Redskins bench Donovan McNabb, will start Rex Grossman against Cowboys

The "Washington Post Live" team breaks down Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan's decision to start Rex Grossman for the rest of the season over Donovan McNabb.
By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 18, 2010; 12:17 AM

Coach Mike Shanahan's decision Friday to bench quarterback Donovan McNabb for the remainder of the season stunned many inside and outside Redskins Park, but the move had been discussed for weeks as frustration with McNabb's poor performance mounted.

Shanahan listened to his dissatisfied offensive staff before demoting McNabb in favor of Rex Grossman for Sunday's game at Dallas, multiple people familiar with the situation said. Third-stringer John Beck will move ahead of McNabb and serve as Grossman's primary backup for the season's final two games against Jacksonville and the New York Giants.

McNabb's rapid descent since being acquired in an April trade can be traced to his struggles adjusting to the offense the coach used to win consecutive Super Bowl titles with the Denver Broncos. In 13 games this season, the six-time Pro Bowler failed to deliver what Shanahan expects from the quarterback position.

The team's top football official, Shanahan is eager to evaluate the Redskins' offense with someone other than McNabb at the controls.

"There's a lot of mistakes that you make, you really don't know if you made a mistake" at the time of the move, Shanahan said after practice at Redskins Park. "But if you do make one, you make it and you go on. What I want to do is evaluate where we're at [at quarterback] at the end of the season, and then I will tell you if we erred or not."

Apparently, though, the Redskins have seen enough from McNabb. And in the coaching offices at Redskins Park, the only surprise was that Shanahan stuck with him for as long as he did.

The belief among the coaching staff is that McNabb's play this season has not been good. McNabb is having his worst season statistically - his 15 interceptions are a career high and his passer rating ranks 25th in the NFL - but the problem goes beyond the numbers, according to people in the organization who requested anonymity so they could speak freely about the situation.

Obviously, McNabb is an accomplished player, having led the Eagles to six NFC East titles and a Super Bowl appearance. But since his arrival in Washington, Redskins coaches were disappointed with the player they acquired.

Among themselves in meetings at Redskins Park, coaches often bemoan the fact that McNabb frequently watches the rush, doesn't read coverages well and prefers to attempt to make plays outside the structure of the offense, according to people with knowledge of the situation. McNabb regularly succeeded while free-lancing in Philadelphia. At age 34, however, he no longer possesses the ability to pull that off, the Redskins believe.

His performance in practice was as bad in games, the sources said, and something had to change in an effort to evaluate the offense fairly. The Redskins (5-8) have dropped three straight and five of six. They are eliminated from playoff contention. At this point, the focus is on evaluating for the 2011 season and beyond, and Shanahan informed McNabb on Thursday that he "could not guarantee him that he would be back next year. I said, 'I can't guarantee you that.' But what I can guarantee you [is] that I'll be honest with you. I'll evaluate the situation."

Approached by reporters after practice Friday, McNabb declined to comment. Through his publicist, he issued a statement saying he respects Shanahan's decision, "but I strongly disagree with it."

McNabb's agent, Fletcher Smith, used much stronger language. "Disrespectful is probably not strong enough of a word" to describe Shanahan's treatment of McNabb. "Donovan has handled himself with nothing but class, not just in Washington but as an ambassador for the league. To treat him this way . . . it's beyond disrespectful."

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