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.