Lurie: If McNabb Went 1st, James Would’ve Been the Pick

At the time, the 1999 draft was considered to be a great opportunity for teams to find their franchise quarterbacks.

Five of the top 12 picks were signal-callers: Tim Couch (No. 1), McNabb (No. 2), Akili Smith (No. 3), Daunte Culpepper (No. 11) and Cade McNown (No. 12).

But the way Jeffrey Lurie tells it, the only one the Eagles thought was worthy of the second pick was McNabb.

“I remember it like it was yesterday, the details, amazing,” Lurie said. “It was dubbed as sort of the year of the franchise quarterback. New Coach Andy [Reid] was here. We were interviewing all together and very intensely every one of these quarterbacks and the top players at the top of the round with the second pick. This was meant to be a very, very important pick.

“We, ironically, going back, didn’t have a lot of confidence in most of the quarterbacks in that draft. The only quarterback that we all, and Andy leading the way, was very confident in was Donovan. And it wasn’t just his athletic ability. It was his years at Syracuse, his being able to learn a complicated offense, the way he was as a person, stable family background compared to some other quarterbacks both in that draft and elsewhere. So it all came together that that was really the only quarterback that was really far above all the others for us.”

The obvious follow-up question was: What would have happened if the Browns had taken McNabb with the first pick?

“It was really Donovan or ‘yikes.’ ” Lurie said. “What are we going to do? I guess the answer was Edgerrin [James]. We thought this was a potential Hall of Fame running back.

“But it was a no-brainer to go with the potential franchise quarterback [over] the running back, although Edgerrin became a superb player as well.”

That would have been quite the scene. Fans who infamously booed the McNabb pick wanted Ricky Williams. Had Cleveland taken McNabb No. 1 overall, selecting James might have drawn the same reaction.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at
Become a fan of Birds 24/7 on Facebook.

Around The Web

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • EaglesFanInAZ

    McNabb was great until his first injury. After that, he lost what made him special. Thanks for your years of service McNabb but I am one of those that thinks we could have put almost any other serviceable QB in his place and they would have done as well or better after those first couple years.

    • nicksaenz1

      I don’t know what you’re calling the “first couple years”, but few quarterbacks, aside from the Brady’s & Manning’s of the world, are just stepping and doing what he did. If that were the case you’re basically saying he was expendable in whatever year was immediately after the last year of what you’re dubbing the “first couple years.” I have to respectfully disagree, here.

      • EaglesFanInAZ

        My point was simply that after a period of time, in my opinion (because it’s impossible to prove), the vast majority of his success was a product of the team that surrounded him as opposed to his actual talent or play. And I do give him credit for being a star until he got hurt. I was looking for eagles stats during his tenure (After his injury) for with mcnabb and with each other qb that replaced him but wasn’t able to find it easily. I just seem to remember Garcia doing fine when he was out, Kolb doing fine when he was out, even Detmer and Feely doing pretty much as good as McNabb. That’s why I think the rest of the Eagles made McNabb and not vice-versa. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like about the guy. I found out he goes to the same gym I do so I’ll definitely be looking for him to say hello, but that’s just one person’s point of view. Agree or disagree and I’m ok with it. :)

      • EaglesFanInAZ

        Oh and to address your last point, yes, I do think he was somewhat expendable after the injury. I think the Eagles would have gone as far or farther every year with about 75% of the other starting qbs around the league..

        • Stephen Stempo

          75%? here’s a list of the starting QB’s in 2008. You’re telling me that 24 of those QB’s would have gotten to eagles to where they were? or is 75% just one of those “sounds good” stats.

          • nicksaenz1

            It’s just an irresponsible argument.

        • nicksaenz1

          My point was which injury? You state “first couple years” and the way that literally translates is that as of 2002 he was expendable and we could have gone to the other NFC Championship games and SB, which is just absurd. So please, I’m just asking for a little context to the notion of “first couple years” because I don’t think you actually mean “couple” in the literal sense. Even still, I’d likely disagree, but the entire argument changes with that clarification.

    • FMWarner

      Until his last year or two, Donovan was a threat to run, and ran great. He needed to more often than he should have because the scrub receivers couldn’t get open. I don’t see anywhere NEAR 24 guys that could have replaced McNabb’s combination of passing ability and running ability. I also don’t see a single guy on the list who can match his league best interception rate.

      • EaglesFanInAZ

        I agree with you except for the “until his last year or two”. I think only in the first 2-3 years was he a great threat to run. But other than that, the points you make are precisely what frustrated me the most about McNabb. He HAD the skills to be a great qb. The fact of the matter was, he was whatever the opposite of clutch is. Fail, choke, whatever you want to call it. His interception rate was so good because when he was off he was SO far off nobody was near the ball, not the DB or his receiver. So I’d still take a qb with less “talent” but that without McNabb’s choke factor. The defense won those games for mcnabb. Any time it came to a 2 minute drill with mcnabb at qb i KNEW we were going to lose, and we always did.

  • Scott J610

    Lurie is full of it. There is no way they don’t take Couch if McNabb went first.

    • stephenstempo

      i know that shifty Luri I can think of hundreds of reasons for him to lie about the draft from 14 years ago.

  • Explorer51

    This isn’t meant as an excuse for McNabb’s shortcomings but, aside from BWest (once AR started using him) and the one TO year, was there any other skill player on offense that was anything more than mediocre? Yet, those first five or six years we were in every game we played. And JJ had a pretty good defense from ’99-’02 but it was middle of the pack after that. We just kind of remember what we want to remember…

  • Richard Colton

    The whole ’99 draft was a minefield. Most people remember the cacophony of voices hectoring the FO for Ricky Wiliams, but the sub-narrative was the consensus that DMac was no better than the 3rd best QB in the draft. Ricky was everybody’s favorite, but (with Couch being the no-doubt-about-it #1) the consensus #2 was Smith.

    With apologies to Westbrook in the 3rd, the greatest draft pick in modern Eagles history is McNabb.

    • evanphilly

      All led by Cataldi. He was championing the heck out of the team for them to take Ricky Williams. Even think he had an Eagles Williams jersey made for draft day. And yes, if it wasn’t McNabb, I think it would have been Akili Smith. Seemed out of all the QBs taken in the first round, he had the skill set more closely related to McNabb than the others.

      • ICDogg

        Somehow the bus Cataldi loaded up with 30 guys who competed to be the loudest booers to bring to the draft specifically for the purpose of booing the pick – in other words, the fact that it was a radio stunt – is rarely mentioned other than in the comment section.

  • Joethomas215

    McNabb is one of the great Eagles. He changed the whole culture of the franchise. If Andy would have gotten him a WR, and proper run game he would be hall of game caliber. Thanks Donovan for all the great years