Jason Reid
Jason Reid
Columnist

Donovan McNabb was never what the Shanahans wanted; so why’d they get him?

Quarterback Donovan McNabb actually wanted to remain with the Washington Redskins — as long as Mike and Kyle Shanahan were forced to leave.

Scapegoated for Washington’s failure last season, McNabb was eager to put distance between himself and the Redskins’ father-son coaching duo. The six-time Pro Bowler got what he wanted in Wednesday’s trade to the Minnesota Vikings, escaping a situation in which he could not succeed.

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The doors are open at Redskins Park as The Washington Post's Tracee Hamilton, Tarik El-Bashir and Jonathan Forsythe discuss the team's laundry list of post-lockout priorities.

The doors are open at Redskins Park as The Washington Post's Tracee Hamilton, Tarik El-Bashir and Jonathan Forsythe discuss the team's laundry list of post-lockout priorities.

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In permitting McNabb to join the top team on his wish list, Coach Mike Shanahan finally supported the proven winner. Perhaps things would have been less toxic during their only season together if Shanahan had occasionally backed McNabb in his ugly feud with the Redskins’ offensive coordinator.

But Kyle mostly gets what Kyle wants.

One of the worst trades in franchise history is on Shanahan’s ledger, and now McNabb will try to undo the damage from his Redskins experience. It definitely won’t be easy.

A target of backstabbing by the men with whom he worked and their mouthpieces, McNabb must prove he’s not lazy and stupid. He has to regain the fourth-quarter confidence teammates once had in him. The guy who led the Philadelphia Eagles to five NFC championship games and a Super Bowl appearance must essentially show people he’s still capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time.

 At 34, McNabb is starting over again because he wasn’t Kyle’s first, second, or third choice for the District’s second-most high-profile gig. In the twilight of his career, McNabb is trying rebuild it after learning a painful lesson about what sometimes happens to strong-willed players who question the Shanahan Way.

When you’re benched in favor of journeyman Rex Grossman and demoted to third string behind John Beck — whose NFL resume consists of five games, none since 2007 — that’s not only a questionable football decision. That’s clearly punishment.

McNabb’s crime? He simply had his own ideas. For his first 11 years in the NFL, McNabb prepared and played in a manner that best suited him. During that time, he was one of the league’s most successful quarterbacks, so shame on him for not wanting to change.

The Shanahans expected McNabb to work on his footwork before practice. They wanted to alter his mechanics. They sought a total McNabb makeover.

People in the organization say McNabb deserves much of the blame for his disastrous partnership with the Shanahans.

They say Mike Shanahan felt betrayed by McNabb. He believed McNabb would embrace new ideas, and work harder, after being dumped by the Philadelphia Eagles. That’s why Shanahan ignored his son’s strong objections and traded second- and fourth-round draft picks for McNabb.

They say once McNabb arrived, Shanahan quickly determined his son was right. McNabb moved too slowly during practice and in games to operate their offense.

Then there was the whole wristband thing. Shanahan supporters say McNabb needed help with playcalling and a wristband with the plays on it would have helped. McNabb declined to wear one, so that’s on him, they say.

Okay, let’s be fair. No question, McNabb could have taken a different approach. He’s not as athletic as he once was, so perhaps he would have benefited from having more of an open mind.

But McNabb isn’t the first veteran set in his ways. Surely, he won’t be the last. And none of it warrants trashing him around the league. (Even after McNabb’s best performance — a 426-yard effort during a Week 2 loss to the Houston Texans — the coaches’ talk focused on all the plays McNabb failed to make because of his errant throws and poor decisions.)

And here’s the main flaw in the argument that McNabb deserves most of the blame: He didn’t trade himself here. Shanahan has player-personnel control. He has the final say on who plays for Washington.

The people in charge are responsible for doing their due diligence before making moves. McNabb didn’t undergo a major physical change once he joined the Redskins. His personality didn’t form overnight.

Philadelphia Coach Andy Reid understood what he had in McNabb, designing an offense to capitalize on what McNabb does best. Such tactics are called coaching.

Reid also accepted that, for them to coexist and prosper together, he had to tolerate aspects of McNabb’s performance and approach. The Eagles, however, were willing to trade McNabb within the NFC East, which should have raised some red flags for Shanahan.

The information was out there about McNabb’s supposed shortcomings. Obviously, Shanahan either didn’t hear the talk or ignored it.

It shouldn’t have mattered that Shanahan knew owner Daniel Snyder really wanted McNabb. Even if Shanahan thought it was too early in their relationship to disappoint his boss, that’s what he should have done if he believed McNabb would be a bad fit.

Snyder is paying Shanahan millions of dollars for his years of football expertise.

If that experience doesn’t help when the team is considering a major trade for the most important position in the game, when will it?

In another time, McNabb may have been just what the Redskins needed. He could have been the one to end Snyder’s long search for a franchise quarterback, at least temporarily.

But it couldn’t happen now. Not with the Shanahans.

 
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