By Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 16, 2010; 1:54 AM
There couldn't be a stranger string of events, really, from the inexcusable benching of Donovan McNabb in Detroit to the bogus reasons given later to the Washington Redskins signing the same quarterback to a $78 million contract extension to the historically lopsided butt kicking McNabb's old team laid on the Redskins on Monday night for the whole nation to see.
Only the Redskins could produce theater this absurd. Only the Redskins of the 21st century, a team that looks more and more like something out of Charlie Brown, could find such melodrama in every little thing.
The 59-28 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, considering the circumstances, was the most embarrassing loss the Redskins have had in some years. The stunning news that McNabb had signed a five-year contract extension was folded into a rather clownish evening that saw the Redskins bedazzled by Michael Vick and an Eagles offense that suggests the Redskins go back to the drawing board and forget spending $78 million in one place.
But unless the two parties have a change of heart - and who can dismiss anything melodramatic with these Redskins - McNabb and his team will now have a helluva long time to digest what went wrong and consider how to correct it.
You see, almost none of the Redskins' big personnel decisions the past 11 years have been good ones, and a great many have been spectacularly awful. The Redskins have cornered the market on players past their primes, guys who would never have a prime, the overrated, the underperforming, and just plain busts.
They've gotten future Hall of Famers too late, such as Deion Sanders. They've gotten MVP-caliber guys who disappeared the moment they became Redskins. They've gotten Pro Bowl players who were terribly disappointing with the Redskins, only to go elsewhere and immediately return to Pro Bowl form. The mention of the names Dana Stubblefield, Adam Archuleta, Brandon Lloyd, Mark Brunell and, Antwaan Randle El ought to make Redskins fans wince. And that's a fraction of the list of recent mistakes, the ones off the top of my head.
The point to be made here is the Redskins haven't earned any benefit of the doubt when it comes to big-splash signings. The poor judgment the Redskins demonstrated in benching McNabb in favor or Rex Grossman two weeks ago is exactly why it would be unwise to trust the same franchise has done the smart thing in signing McNabb to a five-year extension for $78 million. Reportedly, $40 million of it is guaranteed, though I'm told the guarantee is far less than that.
If you're McNabb, and some team offers you this much money at a week shy of 34 years old, you take it. Don't get me wrong, McNabb surely was tempted to say no, even if he doesn't have a beef with Mike Shanahan. I was told by multiple sources Monday night that Shanahan was covering for his son Kyle, the offensive coordinator, and that it was Kyle, not Mike, who made the call to bench McNabb; that it's the son, not the father, who has issues with McNabb.
Those close to McNabb reminded him during the team's bye week that he didn't have to sign anything, that he didn't have to be in Washington beyond this year, that there are teams out there - like the one in Arizona, where he lives in the offseason - that could use him. The contract extension had been sitting there already, and McNabb could say thanks but no thanks if he wanted to, and the people who love him unconditionally would have understood if he took a pass.
My question is why McNabb, with just a few years left in his career, would want to tie himself to such a dysfunctional franchise, one that would embarrass him the way the team did, one that from all appearances is nowhere near serious contention. But there's the very real incentive of millions of dollars coming as a lockout approaches, and perhaps the realization that not everybody is going to pay Daniel Snyder money for a quarterback who appears past the point of putting up the numbers he did four, six, eight years ago.
Plus, McNabb found very quickly that he liked greater Washington, he loved that people embraced him and engaged him here. He was furious privately over the benching in Detroit but told people who knew him to chill out, that this would pass and things would be fine. Taking tens of millions of dollars, even if you have your workplace squabbles, is usually a no-brainer.
"It was an odd situation, absolutely," McNabb's agent Fletcher N. Smith III said before the game, of having a contract proposal on the table while his client was benched. "Had we not been through something similar in Philly it would have been a shock. . . . But we've battled a lot through Donovan's career."
There's no way the Redskins will admit that signing McNabb now, at the end of this dumb benching episode and on the day of a big "Monday Night Football" bonanza with his former Philly team, was rooted in trying to find a public relations boost. The Redskins, Mike Shanahan in particular, were roasted over this affair, particularly in black Washington, where people believe the whole benching and the subsequent dumb mishandling of it was at least racially insensitive. If Shanahan didn't understand that Washington, the city with the richest and most participatory black fan base in the NFL, ain't Denver, he does now.
But I don't believe this was a $78 million apology. I do believe Smith when he says the extension was on the table long before the benching. And I also believe that this signing is the primarily the work of Snyder, not General Manager Bruce Allen and not even Mike Shanahan.
Applause to Snyder if he worked quietly through his coach and GM to get a deal done, instead of the old way he used to go about wooing and signing players, a tactic that always seemed to backfire.
Smith said Allen, "contacted me, contract aside, to make sure Donovan was all right [after the benching]. . . .He said they still loved him, they still wanted him. . . .This would have made perfect sense were it not for last week."
But given what we've seen of the Redskins since 1999 it makes perfect Redskins sense, because this franchise has specialized in: One jaw-dropping decision after another.
Things that don't make sense to anybody else, that's Redskins sense. So now we get to see whether the signing of Donovan McNabb, which most folks thought would be a good thing just a month ago, fits on that long list of bizarre happenings around here or if the Redskins start a new tradition: Making a decision that works for everybody involved. That, too, would be a stunner.