Donovan McNabb to the Redskins: Does this really make us better?

Last night, I was in Baltimore having dinner at my cousin’s house, when my buddy PJ called. Trying to be the responsible driver and attentive husband (for once), I let the call go to voicemail, figuring he wanted to chat Redskins football and I’d call him back as soon as I got home. Then my phone started blowing up. First a text from my buddy Vishal, a long-suffering 49ers fan who likes to poke fun at the raging homerism and frequent idiocy of Redskins fans, which stated: “BREAKING NEWS!! McNabb to Skins.” It was even followed-up with an emphatic “Holy Shit!” text immediately after, for emphasis. Even though it was April 4th, I still thought it was some sick April Fools joke, or another hair-brained trade rumor that usually pops up on message boards in the weeks before the draft.

I texted him that he better not be joking, and is it a done deal. He responded that he’s not and yes. And just like that, I find out that Donovan McNabb has been traded to the Redskins.

Throwing the roles of being a responsible driver and attentive husband out the window as fast as humanly possible, I immediately touch base with my round-table of buddies who double as long-standing Redskins fans, to discuss the situation: JohnnyF, the Rusty to my Danny (or vice versa?), and Double-A (aka “the Jew”).

Our first reactions were a resounding: “huh?” We didn’t even know what to feel. The trade was too salvageable to be awful, but too awful to be salvageable. To put it simply, we couldn’t figure out: “What does this accomplish?” It just seemed like it presented more questions than answers for the long-term. After marinating over the trade overnight and in the shower this morning (I get some amazing thinking done in the shower), I still don’t fully know what to feel about this trade.

But if I had to sum up my thoughts in one sentence, it/they would be this: How does this make the team better three years from now? Did we sacrifice long-term stability for a chance to compete in 2010?

Going from Zorn and Campbell to Shanahan and McNabb easily adds no less than three wins to the Redskins before they even take the field in 2010. McNabb absolutely upgrades the quarterback position for the Redskins next year, no questions asked. He’s been one of the most underrated passers in the entire league over the last few seasons, and despite whatever coach-speak you might hear coming out of Redskins park, it’s clear that the team does not factor Jason Campbell into the team’s future; at this point, I don’t think he’s even on the Redskins roster come May 1st.

So you acquire McNabb, a guy who is going to be 34 years old sometime around this Thanksgiving and has missed 18 games in the past 5 seasons, in exchange for your 2nd round pick. I’ve been saying all along that the price for the Redskins to trade up to get Sam Bradford was WAY too steep, something like a Mike-Ditka-circa-1998 fiasco. So now, the team is basically boxed in to taking Russell Okung with the #4 pick, lest you want another season of guys like Levi Jones and Anthony Batiste protecting the blind side of said 34 year old QB with injury issues. Now without a second round pick, the Redskins lose the potential to take a developmental QB for the future like a Colt McCoy or Tim Tebow, either of whom could have very well been available with the 37th pick. Either of those guys would have been been great prospects to groom under Shanahan and Shanahan, and would have excited fans knowing that we had our bridge to the future waiting in the wings and learning from the best.

Instead, we’re putting all our eggs in the McNabb basket. Do we really even know if he does have a good year left in him? If so, wouldn’t the Eagles have wanted to let him play out his contract, put a franchise or transition tag on him, and see what they could get next year? Wouldn’t you be a little skeptical about acquiring a (supposed) franchise QB who left his former town after breaking every single record they had to be broken? If the guy is “that missing piece” of your winning formula, in a league that values franchise QB’s like they’re made of Platinum, why was McNabb available? The Eagles are as frugal as they come with their salary cap money, but even surely they’d pony up the dough for someone they’d think to be the most important player on the roster, right?

For the sake of argument, let’s say he does have one good year left in him, maybe two. Then what? Think back to Redskins in 2005. After a putrid 2004 season, Mark Brunell finds the fountain of youth for a year, plays his ass off, and the team advances to the second round of the playoffs in six years. The Redskins gear up for a Super Bowl run in ’06 with an offseason spending spree, and go out and gets the finest offensive coordinator that money could buy (at the time) in Al Saunders. But Brunell then has to pay the piper, plays like he aged 10 years over the offseason, and the team is right back at square one again, figuring out what they’re going to do with the quarterback position moving forward.

