By Mike Wise
Monday, August 2, 2010; D01
Donovan McNabb was standing on the field, a good 50 to 70 yards away from the fan barrier. Besides speaking with coaches, he almost seemed to be waiting for his teammates to draw the crowd away so he could walk inconspicuously back to the air-conditioned locker room.
He had taken his practice jersey, helmet and pads off. To the uninitiated fan that could not see the No. 5 mesh jersey, he could have been any other player on the roster.
But then, this is Redskins Park, which suddenly has a new rock star.
"Donovan, do it for the children!"
The remaining several hundred zealots began to bend their torsos over the barrier and howl, the sound growing in volume and desperation as they pleaded for the most accomplished player on the team to come over and sign their footballs, helmets, jerseys, cupholders, heck, body parts. Anything.
"C'mon, D. McNice, just one autograph. Do it for the kids."
Okay, and a hard-featured, unshaven man of maybe 50 from Fredericksburg named Clifford, who held up his yawning infant son as if he, too, knew who quarterbacked the Washington Redskins.
Beyond the leadership, the résumé of seven playoff appearances in the past 10 years, the easy-as-a-Sunday-mornin' smile, the 30-yard darts on a rope, this is why McNabb is worth the investment. This is why signing him to a three- to four-year deal north of $30 million guaranteed makes sense.
He brings gravitas to a place that had none. He makes emotional people, most of whom would die happy to see him in pain on the ground at FedEx Field the past 11 years, have genuine hope about the future behind their own center for a change.
McNabb at 33 years old is worth the financial commitment because two high-round draft picks were given up to procure him, because with all due respect to Rex Grossman, there is no one capable of taking the reins and shining behind him at the moment.
As Bruce Allen and McNabb's agent prepare to come to terms so McNabb stays in Washington for longer than a year, he is worth it in ways that other town's stars who took Daniel Snyder's money were not. Why? Because at least some of them -- and that's being generous -- were more interested in their financial security than their legacy as an NFL player.
McNabb needs Washington almost as much as it needs him. If he wins big here, No. 5 is on a first-ballot journey to Canton. That fact should not be discounted. Of course, this is a risk -- especially for a franchise that hasn't been fiscally sound in its big-ticket investments for a while.
Let's be honest, even for first-round draft picks, the numbers are insane right now. Sam Bradford, who has never thrown an NFL pass, has been guaranteed $50 million by the St. Louis Rams. Trent Williams, who won't protect a quarterback in a game that matters for six weeks, was guaranteed more than $36.5 million by the home team.
This is what free agent impetuousness has gotten Washington: Adam Archuleta, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Sanders, Dana Stubblefield (who predated Snyder's tenure) and the most costly of all, Albert Haynesworth.
Those players, who preposterously signed contracts totaling almost a combined quarter-billion dollars, had two things in common: 1. They achieved their notoriety in other NFL cities and 2. They never amounted to boo for the Redskins. (Though the jury is still out until Haynesworth is either moved or just plain can't move.)
Why so much contempt for Albert? The $32 million he has already had electronically transferred to his bank account is nearly $4 million more than Deion, Stubblefield and Archuleta got combined for their first (and only, in the case of Sanders and Archuleta) forgettable seasons in Washington.
Giving McNabb many millions is not a no-brainer. He won't make salivating linemen miss forever and injuries are always going to come into play with a quarterback as mobile as he is fragile.
But as long as his production does not wane too much, as long as he can engineer a playoff run in the next two seasons, there is so much else to McNabb-as-face-of-the-franchise material that can't be discounted.
"He's always got a smile on his face, he's always laughing," Colt Brennan said on Sunday morning after practice.
Brennan is, of course, a backup quarterback, fighting for a job like Grossman. He understands who is No. 1 -- the same guy who invited him to McNabb's "Hell Week" with receivers at his home in Arizona before training camp, the same guy who was in the weight room with teammates before his news conference to announce the trade.
"When he walked in here Day 1," Brennan added, "he was already looked to as a leader."
Said Chris Samuels, the recently retired offensive lineman in Ashburn turned coach: "You could only see him from a distance in Philly. Now that he's here, you see him up close. I knew he was a great football player, but the leadership is something else. Positive guy. Great motivator. The best thing about him is he's a leader."
The very best thing about the acquisition of Donovan McNabb: Four days into training camp and already everybody else is following.
Sign him to at least three years and as many as five years. After Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, give him money commensurate with the best in his profession. He's worth that financial commitment like none of the other stars from other towns were worth it.