Does the arrival of Donovan McNabb automatically make the Redskins a playoff contender?
In some precincts, such as our Web site, there have been suggestions that Donovan McNabb's presence alone puts the Redskins in the conversation for an NFC East title. I've attempted to temper some of that enthusiasm for the trade, but some folks are convinced the Redskins leapfrogged the Eagles and Giants with Sunday's blockbuster move.
For the record, I do think that McNabb makes the Redskins a more formidable team. His leadership qualities and the fact that he's been in a ton of playoff games gives him instant credibility in Washington. And he's about to feel the warmest embrace since he was playing at Syracuse. All the angst that those of us outside of Philly really don't have a handle on will vanish in the loving arms of playoff-starved Redskins fans.
That said, it's hard for me to imagine McNabb making a seven-win difference. And it would take seven more wins to put the Redskins, who were 4-12 last season, in the conversation for a division title. When Brett Favre joined a 10-win Vikings team, they had the best running back in the league and a talented, if raw, group of wide receivers. He also inherited an offensive line with a lot more stability than what McNabb will encounter in Washington.
The Redskins have some talent at wide receiver with Santana Moss, Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas, so it's not a stretch to think McNabb could elevate that group. He won a lot of games with the likes of Freddie Mitchell and Greg Lewis at wideout. Over the past couple of seasons, McNabb has benefited from the rise of tight end Brent Celek. And the Redskins are actually deeper at that position with Chris Cooley and Fred Davis.
The other positive for McNabb is that he'll be playing for a head coach, Mike Shanahan, who truly commits to the running game. Andy Reid's offense was all about the passing game, which put constant pressure on McNabb. If the combination of fading stars Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker somehow works for the Skins, McNabb could be even more effective in the passing game.
But as I keep saying, the biggest question is whether the Redskins can overhaul one of the worst offensive lines of the modern era. Quarterback Jason Campbell would look across the huddle and see complete strangers last season. Does anyone know what Edwin Williams looks like? McNabb can still move in the pocket, but he's no longer the escape artist that we remember from four or five seasons ago. If he had lined up behind last season's unit, I'm pretty sure the Redskins still would've had a losing season.
The Redskins should be pretty solid on defense, although they need to create a lot more turnovers. But the season will hinge on whether McNabb can elevate a lot of young players who haven't sniffed the playoffs. To answer my own question, I still don't see them as a contender to win the division.