I have a deal for Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan. I give you a dollar and you give me a quarterback.
And can you please get it right this time?
No other position on the team is more unsettled than quarterback. None garners more attention even though quarterback performance ranks third or fourth on the list of things to fix on offense.
Shanahan said at the close of the season that he was evaluating the Redskins quarterback situation and Donovan McNabb's place in it. Last week he added that he would wait until the end of April, after the NFL Draft, before deciding McNabb's fate. We want to help the process, so here are:
Three reasons to keep Donovan McNabb...
1. Donovan McNabb is the best quarterback on the roster. You can look it up. There is nobody behind McNabb but John Beck, the itinerant BYU quarterback who spent time in Miami and Baltimore before Washington signed him in 2010. Beck last saw action in 2007 with the Dolphins when he completed 60 passes of 107 attempts for one touchdown and three interceptions. To be fair, Beck was a rookie drafted by a coach under pressure (Cam Cameron) and thrown into the fire mid-season on a dreadful Dolphins team. New football executive Bill Parcells promptly drafted Chad Henne and traded for Chad Pennington in 2008. Beck's story as a rookie quarterback on a flawed team is a cautionary tale for Washington's coaches and fans.
Beck was second on the depth chart by the end of the season. I'd like to think the coach saw something in him to justify the spot. But, I don't think Shanahan knows. He just put Beck in a position to find out. Neither he nor we will know about Beck before June.
Rex Grossman is not under contract as of March 4. The Redskins did not franchise him. He is free to go wherever he wishes, but that is a low risk proposition. Nobody is in a rush to sign him. Nobody else believes in him as much as Kyle Shanahan does.
2. With time in the system, McNabb will revert to average. Rex Grossman spent a year in Kyle Shanahan's Houston offense. When given his opportunity, Grossman produced the best performance of his career. Yet, that was uncomfortably close to his career averages. That was not very good.
In Grossman's three game run at the end of the season, the Redskins showed marginal improvement in per game yards and points, 21.3 average points, compared to the season average of 18.9 points per game. What's troubling is that Washington's point output declined with each successive Grossman start (30, 20, 14).
Given the same time in the system that Grossman had, McNabb would revert to his career norm. McNabb's norm is higher than Grossman's norm. That is not good enough to win a Super Bowl, but will be better than last season. Good enough to win two or three more games.
3. Mike Shanahan never actually said he would trade McNabb. He's said many things about McNabb, but why leave the wiggle room? Perhaps he realizes there are no alternatives to McNabb. Roshan Bhagat at Football's Future blog compiled a list of 2011 quarterback free agents and our own Greg Trippiedi listed a mix of free agent and rookie QBs who might interest the Redskins. The Redskins must look at that list and shake their heads.
The Colts and Eagles franchised Peyton Manning and Michael Vick. The Redskins couldn't spare the draft picks to offer in trade even if they were foolish enough to try. Trading for McNabb is how they got into their current predicament.
Matt Hasselbeck is an unrestricted free agent. He is also 35. Seattle coach Pete Carroll says re-signing Hasselbeck is his top priority. The rest of the veteran list include the likes of Alex Smith, Drew Stanton, Tavaris Jackson and Rex Grossman. All clearly destined to be back-ups.
Auburn's Cam Newton is on everyone's lips, but is moving up the draft chart in spite of a so-so performance at the Combine. Unless the 'Skins trade up in the Draft to reach for him, Newton won't be available when Washington makes the tenth pick.
John Beck's experience in Miami applies to the other rookies. Starting a rookie on a flawed offense is problematic. You can make a case for drafting a top prospect, build talent around him at let them grow together as Detroit and Tampa Bay are doing. Could that be what Mike Shanahan means when he says you have to build a team the right way? I hope so, but Coach Mike didn't show that kind of patience last season.
Shanahan does things to "win-now." The right way to win now is to follow the original plan. Use McNabb to stabilize the position while you rebuild talent at more pressing areas.
and three reasons not.
1. It's not you. It's me. I envision the Shanahan's and McNabb saying something like that to each other (with each side thinking no, it really is you.) It's the classic language of break-ups and it always means, "I'm not changing for you." This relationship is irretrievably broken. Mike Shanahan appears to be the more rigid of the two. As I wrote yesterday about Shanahan and Albert Haynesworth, Coach Mike has to take the first and the biggest step to reconcile with McNabb. Joe Gibbs had the make-up to take that step. I doubt that Shanahan does. Cut your losses and move on.
You want your team to do the right thing to do for a player of McNabb's stature. The right thing is to release him, now, or shortly after the Draft. By then you will know whether another team will give up picks to get him. If they do not, let the man go soon enough to connect with another team. Shanahan did as much for Clinton Portis.
2. This is a coaching failure. Whether that falls more on Kyle Shanahan, who resisted the McNabb trade then clashed with him through the season, or on Mike, who overruled Kyle then lost confidence in McNabb by mid-season, the coaching staff failed to get from a 2009 Pro Bowl player what the Minnesota Vikings got from Brett Favre in 2009.
Every part of McNabb's story falls as much on the coaches as it does on the player. No player, even McNabb, can succeed when his coach sees him as the least bad alternative. If the Shanahans have closed their minds to what McNabb can do, they won't coach him up to their standards. There is no point to McNabb being here if you just won't work with him.
3. McNabb never figured out how to talk to the Shanahans. Yes, that's a stretch. I don't know what's said in the privacy of Redskins Park. Yet, I'm struck by the difference in approach by McNabb and Albert Haynesworth. Where McNabb preferred to handle his business professionally behind closed doors, in face-to-face meetings between the coach and McNabb's agent (ahem), Haynesworth was outspoken. He didn't care how his views affected the reputation of the coaches. If they needed to be challenged, he challenged them, especially when it came to his working conditions.
Big Al may be on to something. Maybe the Shanahans get off on outspoken players who ignore them. There are many hints the team wants Haynesworth to stay while McNabb's" R-U-In" posters are removed from every bus in town.
Speak up, Donovan. Express yourself. Tell the Redskins what you want. More important, tell us what you want and let public opinion shape events in your favor. As things stand now, McNabb is going meekly into that good night. Or something poetic like that.
Whatever McNabb said, however he said it, his Bourgeois politeness doesn't work with the Shanahans. A change in speaking style may change his fate. Otherwise, he's outta here. He has nothing to lose.
Fans, on the other hand, have a lot to lose.