Both sides of the Donovan McNabb story

March, 29, 2012
3/29/12
12:37
PM ET
McNabb/ShanahanMaxwell Kruger/US PresswireNo, QB Donovan McNabb's time in Washington with coach Mike Shanahan wasn't typically pleasant.
If you saw Donovan McNabb on "First Take" today, you know what this is about. If you haven't, here's the clip. McNabb, the former Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins quarterback, was asked if he thinks Robert Griffin III is a good fit for the Redskins, who are likely to take him with the No. 2 pick in the draft four weeks from today. This was a perfectly teed-up Titleist of a question for McNabb, whose time in Washington was tumultuous to say the least, and he swung hard:
"No. I say that because a lot of times, ego gets too involved when it comes to being in Washington. Here's a guy coming out who's very talented, mobile, strong-armed. We've already heard he's intelligent. Football mind. Are you going to cater the offense around his talents and what he's able to do? Or are you going to bring the Houston offense with Matt Schaub over to him and have him kind of be embedded into that?"

The last part is a clear reference to Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and the idea that he tried to fit McNabb into the offensive system he brought with him from the Texans. But there's more:
"We talk so much about Mike Shanahan and the things that he was able to do in Denver. Well, I have a couple of names for you that Mike Shanahan, quarterbacks he's coached and the lack of success that he's had. We have John Beck, who as 0-4. Rex Grossman, 6-11. Jay Cutler, who was his prized possession, 17-20. Jake Plummer, a guy who had success, led them to the AFC Championship against Pittsburgh and then benched him the next year because he wouldn't do what he wanted him to do pretty much. Brian Griese, who was supposed to be the heir apparent to John Elway and hasn't had a lot of success."

To his credit, Skip Bayless asked McNabb if he had an ax to grind. And to his credit, the first two words of McNabb's response were accurate:
"I do but I don't. The whole deal about it is, we hear so much about players who move on somewhere, how the next year will be a lot better. Give him a chance to learn the offense and understand what we do. I never got that chance. And a lot of people haven't."

My inclination is to tread carefully here, since there's obviously a far greater chance that McNabb spends this next football season in those Bristol studios than on a football field. But the plain fact is, the guy needs a mirror.

McNabb makes some fair points about Mike Shanahan and the lack of success he's had as a head coach with quarterbacks other than Elway. He makes some fair points about egos, and I don't think there's anyone who doubts that Shanahan has a big one. He himself might even admit to that. He's a head football coach. The list of men who are those and don't have egos is a pretty short list.

But McNabb this morning was using a platform to grind his ax, plain and simple. My quickie evaluation of him on TV is that he'll be an excellent NFL analyst as long as he's talking about people he hates. His breakdown of the situation in Washington as it pertained to him ignores these elements:

  • He was benched by Eagles coach Andy Reid in 2008 and traded by Reid after the 2009 season to a team that the Eagles play twice a year. Clearly, there were some issues with McNabb even before he got to Washington. You don't trade your starting quarterback to a division rival if you think the guy is still worth having.
  • Three separate Redskins people who were with the team during McNabb's only season there have told me that the issue with McNabb was that he didn't want to put in the work during the week. Yes, the system in Washington was different from the one he was used to in Philadelphia, but that McNabb's response to that was to shut down and refuse to learn or practice it. One of those three people told me Shanahan was aware, before making the trade, that McNabb had developed the reputation over his final few seasons in Philadelphia of not wanting to put in the work during the week, but that Shanahan believed he could light a fire under McNabb.
  • Shanahan was not able to light that fire, and McNabb lost his job to Rex Grossman during the 2010 season. Rex Grossman, folks. Didn't lose the job to Johnny Unitas or Joe Montana. Couldn't play or practice well enough to fend off a challenge from Rex Grossman.
  • The Redskins traded McNabb prior to the 2011 season to the Minnesota Vikings for a sixth-round pick. McNabb must not have liked the egos or the system in Minnesota, either, since he played just six games there before losing the job to rookie Christian Ponder, then demanded his release later in the season after being demoted to the scout team.
  • No one picked him up off waivers.
  • No one has signed him so far this offseason.
  • There has been not one report of any team being interested in signing him.

McNabb's career is almost certainly over, and he's clearly bitter about the way it ended. The Shanahans certainly made some mistakes in handling the McNabb situation and said some things that embarrassed a proud veteran and left him very angry. They are not blameless here. But neither is McNabb, and if he's going to sit there and say things like he said this morning on "First Take," he'd do himself and the rest of us a favor if he uttered maybe just one or two words about his own role in the way things turned out for him in Washington.

It's possible, after all, that Griffin will be excellent in Washington. There's nothing anyone's heard about the young man to indicate he's unwilling to work or learn anything new.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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