In the five years since the Redskins traded for Donovan McNabb, fans and followers of the team have wondered whose decision it was to trade multiple draft picks for an aging quarterback whom a division rival didn’t want. It’s been widely speculated that the impetus for acquiring McNabb came from somewhere over Coach Mike Shanahan’s head, and on Wednesday, the former coach spoke about it more explicitly than he ever has.
In an interview with ESPN 980’s The Sports Fix, Shanahan said the team had targeted potential free agent Marc Bulger of the St. Louis Rams during the 2010 offseason, and that the Redskins “thought that was gonna be a done deal.” Shanahan said he later talked about McNabb with both Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen, “and they knew the direction that I wanted to go,” but that it became less clear whether Bulger would actually be available. (Bulger wound up being released by the Rams the day after the Redskins acquired McNabb.)
“Didn’t want to give up the draft choices, but we wound up doing that,” Shanahan said. “And the decision was made, and I think mainly from Dan. Even though Bruce orchestrated the trade. I think Dan was the guy that really wanted Donovan the most.”
Then Kevin Sheehan asked Shanahan if he was okay with the parameters of that deal, including the draft picks given up and the salary owed McNabb.
“No, I wasn’t happy with that at all, to be honest with you,” Shanahan said. “But at that time, when they did make the decision to go with Donovan, Bruce had the leeway to orchestrate the deal, and I think he knew how much Dan wanted Donovan. And even though I wasn’t in favor of giving up any draft choices, once we got him, you know, you’ve got to try to make it work. And any time you give up a second or a third or a fourth, you want to make sure he’s going to be on your football team long term.”
Now, does this matter? Of course it does. Because in 2011, Dan Snyder was suggesting that he didn’t have — and didn’t want — a role in personnel decisions.
“You know what’s interesting is there’s a little bit of a misperception here,” Snyder said before Shanahan’s second season. “When Joe Gibbs was here for over four seasons, nobody came to talk to me about football, and the same thing now. It was very similar between Mike Shanahan and Joe Gibbs, that they take command of the football team, and I love that. I mean, for me it’s easy. I don’t want to be involved. ”
Shanahan also said that NFL coaches have to make hard decisions and move forward with them, hinting at McNabb’s brief and unhappy tenure in Washington. The coach said McNabb did some good things early in that 2010 season, but that “you’ve got to make a decision long term, if you think this is a guy that’s going to be there and give you a chance to win a Super Bowl.”
After a losing skid late in the 2010 season, Shanahan said the team had to evaluate Rex Grossman and start thinking about the 2011 season. The low point, of course, came when McNabb was benched late in a loss to Detroit, leading to the famous debate about his conditioning.
“When he was in the game, he was not doing the things — or at least calling the plays consistently,” Shanahan said. “When you’re running the two-minute drive, you cannot be making mistakes, and there were too many mistakes made. And I made the decision at that time to make a change….When plays aren’t coming out correctly or plays are being called the wrong way, you’ve got to make a decision in a game, what gives you the best chance to win. And we made the decision at that time that we weren’t going to go in that direction if there were inconsistent play calls during the game.”