Timing of McNabb's new deal woefully off

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There are many things beyond my scope of comprehension, from quantum physics to the emotional makeup of the women in my household to Richard Gere's acting career.

And now, after Monday, you can add the Washington Redskins' decision to give Donovan McNabb(notes) a five-year, $78 million contract extension at a time when the quarterback and his employers seem as compatible as Michael Moore and Sarah Palin.

Fifteen days after McNabb was benched for backup Rex Grossman(notes) toward the end of a defeat to the Detroit Lions, setting off a series of statements and insinuations by his head coach, Mike Shanahan, that questioned the veteran's fitness to lead, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder threw money at the problem in a wholly perplexing way.

Naturally, Snyder chose to roll out his commitment to a continuance of the Shanahan-McNabb mismatch in ostentatious fashion – on the night his team would host a Monday Night Football rematch with the Philadelphia Eagles, the team for whom McNabb had starred for 11 seasons before the Easter Sunday trade sent him down Interstate 95 and inside the Beltway.

As debuts go, it was a lot like Titanic – the actual ship, not the movie.

In early October, McNabb had returned to Philly and walked away from Lincoln Financial Field with a victory and a game ball. This time, as if to prove they have a twisted sense of humor, the football gods had McNabb on the wrong end of a 59-28 annihilation that stamped the Eagles as a legitimate Super Bowl contender – and took the stunning revival of his replacement, Michael Vick(notes), to an uncharted level of excellence.

If Vick, 18 months removed from a stay in federal prison due to his role in a dogfighting ring, had signed a deal earlier Monday that averaged more than $15 million per year, everyone in the NFL community would have been screaming, "He got ripped off!" by the middle of the second quarter.

McNabb? Well, put it this way: If reports are true that he hadn't physically signed the new deal before kickoff, I hope he had a pen in his FedEx Field locker. He threw three interceptions as the 'Skins dropped to 4-5 – two games behind the Eagles and Giants – and left the field looking as lost and lifeless as they sometimes did during the Jim Zorn era.

This focus on Monday's malaise represents a myopic view of the move. Yet the big picture is just as hideous.

What the short-lived benching of McNabb exposed was a stylistic disconnect that extended beyond any of Shanahan's silly explanations about the quarterback's lack of cardiovascular endurance or unfamiliarity with terminology. Shanahan's offense is based on precision, attention to detail and a multilayered dissecting of defenses. McNabb, while intelligent and eminently professional, is more of an instinctive, improvisational, impressionist painter. Each man has had a history of success with his respective approach and therefore feels no compulsion to change, with Shanahan intent on turning McNabb into someone he isn't (a grinder) and McNabb basically responding, "Just give me the ball and I'll make something happen."

It should be noted that Steve Young had a similar ad-lib heavy approach to football before Shanahan, during his three-year stint as George Seifert's offensive coordinator in San Francisco, drilled it out of him. The result was otherworldly: Young threw six touchdowns in Super Bowl XXIX and became a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

McNabb, however, turns 34 later this month and is much more set in his ways. And if McNabb was predisposed to doing it a new way, his incentive just became much less pronounced with the additional financial security the 'Skins extended him.

Think of this as a rushed union between two lovers whose mutual attraction obscured some fundamental differences. Things were hot and heavy for a while and then, as with any miscast marriage, reality reared its ugly head. One spouse left the toilet seat up; the other liked it down. One needed an attentive listener; the other craved space and took to staying out late with the boys. One member of the couple laughed aloud at Adam Sandler movies; the other preferred to stay home studying Sid Gillman's old playbook.

This is not to suggest that the Shanahan-McNabb relationship is doomed with 100 percent certainty. If Barry Switzer and Troy Aikman could win a Super Bowl together, anything is possible. But whereas the sensible approach for the 'Skins would have been to play out the season and reassess, Snyder – and I can't imagine the owner acted without his big-name coach's blessing – made a gesture that amounted to an ill-advised renewal of vows. It's as if the reeling couple blew off marriage counseling, instead merging the family businesses, sinking money into a sparkling new mansion and inviting 500 of their friends over to celebrate.

To be fair, it's possible that the Redskins' apparent commitment to McNabb is less extensive than advertised. Though initial reports suggested the deal included $40 million guaranteed, we often learn after the fact that the number is far lower, and it may be that the Redskins could decide to move on after the season and be on the hook for an amount far more reasonable.

That said, the symbolic power behind the gesture alone should make McNabb far more comfortable at a time when his head coach seems intent on pushing him out of his comfort zone – and I don't see what getting the deal done accomplished for the franchise.

Given recent developments, McNabb had very little leverage. His contract was due to expire after the season, but the team could have kept him around via the franchise tag and waited to see what else was out there via free agency or the draft. With a potential lockout looming, Snyder could have held onto the cash and bought time for Shanahan to explore a possible trade with the Bears for Jay Cutler(notes), the quarterback he molded into a Pro Bowler during his final years in Denver.

The end result may still have been the same – a new deal for McNabb and a marriage of convenience designed to endure until the next hot thing comes along. That'd be fine by me: It's Snyder's team and Snyder's money, and Shanahan knows as much about top-level quarterback play as anyone alive.

I just don't get why they decided to do this now.

Then again, as my wife and daughter can attest, I don't understand a lot of things.


After the Eagles’ third touchdown, an 11-yard pass from Vick to LeSean McCoy(notes), Gruden, Reid’s former coaching colleague in Green Bay, broke down the formation that set it up: “Watch the fullback attack the end. The end widens … easy angle up the field … that’s a clinic reel. This first quarter offense by Philadelphia – I want to get a copy of this.”

Here’s the serum-laced version you didn’t get to hear:

"Watch the fullback attack the end. The end widens … how [expletive] confused are the Redskins right now? That’s a clinic reel. This first quarter offense by Philadelphia – I want to get a copy of this. And, guess what, I will. And I will study it and break it down, and I will figure out a way to [expletive] it up. And then I’m gonna take some of Jerry Jones’ money, go coach America’s Team and shove it right back at Andy Reid on Monday Night Football next year, because that’s the way Tony Romo(notes) and I [expletive] roll.”


Say it with me now
“Michael Vick for MVP”
Yep, I told you so


Mike … I think wearing your underwear on your head for your declared Giants “lock of the century” is the only way for you to save face. I'm fine with you wearing a fresh pair and not your current skivvies; :) Much respect for you, but you blew this one big time. Reparations are needed to right your karma. Doesn't Dez look like the next big thing? Go Boys!

Austin, Texas

The timing of your email is convenient, as I’ll be hanging out with a serious underwear-on-head-caliber crew in Berkeley this weekend, and we’ll do anything to try to balance the karmic scales in our favor before our beloved Golden Bears confront the Evil Red Menace. (And this year, the Menace is really, really menacing, not to mention armed and dangerous and with Luck on its side.) A few dozen of us once showed up at Stanford Stadium in blue-and-gold bathrobes in an effort to end a Big Game losing streak; alas, our team (20 penalties, eight false starts) was as embarrassing as our collective appearance. Basically, we’re open to suggestions, especially if they can be reconciled with our playing of the 28th "little game" in Berkeley on Friday and the age-inappropriate hilarity that ensues. And on Saturday afternoon, if our talented freshman wideout, Keenan Allen, can do a Dez Bryant(notes) impersonation, and if everyone in a Cal uniform plays with the passion, pride and intelligence befitting of their great university, maybe we’ll be able to pull an upset as improbable as Dallas’ – and spend the rest of the night turning out the lights, New Meadowlands-style.