McNabb: Will he stay or will he go?

McNabb: Will he stay or will he go?
December 14, 2010, 8:58 pm
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010 4:00 PM

By Rich Tandler
Redskins Blogger
The Washington Redskins will have many player personnel decisions to make between now and the start of the 2011 season. All of them will be important but all will pale in comparison to the magnitude of what they decide to do with Donovan McNabb and the quarterback position. Here is a look at where they are now and what the options are for 2011. Where they are now In mid-November, the Redskins and McNabb agreed to a multi-year contract extensionsort of. The agreement basically is a series of one-year deals with annual salaries in the 13 million range for McNabb but very little in the way of guaranteed money. The Redskins could release him at virtually any time without suffering from any serious salary cap consequences. In 2011, in fact, they could wait until shortly before the season starts to decide whether or not they want to keep him. For that reason, this verdict could well drag out over the spring and summer. It could make LeBron James figuring out where to take his talents look like a knee-jerk reaction. Contract aside, the Redskins are getting a very uneven performance from McNabb this year. The quality of his play varies from game to game and from quarter to quarter. He makes great decisions followed by head-scratchers. One on play, he will zip the ball to a receiver in traffic and put the ball exactly where it needs to be. A few plays later he will make a wide-open receiver slow down and reach back for a pass. Or McNabb will throw it to him on one hop. McNabb as posted a quarterback rating of 119 in a loss and one of 58 in a win. If McNabb was consistently playing as well as he does in his better moments, there would be no offseason decision, he would be retained. If the bad McNabb wore number 5 for the Redskins a bit more often he surely would be gone. The up and down nature of McNabbs performance makes this a difficult decision. Barring him going on a tear or falling apart in the last three weeks, the team will have to examine all of its options. Here are some of the scenarios they will consider in the order of the likelihood of each one actually occurring: Keep McNabb, draft a quarterback high25 chance The Redskins could take a quarterback in the first or second round. Ryan Mallett of Arkansas and Cam Newton of Auburn are a couple of the possibilities. They could keep McNabb and insert the young player into the lineup at some point during the season as Shanahan did in with Jay Cutler in 2006. In Denver, he put the rookie into the starting lineup ahead of Jake Plummer with five games remaining in the season. The young QB could sit the whole season and take over in 2012 if he was not progressing fast enough. Keep McNabb, get a new veteran backup20 chance This also would be a sign that the Redskins believe that McNabb will be better in 2011 than in 2010. The new backup could be a talented player who might need a change of scene but who wouldnt expect to walk into a starting job. Alex Smith, the top overall pick in the 2005 draft, fits that description. So might Tavaris Jackson and Bruce Gradkowski. While none of these players would be a long-term solution, the key would be to have someone strong enough to take over if performance or injury issues intervene but who would be content to hold the clipboard if McNabb is competent and healthy. Certainly others will become available as free agency comes closer. Keep McNabb, draft a project quarterback15 chance This scenario would have the Redskins take a developmental quarterback later in the draft, maybe in the fifth round or sixth round. A couple of possible prospects here are Colin Kaepernick of Nevada and Greg McElroy of Alabama. McNabb would be the unquestioned starter in 2011 and maybe 2012 while the raw but talented understudy gets ready. The risk here is that if a quarterback lasts until the fifth round of the draft he is not a sure thing to develop into a quality starter. That would mean that the team would be taking the risk of itself in 2013 without a replacement for an aging McNabb. Keep the status quo15 chance This would mean keeping McNabb as the starter and Rex Grossman, who is not under contract for 2011, and John Beck, who is signed through next year, as the backups. This would indicate a high comfort level with McNabb and confidence that a second full year in the offense would bring about the desired consistency. While there may be some appeal in being patient and staying the course, the issue here is the lack of a backup plan. Grossman and Beck are short-term stopgaps at best, with short-term being defined as two or three games. If McNabb does not turn the corner, there would be no legitimate fallback option. Release McNabb, sign a free agent quarterback10 chance The Redskins could decide that they like the idea of an experienced starting quarterback but not this specific one. They could let McNabb walk, accept a minimal cap hit, and spend the money on another veteran signal caller. Its unlikely that Peyton Manning or Michael Vick will hit the open market but the likes of Kyle Orton and Matt Hasselbeck could well be available along with a few more who could be released in the spring. A scenario related to this one would have the Redskins trading for a veteran QB just like they did last April and then releasing McNabb. However, after giving up second- and fourth-round picks for McNabb, their supply of trade assets was severely diminished. Draft a quarterback high, release McNabb10 chance An unusual clause in McNabbs contract makes this a possibility. He is due an option bonus of around 10 million in 2011. Normally these payments are paid out around the time that the league year starts in early March or soon thereafter. The Redskins can wait until about a week before the start of the regular season to decide if they want to pay McNabb that money or release him. The Redskins probably wouldnt wait until August to make the call on McNabb but they could wait until after the draft. They could then determine if they had a quarterback who could be ready to go in September and decide to save the 10 million plus McNabbs 2011 salary of about 3 million. Washington would then either sink or swim with the new guy or bring in one of the second-tier (cheaper) veterans discussed above, someone like Alex Smith, to handle the snaps until the rookie is ready. Trade McNabb5 chance McNabbs contract makes it fairly easy to trade him since there is so little guaranteed money involved. The trick would be finding a trade partner who thinks that he can thrive as a starter on that team after failing on this team. So its possible that the Redskins could deal McNabb and then execute one of the release McNabb scenarios above. You can reach Rich by email at and follow him on Twitter @RealRedskins. Join Rich Tandler for an in-game chat during the Redskins-Cowboys game on Sunday. Things will get underway on shortly before kickoff at 12:45 Eastern and continue all game long.