Monday, April 05, 2010

DJ McNabb Takes Center Stage

Tiger Woods shows up early at Augusta? Good to know. Fifth seed Butler playing for its first NCAA championship tonight against perennial champ Duke? Whatever. Lil' Wayne writes his first letter to fans from jail? Yawn. The real news is that Donovan Jamal McNabb has joined the Redskins. With this trade, Washington acquires a 33-year old, six-time Pro Bowler and arguably its highest-profile quarterback since Joe Theismann. In return, the Philadelphia Eagles receive a second round pick (#37) for this year and either a third or fourth round pick from next year's draft.

And I'm not sure if I like it. But I do know that this blockbuster trade that has dominated the news cycle simultaneously answered and created questions, like Richard Alpert's back story on "Lost." Cue the rotating title and eerie intro music:

1. The Eagles are secretly smirking, believing that they've pulled off a Trojan Horse. You remember the story from history class: the Greeks, desperate to find an advantage over their rival Trojans, pretended to retreat leaving behind the beautiful, towering gift of a horse. When the Trojans looked skeptically at the offering from those who so recently sought to destroy them, they were assured that the horse was harmless and would bring luck to the Trojans by the Greek Sinon, who was "left behind" by his countrymen. The apparently gullible Trojans celebrated their victory, dragged the horse inside their gates, and partied. When night fell, a secret door opened and out poured Greek warriors who had no problem slaughtering the drunk Trojans. Mission accomplished.

Now the Philadelphia front office won't admit it, and I'm sure head coach Andy Reid won't divulge the truth even under a cheesesteak lie detector test, but it's clear to me that the Eagles think that McNabb's best days are behind him. That's not shocking; teams do that every year for that same reason. But the Eagles did more than just trade a guy because they thought his skills were in sunset. No, they traded their franchise quarterback to a hated division rival who they knew had questions at quarterback. McNabb isn't going to Kansas City, a team they play once or twice every four years and has minimal effect on their overall record. He's landing with a team that impacts their Super Bowl chances at least twice a year.

In his post-trade press conference, Coach Reid spun a carefully crafted web of "been a great player here for 11 years...set every record you can set for this organization...nothing but good things to say about him...we're doing what's best for Donovan..." and other oddly pleasant reviews of McNabb's work in Philly. Which raises the question: if he's been that good, why let him go? This guy got you to the playoffs with no-name receivers and then again with managing the cancerous Terrell Owens. Might their training staff know something about McNabb's past injuries that the Redskins don't? Could the Eagles think McNabb is really toast?

Simply put, are little green men with wings on their helmets going to jump out of Donovan's [backside] and sabotage the Redskins' season?

2. The Redskins are nonetheless significantly upgraded at the prime football positions. I will extrapolate on this point made this morning by Tony Kornheiser. Going from Jim Zorn/Jason Campbell/Vinny Cerrato to Mike Shanahan/Donovan McNabb/Bruce Allen is like trading in your
2006 Palm Treo for a 2010 Blackberry Storm 2. Sure, they both make phone calls, surf the web, and manage your email. But the competency, polish, and confidence with which it accomplishes those tasks is astoundingly different. If by nothing else than resume comparison, the Redskins will be smarter, more polished, and more competitive than in recent memory. Even if DJ McNabb (does anyone call him that?) manages just marginal performance, and Shanahan takes longer than thought to adjust to the competitive NFC East, and Allen doesn't get along at all with the Washington press will still be better than the 4-12 Cirque de Suck of the 2009 season, with its on the field embarrassments, off the field melodrama, and organizational self-destruction.

[Cue the "Tiger Woods scored more than Washington last year" joke and rimshot here.]

3. Is Snydely Whiplash twirling his moustache in the shadows once again? All the expectations for the new coaching regime suggested that Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan would be making all the football operation decisions. From early interviews both men suggested a cautioned, calculated approach to filling the man needs of the franchise. In February, when free agency was in full swing, the Redskins were eerily quiet, quieting the skeptics (I'm raising my hand) that owner Daniel Snyder would not play fantasy football as he has in the past offseasons. Every fan remembers those days: the signings of veterans with limited shelf life like Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Dana Stubblefield, Mark Carrier, and Mark Brunell.

But then there was the signing of 30-year old running back Larry Johnson and ex-Bear/ex-Texan quarterback Rex Grossman in March. Two days ago, 29-year old running back Willie Parker was signed. And now with the McNabb signing, the Redskins have again dominated the off-season, pre-draft headlines by picking up aging veterans.

Folks, this looks uncomfortably close to the Redskins of old. What happened to the "I'm looking forward to working with Jason [Campbell]" and "his best years are ahead of him" perspective of Shanahan on his starting quarterback? What happened to keeping Campbell, drafting a young quarterback with the fourth pick and grooming him into franchise status? What happened to coveting draft picks for the most glaring of Redskins needs, the offensive line? What happened to the silent understanding that 2010 is a rebuilding year in D.C.?

There is only one man whose win now mentality brings about such wholesale change: Daniel Snyder. And we all know the level of success when that happens.

Finally, fans do know that the team that takes the field in September will be nothing like the team that sauntered into the 2009 post-season a wounded, demoralized mess. McNabb will be working with young, promising receivers, a diverse running attack and supported by a new-look 3-4 defense. At least the team will be worth watching.

Fans can be also be absolutely sure that the only #17 Redskins jersey available this time next year will be Doug Williams'.

*Photo courtesy UPI/Kevin Dietsch

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