TAMPA - The fictional pool party Donovan McNabb envisioned yesterday sounded a whole lot more colorful than what the real contract talks between Eagles' management and its quarterback are likely to resemble.
McNabb suggested that he, Andy Reid and team president Joe Banner were going swimming in Tampa, with Reid "wearing a Speedo," Banner carrying "a little float," and Eagles chairman Jeffrey Lurie barbecuing, as they hashed out contract details. This would clear a major offseason hurdle for the team, and provide some memorable video footage, as well.
Unfortunately, we're pretty sure McNabb was joking.
McNabb, in high spirits as he toured the Super Bowl XLIII media center "radio row" with his parents on behalf of Novartis pharmaceutical company and its medications, reiterated to a group of Philadelphia-area reporters that his contract will indeed be on the agenda in his offseason sitdown with management. But he emphatically declared, "I want to retire as an Eagle."
That part came when McNabb was asked about NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders' repeated a.ssertions that the quarterback and his family want out of Philadelphia.
"I talk to Deion. Deion is a great guy, but Deion's not speaking for me. I want to retire as an Eagle," McNabb said. "I remember my rookie year, or I believe my second year, with Mayor Street, I said I wanted to bring a Super Bowl back to Philadelphia, go down Broad Street with the parade. The Phillies did it first, and I'm happy for them that they did, but myself and [free safety] Brian Dawkins, it's something we've talked about for years, being able to do that. We look forward to hopefully bringing it back next year, down Broad Street, I believe [the game's] in Miami, be able to hold that trophy up and say, 'We did it.' "
McNabb was asked about Banner's recent media tour and his contention that neither McNabb nor agent Fletcher Smith has said anything to the Eagles about McNabb's contract being an issue. So will his contract will be part of the discussion?
"Everyone knows that," McNabb said, laughing off the idea that Banner will somehow be surprised. "You guys know that, and you talk about it. We'll just leave it behind closed doors. Communication'll go well. We'll hopefully get things solved. We'll be here [in the Super Bowl] next year, hopefully, and I won't have to go through media row. I'll be sitting at the little tent with the chair [on an interview podium] trying to answer questions and get ready for the game on Sunday."
The contract issue is less about money and more about security. McNabb is scheduled to make about $9.2 million next season, but thanks to voidable years, his contract is up the year after that, and the salary-cap penalty for trading or releasing McNabb between now and then is not substantial. If McNabb were to get a new contract, presumably it would entail a signing bonus that would make it very difficult for the Birds to take the cap hit if they wanted to part with him over the next few years. Such an obligation might color any future decisions like the one Reid made back on Nov. 23, benching McNabb for the second half of the 36-7 loss in Baltimore. At the time, it seemed the McNabb era was ending.
"It deals with a lot of different things," McNabb said, when asked what the contract concern really entails. "We'll kind of leave it at that. Things get taken care of, then I won't have to answer, 'Will I be back next year?' "
McNabb agreed yesterday that when he signed for a reported 12 years and $112 million in 2002, the idea always was that the contract would be reworked before it expired. In 2002, a $10.3 million cap charge, such as McNabb will incur in 2009, seemed unthinkable. Then, no one saw the cap expanding as rapidly as it has. The benefit from dramatically lowering their 2009 cap obligation might not be as big an incentive to the Eagles as it seemed in 2002.
"I think a lot of times, fans just look at it like, 'He's getting paid a lot of money, why does he want to talk about this?' [But] when you do contracts, that's kind of the way it goes," McNabb said. "We'll communicate on it, get things solved, and I won't have to answer, 'Will I be back next year?' . . . I've had to answer [questions about his future] 16, 20 weeks this year, and last year as well. It's tiresome. But I'd rather people ask me every year than, say, me be somewhere else, or whatever, and people saying, 'Well how was it in Philly?' I want to be in Philly.
"I saw Irving Fryar - what'd he get, a motorcyle when he retired? I don't ride motorcycles, but I can get a car; I can drive a car."
McNabb also was asked to address another NFL Network commentator's unsubstantiated a.ssertion. That paragon of fitness, Warren Sapp, a.sserted this week that McNabb is not in shape, and claimed that a patch McNabb wore near his elbow toward the end of the NFC Championship Game indicated an intravenous site, meaning McNabb got dehydrated.
"I didn't get an IV," McNabb said, showing reporters a turf burn near his elbow that was bandaged during the game. "I had a little boo-boo . . . I'm in pretty good shape. I still get my cardio every day. I don't know about that one."
Often, when McNabb speaks at the Super Bowl, he says something about needing more weapons, which becomes the headline for his remarks. He was reluctant to be drawn into that discussion yesterday. He certainly was not on any "give me this" crusade.
"Are we going to talk about that now?" McNabb asked, when a questioner brought it up. "Yeah, we do need more weapons, on both sides, all phases of the game."
But he agreed with Dawkins, that better health for some key offensive figures, such as guard Shawn Andrews, running back Brian Westbrook and wideout Kevin Curtis, might make a big difference.
Asked when his much-discussed offseason sitdown might take place, McNabb said, "That's between us."
And the guy who hands out towels at the pool. *
Pay the man, shirley.