Posted November 16, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Jeff Nations: McNabb, Redskins retake the headlines


Normally, I love writing Monday columns.

So many possibilities, after all ... a full slate of college football games to break down, or pivotal NFL match-ups to analyze. College basketball just kicked off last week and in-state teams, the NBA and NHL are still wide-open affairs this time of year, NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup is rapidly winding down, baseball is just starting to hand out those tradition-rich awards we seem to endlessly debate.

Not to mention, in this area, we've got high school football state playoffs (Handley and Warren County move on, Clarke County gets started this week), and just finished up state cross country (congratulations to Strasburg's Katlyn Ayers on that second straight state title), and state cheerleading (a dazzling 1-2 two finish by Shenandoah County schools Strasburg and Central in the Group A competition).

All great topics to write about, in my mind ... almost to hard to choose just one.
Then Dan Snyder opens up his checkbook, and once again my column's fate is sealed for the week. Leave to those headline-stealing Redskins -- they just don't want to share ink with anyone.

Here's the latest: On Monday before the Redskins hosted NFC East division rival Philadelphia at FedEx Field, the news surfaced that the Redskins had agreed with recently much-maligned starting quarterback Donovan McNabb on a contract extension. McNabb's agent, Fletcher Smith, confirmed the deal as a five-year, $78 million contract with $40 million in guaranteed money. Another $10 million could be added on based on incentives.

Let's just say the timing of this maneuver is ... unusual. Two weeks after first-year Redskins coach Mike Shanahan benched McNabb for the final two possessions of a loss to the Detroit Lions, then spent the next week joining his son and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in devising unconvincing reasons for doing so, the franchise lays out a $40 million commitment to a 33-year-old quarterback laboring through the worst statistical season since his rookie year in Philadelphia.

If nothing else, that fat new contract should go a long way toward smoothing over McNabb's justifiably ruffled feathers after the Lions game. But really ... five years and up to $88 million for a quarterback who has never won a Super Bowl, had just as many detractors as backers in Philadelphia, and seems to already be in a state of slow physical decline. McNabb was once the prototypical two-way threat, a dangerous running quarterback with a strong arm to boot. That mobility is long gone now, a dangerous prospect when looking for time to throw behind the Redskins' perennially makeshift offensive line. And that strong arm has never been a particularly accurate one, and doesn't seem to be improving with age. His 76.0 passer rating heading into Monday night's game was McNabb's lowest since that rookie season, and the six-time Pro Bowler has not exactly put up Pro Bowl numbers this year (1,971 passing yards, 7 TDs, 8 INTs).

So what gives? Why shell out that kind of money to a quarterback the head coach is apparently not sold on for even the short-term future (just ask Rex Grossman)?

The short answer -- stability. Think about the Redskins quarterback situation since Snyder bought the team back in 1999, the revolving door at that most polarizing of positions among D.C. sports fans has been downright dizzying. We could name names here, but why bring up bad memories? OK, just two names -- Jeff George and Shane Wuerffel (or was that Danny Matthews; I forget). Under Snyder, the Redskins have tried retreads like the aforementioned duo (or trio, if you want to get picky) and have twice attempted to draft and develop their own "guy." Washington spent first round picks on Patrick Ramsey (disaster) and Jason Campbell (disappointing) and the best signal caller they've produced in that 11-year span is -- Sage Rosenfels?

Is McNabb retread-worthy, a vulcanized version of the once-dynamic Eagles star? Yeah, he probably is. But there's still some wear left in that frame. This deal is more realistically a three-year agreement which would take McNabb into age 37 wearing the burgundy and gold. Not young, but not Brett Favre vintage, either. So three years then, from age 33 1/2-36 1/2 and adding in those incentives (hopefully), the outlay for the Redskins is $40 million guaranteed plus an undisclosed base salary and the potential of incentives.

Consider what the St. Louis Rams shelled out for top pick Sam Bradford this season ($50 million in guaranteed money) or what the Detroit Lions paid disturbingly injury-prone top pick Matthew Stafford in 2009 ($41.7 million guaranteed), and the money -- or the decision to spend it on McNabb -- doesn't seem quite so ludicrous. This still isn't Peyton Manning or Tom Brady money, and well it shouldn't be. But while the Redskins are almost assuredly paying for a good deal of past performance with McNabb, there is still a reasonable expectation that he will prove to be a long-term upgrade over what the team has trotted out there behind center in the previous Snyder years. That was the Redskins' hope when they made the off-season trade to get him. Both Brady and Manning, incidentally, are within a year age-wise of McNabb and there are few questions about their decline.

A year within the Shanahan's system should help, provided McNabb can stay in one piece the rest of the season and beyond.

Perhaps that money would have been better spent on protecting McNabb ... but hey, it's not my money. If anything, McNabb can now truly, officially feel like a Washington Redskin -- he'll have the paychecks to prove it for a long time to come.

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