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Donovan McNabb's contract is only worth how well he plays

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 16, 2010; 7:22 PM

Eyebrows were raised Monday at FedEx Field as news spread about quarterback Donovan McNabb's five-year contract extension with the Washington Redskins.

The timing of the new deal and its reported value of $40 million guaranteed was surprising because McNabb, who turns 34 next week, has struggled during his first season with the team, was benched late in the recent loss to Detroit and apparently is not proficient in Coach Mike Shanahan's two-minute offense. As it turned out, however, the Redskins' guaranteed commitment to McNabb is only $3.5 million, people familiar with the contract said Tuesday.

In addition to McNabb receiving relatively little guaranteed money, the Redskins could sever ties with him after this season if they choose. Based on the structure of the contract and McNabb's age, it seems doubtful the veteran quarterback - who played poorly again in the team's embarrassing 59-28 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles - would remain with the team for most of the extension unless he performs well each season.

A more likely scenario is that Shanahan, as he did previously while guiding Denver, will select a quarterback in the 2011 draft and groom him to replace McNabb, possibly as early as next season. That means McNabb is essentially on a seven-game tryout to convince Shanahan that, regardless of the team's apparent need for a rising young signal-caller, he still would be Washington's best option during the 2011 season, if there is a 2011 season.

Under his new contract, McNabb must impress to gain the stability he has sought since he was traded from Philadelphia to Washington on Easter Sunday.

Tony Wyllie, the Redskins' senior vice president, did not return a telephone call seeking comment on the Redskins' quarterback plans Tuesday.

Washington (4-5) will attempt to regroup after its stunning ineptitude against Philadelphia, and having McNabb under contract for any length of time beyond this season provided encouragement for veteran players seeking positive signs.

"Yeah, that's definitely good news," cornerback and defensive co-captain DeAngelo Hall said. "There's nothing good we can take out of it [the loss], but at least you know your quarterback's gonna be here. And whatever they [the contract numbers] are, the organization made it clear Donovan needed to be here, and Donovan wanted to be here. That's what we're looking at."

McNabb's extension contains the $3.5 million guaranteed from his new signing bonus, though nothing is guaranteed beyond the 2010 season, the league sources said.

In salary and bonuses this season, McNabb will be paid $14.7 million. The Redskins hold a $10 million contract option for 2011 that they can exercise until the first game of that season, or they could release McNabb and owe him nothing. If McNabb is on the roster next season, he would earn about $16.25 million - assuming the NFL and the players' association reach a new collective bargaining agreement.

In 2012, McNabb's base salary of $11.5 million would become guaranteed on the first day of the NFL's cap year, which begins in March. McNabb will turn 36 during that season. By then, the Redskins probably would be eager to have a young quarterback in place.

Late in the 2006 season with the Broncos, Shanahan benched veteran quarterback Jake Plummer in favor of rookie Jay Cutler. If the Redskins select a quarterback in the draft, McNabb could start until Shanahan is determined the new guy is ready. Or, if a rookie exceeded Shanahan's expectations next season, the team could cut McNabb before the first game.

But McNabb and his agent, Fletcher N. Smith III, envision the Redskins exercising both options "because it's basically a split signing bonus that you see in most NFL contracts," Smith said in a phone interview Tuesday. "And we negotiated the deal fully expecting the Redskins to pick up the options, just as teams have done in many instances with players of Donovan's stature."

Veteran players have confidence in McNabb because of the six-time Pro Bowler's impressive body of work during the first 11 seasons of his career with Philadelphia. His transition to the Redskins, though, has been rocky.

McNabb's ineffectiveness early in the Monday night debacle contributed to one of the worst overall performances of franchise history. The Eagles raced to a 35-0 lead early in the second quarter behind the outstanding play of quarterback Michael Vick, McNabb's friend and onetime teammate, who had the greatest individual performance in the history of Monday Night Football.

For the eighth time in nine games this season, McNabb had a passer rating below 80.0, (five of those have been below 70.0). He threw a season-high three interceptions - all of which led to Eagles touchdowns - including one late in the second quarter after the Redskins had cut the lead to 35-14. Five plays later, Vick rushed for a touchdown and Philadelphia led 45-14 at halftime.

Quarterbacks generally receive too much credit when teams perform well and are unfairly blamed when things go poorly. The Redskins were outperformed in every facet of the game, including being thoroughly outcoached, which Shanahan acknowledged.

"Just embarrassing," outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "Monday Night Football, the whole country sees it. You come out, and it's 35-0 nothing [in the second] quarter. It just looks like we were a high school team and they came ready to play as a professional team."

The Redskins must continue their long-overdue overhaul of the offensive line that began with the drafting of rookie left tackle Trent Williams. They also must acquire more playmakers at running back and wide receiver.

And then there's the issue of McNabb's uneasy relationship with Shanahan's son, Kyle, Washington's offensive coordinator.

Since the offseason, Kyle Shanahan has expressed concerns about McNabb's ability to succeed in the offense his father designed, according to multiple people familiar with the situation. Kyle Shanahan now needs to make it work with McNabb, who currently is the Redskins' best option at quarterback and could be for at least another season.

Washington Post blogger J.I. Halsell contributed to this report.

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