Friday, December 17, 2010

Analyzing, but not overreacting to, McNabb's benching

As you've undoubtedly heard by now, Donovan McNabb has not only been benched in favor of Rex Grossman for Sunday's game against the Cowboys, but likely for the rest of the season. McNabb will not even serve as the backup in Dallas; that duty will go to John Beck. The decision, handed down by Mike Shanahan, will also presumably end McNabb's brief tenure in Washington.

McNabb may still be with the team for the next few weeks, so it's worth noting that in mid-November, McNabb signed an extension to stay with the Redskins beyond this season. But as Barry Svrluga of Redskins Insider mentions, the only guarantee in that extension was that McNabb would earn $3.5 million if the Skins decided not to bring McNabb back. And with today's events, that outcome seems extremely likely.

There are basically two points to take away from this mess:

1) The decision itself to bench McNabb is absolutely justifiable. That isn't something that I thought I'd ever write, especially considering that on October 27 I discussed this very topic when the Grossman-over-McNabb rumors were rumbling. Here's a sample of what I had to say:
Do fans really want to start someone who has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in his career just because he's more familiar with the team's offense? Now, I understand that there are some crazy fans with irrational ideas -- mainly the types of fans who routinely call into sports talk radio shows and ramble on and on about random things -- but that type of thinking is just ridiculous.
Regardless of how bad that looks now, I still stand by that statement. At the time, the Redskins were 4-3 after a win -- an extremely ugly win -- over the Bears in Chicago. After that win, though, came arguably the toughest three weeks for Washington this season: a horrible loss in Detroit that included McNabb being benched late in the fourth quarter in favor of Grossman, a horrendously long bye week that included endless discussion of said benching, and then a 59-28 beating on Monday Night Football by the hated Eagles.

Since the Bears win, the Redskins are 1-5. In the first seven weeks, McNabb had six touchdown passes and seven interceptions. In the six games after that, he had eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions. For the season as a whole, McNabb has posted a 77.1 QB rating. So yeah, McNabb has been consistently mediocre the entire season.

That's not to say that the Redskins' poor offense and recent collapse as a team are both his fault -- of course not. He only has a couple of offensive weapons around him, the only young one being 24-year-old Ryan Torain, who has been fantastic -- when he's actually healthy enough to play. The receiving corps, outside of Santana Moss and Chris Cooley (and maybe Anthony Armstrong), isn't anything to get excited about either. And that's not even mentioning the offensive line, which is just a running joke at this point because of how often it has been neglected in the draft.

Benching McNabb in favor of Grossman does not give the Redskins a better chance to win. I think that bears repeating: Grossman starting at quarterback obviously does not present an upgrade at the position. With that being said, if the Shanahans have already decided that McNabb is a) not the quarterback they want to lead this team for the next few seasons, and b) deteriorating as an effective playmaker, then what's the point of running him out onto the field for the next three weeks? Sure, beating Dallas would be great, but with all of the major problems with this team, it's not really that big of a deal at this point. Sure, the idea to give Grossman all the reps is a little strange, considering that Grossman just isn't that good no matter what offensive system his team runs. Starting Beck would provide some intrigue, and maybe that's something that happens before the season ends. It's also entirely possible that no quarterback on this current roster ends up starting under center in Week 1 next season.

But really, if Shanahan wasn't going to bring McNabb back after this season, there's no reason to give him any more snaps. He's seemingly decided to go in another direction, and from what most people have seen this year from McNabb, that doesn't seem like a horrible choice. (That's not to suggest that McNabb won't look much better when he plays on a team next season that's able to surround him with more talent. Getting out of D.C. could be the best thing to happen to McNabb.)

2) The trade for McNabb was/is a complete disaster. In case anyone forgot, the Redskins parted with a second-round pick in the 2010 draft and either a third- or fourth-round choice in the upcoming draft. The Redskins have a ton of holes on offense and defense, and those two picks certainly would have helped. The Redskins could have selected a quarterback with that second-rounder -- who knows.

(Sidenote: Here's a quote from Brian Mitchell in the linked ESPN article above on the McNabb trade:
"In his voice I heard a lot of enthusiasm," Mitchell reported on Comcast SportsNet. "And you know, he may not be exactly like me, but I could hear he had a little revenge in that voice, too. And he wants to go to the Eagles and show them that they made a mistake."
It's nothing that's a big deal, of course, but it's still funny to read after the fact.)

As is the case with most Redskins trades, many fans focused on the veteran the team traded for instead of the value of the draft picks. The Redskins fan base's disdain for trading away draft picks is definitely growing -- and will continue to grow until these types of trades stop happening -- but there were a ton of excited fans when the news of the McNabb trade broke. And I'll be honest, my immediate thought that was I didn't like the trade, particularly because the team was again giving away more draft picks, but as the season got closer I did feel a little better about the Redskins having an established quarterback under center. But that obviously didn't change much about the team, and here we are now.

For what it's worth -- and believe me, I don't like to quote myself very often, let alone twice in the same post, but I think it's constructive in this case -- here was my reaction to the trade:
I understand why the Redskins made this move, and I think most fans can see the rationale behind it. If the Redskins are able to find a young quarterback they like in this year's draft or next year's, then McNabb isn't a bad choice to be the team's quarterback until then. However, the Redskins really need to stop trading draft picks. It's downright laughable at this point. There probably isn't another team in the NFL that values draft picks less, and it's not surprising to understand why the Redskins don't have adequate depth at most positions.

Although McNabb is a little more mobile than Campbell, he still needs an offensive line to give him time. Even if the Redskins take a left tackle at No. 4, there's still work to be done to significantly improve the line.
The move made some sense at the time; it would be a bit of revisionist history to suggest that it made no sense at all. But the Redskins didn't adequately address the offensive line woes and also didn't bring in enough offensive weapons around McNabb. Oh, and McNabb didn't turn out to be the quarterback that the Shanahans thought they were getting.

Determining the winner and loser of this trade was always going to depend on how well McNabb played in Washington. Well, he didn't play all that well, and now it looks like he's on the way out. The McNabb trade is just another failed move, and now it's back to the drawing board for Shanahan and Co.

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