It’s a bit silly to criticize the new coaching/management regime before their honeymoon is even officially over, but this move smacks of a head coach making the decision, not a personnel guy with an eye on the long-term prospectus for the franchise. Head coaches acquire players who can win today, the future be damned. It’s the job of the General Manager/Grand Poobah of football operations – Bruce Allen – to set the five year plan and make sure the organization sticks to it.

It seemed like we were heading in that direction, even while acquiring retread pieces here and there, because we expected that these guys are nothing more bandages to help us get through this season and on to the Redskins team of the future, which we were hoping and expecting to be carefully hand-crafted by Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan.

But this move fogs up that vision.

The talking heads are saying we didn’t mortgage the future to get McNabb. My question is: what does this do for the future? This team is far from a team like Minnesota last year, where they’re a quarterback away from being a legitimate contender. There are so many holes on this team, including most importantly, the guys who will keep him upright on the offensive line (specifically BOTH tackle positions). I’m certainly not privvy to access to the team’s film room, but off the top of my head, this team still has major questions offensive tackle, right guard, running back, and defensive end, and longer-term questions at quarterback, inside linebacker, and nose tackle. That doesn’t exactly sound like a team you should go and wager a few thousand on to win the Super Bowl next year.

How does spending your 2nd round pick on Donovan McNabb make your team any better over the long-term, with all these needs? I certainly don’t buy this idea that the team is a few players – or an over-the-hill starting QB – away from being a legit contender. We heard enough of that from the Snyder and Cerrato regime, and if we really buy into this, that proves that firing the latter changed nothing about the former and this franchise as a whole.

Any Redskins fan with half a brain (ok, admittedly they’re few and far between) would have taken a 6-10 season in 2010 if it meant we’re not going to have to repeat it anytime in the next 4+ years. We’ve grown tired of the team patching together teams season after season, hoping to simply remain competitive. Fans were hoping that the front office would build a team in the mold of New England and Indianapolis: using the draft to acquire young players who fit the grand scheme and mission statement of the organization, sprinkling in free agent acquisitions from time to time.

I still say the Redskins could make the situation a little better by sending their 2011 2nd round pick for OT Jared Gaither of the Ravens, a trade I’ve been campaigning for ever since news became available that Gaither could be had for less than a 1st round pick. The Ravens wanted a top 40 or 45 pick for Gaither, which isn’t guaranteed from the Redskins 2nd rounder in 2011, but I figured the Redskins could make it a 2nd plus a conditional 4th or 5th, depending on how the team finishes or how well Gaither performs. A tandem of Okung and Gaither would instantaneously give the team a pair of bookends at tackle for the next decade, and allow the Redskins to go into the season knowing that 4 of their 5 offensive line positions are ready to go (all except Right guard).

But that would mean that the Redskins will have traded their 2nd round pick this year, 2nd round next year, and a 4th round next year (that could end up a 3rd rounder), and still not have their QB of the future. They also don’t have a 3rd round pick this year after taking Jeremy Jarmon in the supplemental draft last season, greatly eliminating the potential of finding a “day 1” diamond in the rough like Dan LeFavour of Central Michigan.

So they’ve basically put themselves in that unenviable position of being between the rock and the hard place. If they let McNabb walk after 2010 – he’s a free agent after this season – then this move will be no different from the rent-a-has-been experiment that was the Jason Taylor trade, and force them to address the QB position next year with their first round pick, leaving absolutely no leverage for the front office at all. If they resign McNabb to a hefty extension, they’ll be placing the future of this team in the hands of a quarterback rapidly approaching the wrong side of 35 years old.

Redskins fans, myself included, always took joy in mocking their Eagles counterparts about the decorated trophy case that McNabb has helped furnish. Now we have to root for him? I mean, yes, I’d rather root for him than Jimmy “the douche” Clausen any day of the week, but it’s really hard to get excited about this move when it’s basically a two year band aid. Getting excited about McNabb and being a Redskins fan, to me, is forsaking the forest for the trees.

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