The jokes are flying all over the NFL. The Eagles should be arrested for extortion. Andy Reid should have worn a mask. The paperwork sent to the NFL should have been spelled out in newspaper clipping letter, like a ransom note.

In the battle of the birds, the Cardinals were plucked.

How did the Eagles trade a guy who was carrying a clipboard, a guy who lost his job in Philadelphia, in exchange for a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback and a second-round pick? And then, while the Cardinals rewarded Kevin Kolb with a $63 million contract, the Eagles filled his spot with Vince Young — also available for Arizona’s taking — for pennies on the dollar?

Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said Reid gave Kolb a big recommendation — which is why they traded him?

But those who call Kolb an unproven and flawed quarterback and marvel at Philadelphia’s trade bounty all have something in common: They didn’t have to watch the Cardinals play last season.

They didn’t have to watch Larry Fitzgerald run around in circles, looking for passes that either never made it or never came. They didn’t have to watch Arizona struggle in the NFL’s worst division as they used more quarterbacks than uniform combinations. They didn’t have to watch Derek Anderson save his best work for postgame interviews.

Here’s the deal: Arizona had to do something. And in a division where Alex Smith, Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst pass as viable options, the Cardinals have gone from an empty pocket to just behind Sam Bradford and St. Louis when it comes to quarterback cache.

They could have gone cheap and signed Young or traded for Kyle Orton. They could have tried to sell the Valley on big John Skelton. They could have gone to a Wildcat offense and still called it an upgrade.

But they went for the bomb. They gave up Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, talented to be sure but also overhyped. Meanwhile, Patrick Peterson, who actually enjoys tackling, better be ready to assume shut-down corner duties. Let’s see how Cromartie and his poor tackling techniques go over in the NFC East.

The Cards backed up the money truck to make sure Fitzgerald at least had something to think about before leaving town next year. And while a third of the $63 million is guaranteed, the rest isn’t. Two years from now, the jury will be in and if Kolb prospers, the deal will be a steal.

It was worth the gamble. A year ago, Kolb was good enough for Reid to ditch Donovan McNabb. He struggled in a few games, which doesn’t fly if you’re an Eagle – ask McNabb – and Michael Vick’s renaissance sealed Kolb’s fate. He has experience in the offense, a strong arm and a good disposition.

Kolb isn’t Kurt Warner, who hasn’t been shy about his doubts. The Cardinals team around Kolb isn’t as good as it was in 2008 and 2009 — it’s considered a victory when Arizona pays Joey Porter less to stink this year — and holes still abound. But when it came to filling the void at quarterback, given the options, the Cardinals did they best they could.

Quick hitters

• Couldn’t the two sides have written something in the new CBA that forces Brett Favre to stay retired? No rumors allowed. No ESPN on the front lawn in Mississippi. No teammate mercenary missions. Can’t we all get along on this one?

• So nice of Steelers linebacker/loose cannon James Harrison to apologize to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell upon his return to training camp.

But really, once you call a guy a crook, a puppet, a dictator and a devil, and confide that, “If that man was on fire and I had to (urinate) to put him out, I wouldn’t do it. I hate him and will never respect him,” it’s a long road back to drinking buddies.

Yes, James, all is forgiven, although your first blow to the head on a quarterback this year could result in the death penalty.

• Gotta be great to be the Patriots. While the rest of the league overpays for scraps, New England collects troubled Pro Bowlers for sixth-round draft picks, then reads them the riot act before they even slip on the uniform.

The Patriots needed a run-stopper and a pass catcher, and wound up with Albert Haynesworth and Chad Johnson (I’m sure Bill Belichick will force Ochocinco to change his name back). It cost them two fifth-round picks and one sixth.

Turn Corey Dillon and Randy Moss around, and suddenly you’re the NFL’s answer to the Betty Ford Clinic — or at least Raiders East

• Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at jbrown5548@aol.com

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