Every year about this time, the question comes up, and every year about this time the debate rages.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame announces its initial list of nominees every fall, and this week, once again, Donovan McNabb’s name appeared on the list of 130 former players that will eventually be whittled down to four to eight Hall of Famers.
Hard to believe 5 hasn’t played in nine years and hasn’t been an Eagle in 11 years. The Class of 2021 is his fifth year of eligibility, and he’s never been a finalist.
Is McNabb a Hall of Famer?
He says yes: “I’m not hesitating on that, I am a Hall of Famer, my numbers speak for themselves,” he told TMZ last year.
Andy Reid says yes: “I was there, I know he belongs there,” he said in Chiefs training camp last summer.
Let’s look at the case for and against.
The case for McNabb
The biggest thing McNabb has going for him is nine playoff wins. That’s tied for 12th-most in NFL history with Hall of Famers Kurt Warner and Jim Kelly and future Hall of Famer Russell Wilson. It’s more than Dan Marino or Steve Young.
McNabb took the Eagles to the playoffs seven of the eight years he started more than 10 games, won at least one playoff game six of those eight years and reached the NFC Championship Game five of those seasons.
Every eligible QB who’s won at least nine postseason games is already enshrined in Canton.
From 2000 through 2009 — his 10 years as the Eagles’ starter — McNabb averaged 9 wins and just 4 1/2 losses, and during that decade only Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Tom Brady won more games.
And he did all this playing 1 1/2 years with Terrell Owens, two years with DeSean Jackson and the rest of his Eagles career with mediocre at best receivers.
Look at the Eagles’ leading wide receivers during McNabb’s Eagles tenure:
- 184 — Todd Pinkston
- 177 — Reggie Brown
- 164 — James Thrash
- 127 — Greg Lewis
Any fair evaluation of McNabb has to include his rushing yards. McNabb still ranks ninth among QBs with 3,549 rushing yards, and his 5.6 career average is fifth-best in NFL history, behind Michael Vick, Randall Cunningham, Steve Young and Marion Motley.
McNabb was a big-time passer, electrifying runner and consistent postseason winner.
The case against McNabb
The biggest roadblock between McNabb and Canton is that McNabb was never the best in the league.
He never led the NFL in any major passing category. He was never a 1st-team All-Pro. He never won a Super Bowl.
When determining who I believe is a Hall of Famer, I always ask whether a player was the best in the league — or close to it — during his best five-year period.
For McNabb, that’s 2000 through 2004, when he made the Pro Bowl every season, took the Eagles to the playoffs every season, won 10 or more games every season, won at least one playoff game every season and won a league-best 54 games.
But even during that five-year span, McNabb only had the 20th-highest passer rating in the league, was tied with Trent Green for fifth-most TD passes, was seventh in passing yards and was 35th in completion percentage.
McNabb does have all those playoff wins, but his postseason numbers were only average. His 80.0 postseason passer rating ranks 25th out of 50 quarterbacks who threw at least 100 postseason passes from 1990 through 2010. He threw at least one interception in 12 of his 16 playoff games.
And McNabb’s career after 2004 was plagued by injuries and inconsistency. In his last seven seasons, he was 42-39 — three games over .500 — made one Pro Bowl (as an alternate) and won two playoff games (one with a 58.0 passer rating).
There isn’t a single quarterback in the Hall of Fame who hasn’t either won a Super Bowl or led the league in a major passing category multiple times (TDs, yards, completion percentage).
McNabb came close to winning a Super Bowl. He was close to leading the NFL in touchdowns in 2004. He was close to getting to a second Super Bowl in 2008. But he didn’t.
He’s close to being a Hall of Famer. But he isn’t.