Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Donovan McNabb as (expensive) insurance

By Kevin Seifert

OK. Here goes.

I reacted forcefully Tuesday upon hearing news I honestly never expected. Never did I think the Minnesota Vikings would draft a quarterback No. 12 overall, declare him their Matt Ryan/Joe Flacco -- i.e., an instant starter on a veteran team -- and then acquire a veteran to start ahead of him just before training camp.

Donovan McNabb
Donovan McNabb -- a six-time Pro Bowl selection -- was traded for a 2012 sixth-round pick and a conditional sixth rounder in 2013.
If anything, I anticipated the Vikings pursuing an experienced quarterback who could start if Ponder wasn't ready, but would otherwise provide competent insurance as a backup.

And after mulling it for most of Wednesday, I think that's exactly what the Vikings did. Their trade for Donovan McNabb, completed a short time ago, requires us to recalibrate how most of us view McNabb at this stage of his career. He will offer a professional presence during whatever time Ponder needs on the sideline, if any, but McNabb should in no way be viewed as the Vikings' unquestioned starter for the 2011 season.

If McNabb starts Sept. 11 against the San Diego Chargers, he'll become only the third post-merger quarterback in the past 41 seasons to be a Week 1 starter for three different teams in consecutive years. Yes, Donovan McNabb -- a six-time Pro Bowler -- is now a quintessential journeyman.

(Hat tip to ESPN's Keith Hawkins for digging out that Elias stat.)

Think about how this all played out. The Washington Redskins wanted no part of McNabb, even at a time when merely capable quarterback play is a much-valued commodity. The Redskins are prepared to start fellow journeyman John Beck, and the best deal they could find for McNabb is one that guarantees only a sixth-round draft pick.

It's also important to note that multiple media outlets, including Jay Glazer of FoxSports.com, have reported the Vikings first pursued free agent Tyler Thigpen for this role. Thigpen is a former Vikings draft pick. He's started 12 games in his career and fits the profile we've been discussing.

McNabb might be an upgrade over Thigpen as a short-term starter, but how he will accept Ponder's eventual ascension is anyone's guess and probably had something to do with the delay between the preliminary agreement and the deal's completion.

McNabb would need a career renaissance to fulfill the expectations I'm hearing from some of you. He'll have a much stronger set of skill players to work with than he did in Washington, but he'll also have a fraction of the time to learn the Vikings offense and develop the chemistry necessary for this transition.

So I don't think this is a terrible move, especially if the Vikings first tried and failed to sign Thigpen. They needed to add a veteran quarterback one way or the other.

I just don't think it changes the franchise's big-picture dynamic. Ponder will start when he is ready and possibly sooner. If McNabb can buy the Vikings a few extra weeks or months, then bully for everyone.

If there is a downside, it's that the Vikings have added a layer of consternation to the eventual transition. Barring a McNabb injury, Ponder will get his first start after one of these scenarios:
  1. He beats out McNabb in training camp
  2. McNabb struggles
  3. McNabb plays well enough to keep the job but is cast aside anyway

None of these scenarios would be painful if you substituted "Thigpen" for "McNabb." That's what we all need to get our heads around. The events of the past few days have told us this: In the summer of 2011, at least, Thigpen = McNabb.