Donovan McNabb gets a fresh start with Vikings following trade from Redskins


Former Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb has put is time in Washington behind him and is embracing a new opportunity in Minnesota. (Frederick Breedon/Associated Press)
August 20, 2011

Donovan McNabb is starting over with a new team for the second time in two years, after experiencing a virtual lifetime — by NFL standards — of stability when he spent his first 11 seasons in the same city playing for the same coach.

The circumstances of this particular career reset couldn’t be more unforgiving. Thanks to the 41 / 2-month NFL lockout, he is hurrying through the familiarization process with his new Minnesota Vikings teammates and cramming to prepare for a season opener next month that will come a little more than six weeks after the trade that brought him here from the Washington Redskins.

With so much going on, who has time for any bitterness?

“There’s no reason to hold a grudge,” McNabb said at the Vikings’ training facility after a practice last week. “I don’t hold grudges. It’s funny that people keep on trickling stuff out. Just let it go. Move on. And that’s all I’ve been doing.”

McNabb was standing in a practice-field end zone, having just yanked off his shoulder pads, jersey and helmet. He made it clear that he is pleased to have a fresh beginning with a coaching staff that he said understands him. He said he had not spoken to Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan since the final week of last season. But if he has ill feelings toward the Redskins after his lost season in D.C. or anger over his dealings with Shanahan and his son Kyle, the offensive coordinator, McNabb isn’t venting in full force — at least not now.


Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb calls signals during a workout. (Jim Mone/Associated Press)

“I don’t look back at it at all,” McNabb said. “This is kind of my path that I look at as smooth sailing, an opportunity to learn more from a guy like [Vikings offensive coordinator] Bill Musgrave, be comfortable in the offense where you have a guy like [running back] Adrian Peterson, [wide receiver] Percy Harvin, an offensive line that’s pretty much somewhat established, for me to just go out and play football and do what I’ve been doing over 11 years in Philadelphia.”

It has been a whirlwind for McNabb since the trade late last month, on the heels of the lockout, in which the Vikings obtained him from the Redskins for a sixth-round draft choice next spring and a conditional sixth-rounder in 2013. Initially unable to participate in the team’s training-camp practices in Mankato, Minn., until the sport’s new labor deal was fully ratified by the players’ union, McNabb first participated in workouts at a nearby high school with wide receivers Bernard Berrian, Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu.

A quick study

Since McNabb joined the team’s practices, he has been getting a crash course on an offensive system that has been tweaked just for him.

“We tried to do some things that really fit his strengths,” Vikings Coach Leslie Frazier said. “Bill Musgrave is a tremendous offensive mind and he knows exactly what we need to do. So I think we have a system in place that will fit what Donovan does best.”

Frazier was Philadelphia’s defensive backs coach from 1999 to 2002, while McNabb was beginning his quarterbacking run of taking the Eagles to five NFC championship games in 11 seasons with the team. Frazier said he spoke to Eagles Coach Andy Reid about McNabb before the Vikings made the trade with the Redskins, and came away with an insight or two. What happened last season in Washington didn’t dissuade Frazier from wanting McNabb in Minnesota.

“Having a history with him, I wanted to be able to look at his entire career as opposed to that one season, and then try to learn what exactly had happened in Washington after getting a pretty good understanding of what was going on and where he was,” Frazier said. “I just felt like this would be a good environment for him and what we were doing offensively would fit what he does.”

The failed experiment

Mike Shanahan and the Redskins traded for McNabb in April 2010. But Mike and Kyle Shanahan apparently grew dissatisfied with McNabb’s performance in their offensive system last season and McNabb made only 13 starts for the Redskins before being benched in favor of Rex Grossman. While McNabb was in Washington, little to no talk emanated from Redskins Park about tinkering with the offense to tailor it to McNabb’s strengths.

McNabb said last week that being in the Vikings’ offense “is a much different situation” and “more of a comfortable situation.” He spoke of being around “a coach that understands your strengths and the strengths of the team and [works] toward that.”

But asked directly about the Redskins, McNabb responded in diplomatic fashion.

“Sometimes you get what you want,” McNabb said. “Sometimes it’s not what you’re looking for. If I wasn’t what they were looking for in the system, then so be it. Hey, that’s out of my control and the only thing I can focus on is what’s in front of me.”

McNabb said he dealt with his agent during the trade deliberations and then focused on speaking to Vikings officials without having a farewell conversation with Mike Shanahan.

“I haven’t talked to Mike,” McNabb said. “I haven’t talked to Mike since probably the last week of the season.”

The Redskins declined to comment Saturday through a spokesman.

McNabb, at age 34, actually represents a youth movement for the Vikings after Brett Favre celebrated his 41st birthday last season as the team’s quarterback. But the Vikings also made a move for the future at the position, selecting Florida State’s Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick in the NFL draft in April.

McNabb said he’s unbothered by Ponder’s status as the organization’s quarterback of the future, likening it to the Eagles drafting Kevin Kolb while he was in Philadelphia. Kolb, as it turned out, outlasted McNabb by only one season in Philadelphia, losing the starting job last season to Michael Vick and being traded last month to the Arizona Cardinals. Frazier said he spoke to McNabb about the situation, adding that he has no plans to rush Ponder into the lineup.

“I don’t feel like the cupboard is empty here where you throw a guy out there and you say, ‘Just learn on the run,’ ” Frazier said. “I think our situation is one that we’re not that far away and can let [Ponder] grow at his own pace, let him develop with a guy who you trust in that role that he can learn from.”

McNabb said he “absolutely” can be as productive in Minnesota as he once was in Philadelphia.

“I look at it more as like a challenge, exciting,” McNabb said. “Obviously last year, the way things ended, you know, wasn’t any way that a player wants their career kind of to be a spotlight on. It was a learning experience for me. I learned a lot from it. A lot of stuff, I moved on from. This is a great opportunity for me, playing with a group of guys, young guys who are talented, a great coaching staff, an offense that I’m very comfortable with. And we can just go out here and have fun.”

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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