(AP) — To become a starting quarterback in the NFL is to reach the pinnacle of an elite profession. Losing that job can be a long, painful fall from grace.
Donovan McNabb, Tarvaris Jackson and Kevin Kolb have not only been through it, they're relishing new starts after downfalls that are closely linked.
McNabb, considered among the game's best for most of his 11 seasons in Philadelphia, has replaced the finally retired Brett Favre in Minnesota after an embarrassing benching with the Washington Redskins a year ago. Jackson, the starter in Minnesota before Favre's arrival, is off to Seattle and as of now is the Seahawks' starter.
Then there's Kolb. Groomed to be McNabb's successor with the Eagles only to be overtaken by Michael Vick's triumphant comeback, he is in Arizona, elated to be in a system that seems so well-suited to his style, with one of the league's top big-play targets in Larry Fitzgerald.
"It worked out perfect," Kolb said.
Unlike the other two, McNabb need not prove he can be a consistent winner. Not with a record of 97-57-1, five NFC championship appearances and a trip to the Super Bowl.
The question is whether the 34-year-old quarterback still has it, an issue he prefers to avoid.
"You know what, that whole something-to-prove deal, I've moved past that," McNabb said. "For me, it's just going out and being who I am and doing what I do. ... Any time you get into that 'chip on the shoulder, I can do this or that,' it takes away from what you are capable of doing, or who you are as a player and as a person. I've been through that, I'm not going there anymore."
McNabb, of course, replaces a much older veteran in Favre, who retired at 42 after two seasons in Minnesota. McNabb joins a team that wants to win now and needed an experienced quarterback to do it.
"You take a look at his history and you just see the things that he's accomplished as a football player in the National Football League and, of course, our familiarity with him and watching him in this league and seeing the maturation of him throughout his career, I just know that there's some good football left in Donovan," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said, "and I think we'll be the beneficiary of that."
McNabb called his experience in Washington "a little bump in the road" and said he has lost none of his desire.
"Oh yeah, I'm hot right now. I'm burning up, and that's not because of the weather," he said. "But that's that passion and fire, that determination to get out here and be the best. Each opportunity, you have the chance to prove it. I love going out and competing with the guys."
The Eagles traded McNabb to Washington after the 2009 season, but after 12 starts in 2010 he abruptly found himself the No. 3 quarterback for the rest of the season.
"Adversity is in front of all of us, not just as athletes, but normal human beings," he said. "We go through adversity, it's all about how you overcome it. We all know that was a big adversity last year. But we moved on — I moved on, and the story continues on."
Jackson started 20 games in his five seasons with the Vikings, 12 in 2007, his second year as a pro. But he often struggled, and the decision was made that a team built to win immediately could not put its fortunes in the hands of such a young player. Enter Favre, and the high drama that accompanied his remarkable 2009, followed by a disappointing 6-10 campaign in 2010. Jackson became a free agent and the Seahawks, seeking a replacement for Matt Hasselbeck, came calling.
Jackson joined his former Minnesota offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, who was hired by Seattle coach Pete Carroll. The Seahawks also signed ex-Vikings standout wide receiver Sidney Rice.
"It's a brand new start for all of us," Jackson said. "We're not looking back."
Jackson loves being reunited with Bevell.
"It's like I never left and he never left," Jackson said. "He's a lot happier guy up here, I'd say. Everybody is happy in the offseason, before the regular-season games start, there's not as much stress. It's been fun so far, though. I was happy to see him get a job up here, and luckily it worked out and we're back together."
The preseason has not been kind to Jackson, though, and his grip on the starting job is tenuous.
Kolb, however, is in control in Arizona, and the Cardinals, especially Fitzgerald, are ever so thankful.
After four seasons in Philadelphia, Kolb expected the job to be his once McNabb was traded. Kolb started last season's opener, but when he was knocked out of the game with a concussion, Vick took over and never relinquished the job. Kolb did start against Atlanta when Vick was injured, and he completed 23 of 29 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns in a victory.
It was the kind of performance that made Kolb so attractive to teams in search of a quarterback. And in Vick's imposing shadow, Kolb made it clear he felt he deserved a chance to go elsewhere to start, with Arizona his preferred destination.
The Cardinals won two NFC West titles, and even made it to the Super Bowl, with Kurt Warner. But when Warner retired after the 2009 season, the Cardinals badly mishandled the quarterback situation. Coach Ken Whisenhunt cut Matt Leinart and placed the job in the erratic hands of Derek Anderson. When that plan failed, Whisenhunt turned to rookies Max Hall and John Skelton. The result was a 5-11 season.
Addressing the quarterback issue was the top priority, but Arizona could do nothing until the NFL lockout ended. A few days of tense negotiations followed, and Kolb wasn't sure he was going anywhere.
"Actually, at one point I was heading up to Philadelphia's training camp," he said. "So there were some scary moments."
The Cardinals eventually sent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick to the Eagles for Kolb, then signed the quarterback to a five-year, $63 million contract, with $21 million guaranteed.
Whisenhunt said he has talked to Kolb about not pressing to show he is worth it.
"He doesn't really have anything to prove with us," the coach said. "I can see from a perception standpoint, what's being written about him, what's being said about him, it's not something you can completely block out or ignore. But I think the overriding thing with Kevin is he's driven to be a good quarterback."
Kolb said the judgments will have to wait.
"Of course you want to come out and play well," he said, "but at the same token, I've been around long enough to know it's after 10 years whenever they start to grade you. I know what the possibilities are here. I'm excited about it. I think all the coaches and players are excited about it. I think Larry's excited about it."
It's no accident Kolb's arrival coincided with Fitzgerald agreeing to an eight-year, $120 million contract with guarantees approaching $50 million. The star receiver wanted to stay in Arizona, but not unless there was a big upgrade at quarterback.
Kolb acknowledged the risk of the Cardinals giving up so much, in the trade and subsequent contract, for a quarterback with just seven career starts.
But, he said, "Aaron (Rodgers) had eight starts whenever he got paid and got locked in with Green Bay. I think (Tony) Romo had six. There's a number of them if you go and look, and then just take a first-round draft pick. How many snaps did Sam Bradford have? How many snaps did Ben Roethlisberger have? How many snaps did any of them that were taken in the first 10 picks and they pay them that kind of money?
"Nobody said it's not a risk. I'm the first one to say there's a risk involved, but I promise you the work involved and the extra time and the want-to is never going to leave me."
AP sports writers Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis and Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report.