotiate with A.J."
Now, the 37-year-old Garcia is left to find work elsewhere, and Baker admitted it's going to be difficult for his client to part ways with the Eagles after such a special late-season run.
"Jeff always loved his time in Philadelphia, and there's absolutely no question that Jeff would have signed a deal with Philadelphia for less than what he would have made somewhere else," Baker said. "I believe what the Eagles were basically saying to us was that before free agency they wanted us to come to them with a number we were willing to play for and we will decide if we're going to sign you at that number."
That's obviously not how Baker wanted to do business, and starting Friday he'll be able to shop his client to the 31 other teams in the NFL. Denver and Tampa Bay could have interest in Garcia.
The Eagles, meanwhile, move on with Feeley as McNabb's primary understudy.
"A.J. Feeley has been very productive as a quarterback in Philadelphia," Eagles general manager Tom Heckert said. "He's won some games at crucial times for this franchise, and he gives us a great amount of confidence as a backup to Donovan McNabb. A.J.'s proven to be very comfortable in this offensive scheme, and we look forward to having him in the fold for the next several years."
The 29-year-old Feeley, of course, had a track record with the Eagles long before last season. In 2002, when McNabb and backup Koy Detmer both went down, he led the team to a 4-1 record in the final five regular-season games, which laid the foundation for his trade to Miami for a second-round draft pick in 2004. Feeley had little success with the Dolphins and was released by the San Diego Chargers last summer, but as soon as he rejoined the Eagles, he talked about how happy he was to be back playing in a West Coast offense.
By the time he returned, however, the Eagles had already signed Garcia to be their No. 2 quarterback in 2006, and Reid stuck with that decision in late November even when the consensus among Philadelphia fans was that Feeley should have replaced the injured McNabb. Feeley said when he rejoined the Eagles that he was told by the organization he'd be the backup in 2007 because Garcia was working on a one-year deal, but the possibility of that happening changed with what happened at the end of the season.
Feeley was grateful it came about after all.
"I love Philadelphia, the city and the organization," said Feeley, who received a congratulatory text message from Garcia. "I knew this is where I wanted to be . . . so it was kind of a no-brainer for me."
After the Eagles lost to New Orleans in an NFC divisional playoff game, Garcia said that he'd like to come back to the Eagles, but that he also owed it to himself to find out what he was worth in free agency. Now, he'll find out.
"Jeff has a lot of options," Baker said.
Philadelphia, however, isn't one of them anymore.