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Donovan McNabb benching: Mike Shanahan wears two hats and should add a third - dunce cap

By Thomas Boswell
Saturday, December 18, 2010; 12:53 AM

This should be entertaining. Rex Grossman for Donovan McNabb. Get the popcorn ready Sunday. Christmas comes early.

Now we'll see how smoothly the journeyman Grossman employs the brilliant Mike Shanahan offense with his luminous offspring Kyle calling the plays. On Sunday in Dallas, we should finally get clear evidence of just how big a bum McNabb really is.

The next week in Jacksonville, Grossman will no doubt provide further proof - if he is still vertical and conscious - of the genius of the Shanahans and the worthlessness of the Donovan.

Now we see the Redskins' core problem this season. It's the fault of the dunce who makes the big personnel decisions. The real culprit is the bozo who traded for McNabb in the first place. He had 11 years to evaluate McNabb in Philly, but he still traded draft picks to a division rival for a quarterback that, after just 13 weeks, has been judged a failure by the smartest coach who ever lived.

Unfortunately, the personnel guy who dealt for McNabb just eight months ago and the X's-and-O's guru of a coach who can't get rid of him fast enough now are the same person: Mike Shanahan.

One of you two guys should fire the other one because, in a sane NFL franchise, somebody's head would roll for this screw-up.

It's one thing to disrespect Albert Haynesworth. He disrespects himself. It's another case completely when you trash McNabb's reputation. There are lots of free agents available this offseason. The chances that the best of them will come to Washington just got cut in half. If Albertross didn't chill you, the McNabb debacle will.

Andy Reid makes sandpaper look smooth. But he and McNabb coexisted, and often flourished, as they went to five NFC championship games together. McNabb hasn't just been to the Pro Bowl six times; he went last year with a quarterback rating of 92.9. Then he came to camp this season in visibly better shape.

Now we're supposed to believe that McNabb is a lousy quarterback? We're supposed to buy into the idea that a great coach couldn't teach McNabb a new offense given a full season?

"I almost don't even know where to begin, but it really started with Detroit and it was just wrong the way Donovan was treated," said McNabb's agent Fletcher Smith, referring to the benching of McNabb for the final minutes of the Lions game on Oct 31. "Just the way Mike handled the whole situation in Detroit, and in almost every instance since that time, and this is, I guess, the culmination of that. I think it's . . . again, it's beyond disrespectful."

Outside Washington, the rest of the NFL views the Redskins as a tired sitcom rerun that, year after year, offers a different cast but the same plot: variations on dysfunction. That's where the Redskins have fallen now; they're in high-budget farce with a low-budget writing staff: name actors, trash scripts.

This time, they didn't deactivate Haynesworth just before kickoff, throwing the locker room into turmoil. They didn't suspend Haynesworth three days later, paying him $35 million for two years of malingering. This time, they didn't lose, 17-16, on a botched extra point with nine seconds to play, then fire veteran punter-holder Hunter Smith as a ritual scapegoat on Wednesday.

This time they topped themselves for unnecessary melodrama and future bad blood. They benched McNabb for a journeyman.

Allowing the same man to be coach and personnel boss almost never works. There's too much power to feed one ego. There are no internal checks-and-balances, as there were when Joe Gibbs had Bobby Beathard and Charley Casserly as his GMs. When Gibbs came back, he had final say and, so, was actually his own GM. And that didn't work out nearly as well.

Take all this seriously if you want. But the Redskins have finally fried my earnest-and-analytical button. It's plumb broke.

Barring divine intervention, the McNabb-Redskins marriage will be annulled after this season. Last month, the Redskins were more than happy to let the public think that they had just signed a $78 million contract extension with McNabb. That served their purposes with the sport mocking them as they prepared to play on "Monday Night Football." Crisis, what crisis? We're just having a big group hug.

Maybe the score that night should have tipped off how many problems lay barely hidden under the surface. The Eagles led 35-0 after 16 minutes.

Soon, a more accurate view of the deal came out. If the Redskins release McNabb after this season, he will be $3.5 million richer, thanks to what amounts to a sorry-the-Shanahans-insulted-you bonus from owner Daniel Snyder and GM Bruce Allen.

But the Redskins will need a new quarterback, on top of all their other needs, and one suspects the franchise will be no wiser.

All year, I've said McNabb was playing a great deal like McNabb, except the players around him were either inept or injured.

On Mondays, I re-watch every play of every game of this 5-8 team in normal speed and then slow motion. My family thinks I'm crazy. But I'm pretty sure that McNabb's had a decent season, all things considered.

Two numbers matter: He's passed for 3,377 yards, seventh best in the NFL, and was on pace for his first 4,000-yard season. Also, under a constant battering, he's turned the ball over 16 times, 15 on interceptions but only one on a fumble.

Despite this, I'm open-minded. I'm curious whether Shanahan is wrong in thinking McNabb is unworthy to run his offense and execute his son's plays. Good luck, Rex.

On the other hand, I'm curious whether Shanahan, after watching all of McNabb's career, could completely misjudge the most important personnel evaluation on his roster. And, in Redskins tradition, give away what a rebuilding team needs - draft picks.

Either way, McNabb, like competent Jason Campbell (who's doing just fine, thanks, out in Oakland), will soon be free of the Redskins nuthouse. The warden has granted them their pardons.

When shall we be released?

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