Since the Washington Redskins last won a division title, they’ve burned through 16 starting quarterbacks. For one reason or another, none of them provided a long-term solution to the game’s most important position. But Donovan McNabb was supposed to be different.
He was brought to Washington in April 2010 to stabilize a capricious quarterback spot that had been in dire straits for a long time, immediately giving hope to Redskins fans that the team might return to the postseason.
It all unraveled quickly and in dramatic fashion. After just one season, the Redskins will formally part ways with McNabb, agreeing to a trade Wednesday night that sends the six-time Pro Bowler to the Minnesota Vikings. In return, the Redskins will receive a late-round draft pick next year and, depending on McNabb’s performance in Minnesota, another in 2013.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised or wasn’t shocked,” Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said of the brief marriage between one of the game’s most high-profile athletes and one of the NFL’s most storied franchises. “I think the whole Redskins Nation was.”
With McNabb’s tenure in Washington reaching a premature conclusion, the Redskins’ quarterback carousel spins once again. Players are due to report for training camp Thursday and the Redskins are on the verge of starting the 2011 season with yet another quarterback — their 17th starter in 13 seasons.
With McNabb headed to Minnesota, his preferred destination since his relationship with Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan deteriorated late last season, the Redskins will likely turn to either John Beck, who hasn’t played in an NFL game since 2007, or Rex Grossman, who was unspectacular in three starts last season and hasn't been a regular starter in four years.
Beck has taken on a leadership role during the offseason, and coaches have expressed confidence in his abilities, despite his lack of credentials and game experience.
“He’s just basically been showing tireless effort to be out here and do the work,” said Redskins wide receiver Anthony Armstrong. “He’s flown out here from California time and time again to throw routes. I almost have to ignore his phone calls and text messages because he’s always like: ‘Wanna throw? Wanna throw?’ ”
Said Beck: “I’m just trying to do my job to help this team be the best it can be. Obviously, there are goals that have been set, and a lot has to happen. I’m just trying to do my part.”
If it is Beck, he’d merely be the latest in a long line of hopeful Washington quarterbacks whose tenures all ended early, from the forgettable (Gibran Hamdan and Todd Husak) to the memorable (Jason Campbell, Jeff George and Patrick Ramsey).
While the Redskins have rolled the dice on many accomplished veterans since Daniel Snyder bought the team in 1999, few raised expectations so sharply as McNabb and fewer ignited as many fireworks as when McNabb came up short.
When the Redskins completed the Easter 2010 trade for McNabb with the Philadelphia Eagles, Snyder had cut short a family vacation and rushed back to Washington to meet in person with perhaps his biggest acquisition. He watched from the back of the room as McNabb was introduced to fans last spring.
“I’m going to prepare myself to be here for years to come,” McNabb said then, announcing “a new chapter in the book of Donovan.”
He immediately began wooing area business leaders and meeting with members of the city’s political community. Behind the scenes, coaches expressed concerns that McNabb, who had played in only one offensive system in his 11 seasons with the Eagles, wasn’t picking up the Redskins’ schemes.
“You see a guy who’s been a Pro Bowler six times. You think he’s going to come in and help us win more games,” Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said Wednesday. “But it didn’t work out, relationships broke down and now he’s not here.”
Though McNabb and the team’s offense struggled at times, the Redskins still rewarded the quarterback with a contract extension in November, giving him a $3.5 million signing bonus, which was paid immediately, and offering an additional $10 million bonus in the first week of the 2011 season.
Shanahan stuck with McNabb until a three-game losing streak in December, shocking many by benching the veteran in favor of Grossman. Shanahan told McNabb he could not guarantee the quarterback he’d have a job in Washington in 2011.
“When I traded for Donovan McNabb, I had hoped that he would lead us to the playoffs,” Shanahan said late in the season. “No one wanted him to be more successful than me.”
But the benching sparked a series of national headlines, in which unidentified people complained about McNabb’s conditioning and questioned his grasp of the team’s offense. In turn, McNabb’s agent, Fletcher Smith, criticized the Redskins’ lack of professionalism and forthrightness. Shanahan and his son, Kyle, the team’s offensive coordinator, were slandering McNabb’s name, Smith said.
“The Shanahans — both Mike and more specifically Kyle — have made this an extremely difficult relationship to maintain,” the agent said at the time. “Their comments have been beyond disrespectful and unprecedented for a six-time Pro Bowl quarterback such as Donovan.”
Following the season, the NFL faced a labor crisis, and owners locked out players in March. The Redskins were unable to deal with McNabb’s status until the owners and players agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement this week.
The Vikings and Redskins discussed the framework of a trade throughout the day on Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, all that remained was getting McNabb and his agent to sign off on a new, restructured contract. The Vikings did not want to swallow the $10 million bonus and by Wednesday evening McNabb agreed to a lesser deal that will likely make him the Vikings’ starter this season.
McNabb earned $14.7 million for his 13 games in a Redskins uniform.
“I would’ve loved to have had him back here, but things just didn’t turn out the right way,” said Alexander, his Redskins teammate. “He’ll go on and eventually be a Hall of Famer.”
Now McNabb will start anew — a fresh start in a new city — for the second year in a row. And the Redskins will continue their long search for a dependable quarterback who might be able to carry the team into the postseason.