All that hype about McNabb vs. Vick when the Washington Redskins visited the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday was just to sell tickets. Quarterbacks don't face against each other. They face defenses.
Sunday's more cogent contest was Daniel Snyder vs. Andy Reid. Snyder and Reid follow opposite paths to build a football roster. Both made significant changes to their rosters this year. Both followed their unique approach. The finished products were both on display at Lincoln Financial Field Sunday.
By coincidence, both men rose to their position in 1999 when Reid was named Eagles head coach and Snyder bought the Redskins.
Daniel Snyder: Acquire players, max the cap, win now
Snyder's methods are well known, to the disgust of Redskins fans. Mike Shanahan polishes Washington's tarnished brand. When Snyder finally relented on hiring a competent general manager, he signed another famous name, (Bruce) "Allen," son of legendary Redskins head coach George Allen and brother of former U.S. Senator and Virginia governor George Allen.
Shanahan brought in big-name quarterback Donovan McNabb and opened training camp with big-name free-agent running backs Larry Johnson and Willie Parker, big-name cast-off tackle Jammal Brown and ageless free agent wide receiver Joey Galloway. Shanahan contended with holdover big name defensive end Albert Haynesworth through the summer.
It's Snyder's style to sign marquee coaches (not counting Jim Zorn) and "known quantity" veteran players whose Redskins contract exceeds their performance. Cope with the disparity by finessing the salary cap to push excess earnings to future years. The Redskins always max the salary cap. There's never room to write off an unproductive player's contract in the year he leaves the team.
The Redskins released Brandon Lloyd in 2008, for example; yet he counted as $5.5 million on the Redskins payroll in 2009. Washington needed a productive receiver and offensive line depth last year, but could not acquire them because Lloyd was still on the payroll.
The Redskins are the best team in football on the first day of free agency
It escapes Snyder's that player performance does not transfer to Washington when the team uses that player differently. Albert Haynesworth is only the latest example. Add Jason Taylor, T.J. Duckett, Adam Archuleta, Clinton Portis and Antwaan Randle El to that list.
Taylor was not wanted by then defensive coordinator Greg Blache who was not asked, or was ignored, about trading for Taylor. Blache never moderated his defensive scheme to exploit Taylor's skills as a pass rusher.
Cleverness with the salary cap is a technique. It is not a strategic competitive advantage. Matching players to the system is the strategic skill. That's the skill mastered by Baltimore's Ozzie Newsome, New England's Bill Belichick and Andy Reid in Philadelphia.
The Snyderskins made a game of finessing the salary cap rather than use it to impose self-discipline in acquiring players. Philadelphia never does that.
Andy Reid: Cycle players, conserve the cap, and build for today and tomorrow
The Eagles' approach under Reid couldn't be more different from Snyder's. They trade players for draft picks, and then use those picks to restock the team. Philadelphia had 13 picks in the 2010 NFL Draft, including the second round pick acquired from Washington for Donovan McNabb. The Redskins had six picks and are looking at four in the 2011 Draft.
Why on Earth would the Eagles trade Donovan McNabb?
Because he is in the last year of his contract. McNabb is an elite quarterback who projects to have fewer productive years left in his career than the life of his next contract.
McNabb will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. He will still be an upper-tier quarterback. Demand for his services will be high. So will be the dollars needed to keep him. The Eagles might have franchised McNabb for 2011. However, that move would lock them into high dollar contract and lock the first round draft pick other teams must offer them for McNabb.
McNabb is good, but not that good. So why not use him to cripple the division rival most inept at managing the cap? Daniel Snyder just loves to negotiate headline deals with headline players.
I doubt Reid's thinking went that far, but the effect is the same. The Redskins have to negotiate a new contract with McNabb without knowing what the next salary cap will look like. Two of Washington's draft picks will be used to rebuild the Eagles.
If Reid had his druthers, he would have preferred to keep McNabb for one more year. The clock in McNabb's contract did not allow for that. McNabb had to be moved now.
Recycle and renew
That's the Eagles' style. McNabb is the latest of a long list of Eagles players pushed off the bus while they had trade value. Others include Duce Staley, Brian Dawkins, Jeremiah Trotter, Troy Vincent and Brian Westbrook. (How interesting that McNabb is here, Trotter and Vincent were here and the Skins tried to woo Westbrook here.)
The Eagles used Washington's second round pick on safety Nate Allen to backfill Brian Dawkins who was released in 2009. Philadelphia does not expect Allen in his rookie year to match Dawkins' performance. However, they think they have the long-term solution for safety.
The Eagles eschew big name free agent signings. Javon Kearse never matched his Titans performance. We won't bring up Terrell Owens, even though Owens was the last piece the Eagles needed to make the Super Bowl.
If there were a 2010 salary cap, the Eagles would be $16 million under it. That's unheard of in Washington. To Snyder, cap surplus means you aren't trying hard enough to win.
By happenstance, both teams are undergoing significant change this year. The Redskins feature another team's cast-off quarterback with aging players at running back and wide receiver with a big name head coach and defensive coordinator. Mike Shanahan is limited in building through the draft unless he can trade Albert Haynesworth or Devin Thomas for something. This is the last ride of the trade/free-agent players acquired by Joe Gibbs and Vinny Cerrato. That group has to play like there is no tomorrow. They have to win now.
Philadelphia's young players might be the most dynamic offense in the NFC East. They'll be intact for a playoff run this year and next and the year after.
We don't know which method will be more successful going forward. Reid's approach worked best in the past. The harder Snyder tried to win now, the further he got from a title. Reid has chalked up 110 wins, seven division titles, one conference title and a Super Bowl appearance. Spoiled Eagles fans are not satisfied with that, but it sure looks like up to me.
Point after: ESPN's NFC East blogger Matt Moseley pointed to a story Peter King story that says the Redskins want to get away from the quick fix mentality that has plagued the team in Snyder's reign. King says that's why Vincent Jackson isn't a Redskin today in spite of Washington's desperate need for wide receivers.