Looking back, the Washington Redskins' trade acquire Donovan McNabb for two draft picks could be seen as somewhat of a metaphor for Mike Shanahan’s beliefs at the time. He believed that if the team had a veteran quarterback sprinkled in with a couple of scheme changes and a few veterans at the skill positions, it would be able to compete immediately.
That belief sparked fan enthusiasm, with most believing that McNabb was a great fit for offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s West Coast offense. Observers thought that the six-time Pro Bowler would be able to pair his veteran savvy with his athletic ability to compensate for his initial lack of experience in the system.
But 15 drama-filled months later, McNabb is no longer on the roster after the Redskins traded him to the Vikings for a 2012 sixth round pick to go along with a conditional 2013 sixth rounder.
What’s been obvious for some time now is that the McNabb situation was handled poorly every step of the way. From the trade itself that sent two draft choices to a division rival, to the first benching in Detroit and the resulting media firestorm, to the contract extension that wasn’t to the final benching at the end of the season, Mike Shanahan bears the brunt of responsibility for what was ultimately a colossal failure.
Not only was the McNabb saga ultimately unsuccessful, but it cost the Redskins a season of development at the game's most important position. It would seem that the ideal plan once Shanahan made the trade was for McNabb to help the team compete immediately while also helping to groom the quarterback of the future. But with McNabb leaving after just one season and no apparent quarterback of the future on the roster at the moment, what now?
The decision to go to John Beck or Rex Grossman seems to be less about their abilities than it being the result of the McNabb failure. With the team choosing not to select a quarterback in this past draft, along with a lockout that prevented them from bringing in a veteran earlier in the offseason, Shanahan was left with the same two options he had when he benched McNabb at the end of 2010. If they perform the way that most expect them to perform (i.e. poorly), he'll have essentially gone his first two years without having an answer at the most critical position in the game.
Hopefully, what came out of this entire ordeal for Shanahan is that going for the quick fix won't work. The Redskins went into 2010 believing they were closer than they really were, a thought process that has shown to hurt them over the past decade. While it's hard for a two-time Super Bowl wining coach to admit, being more patient in his approach to roster building would likely prove to be more successful.
The team now appears committed to get younger and being more deliberate in the construction of this roster. They had a 12-player draft class and have (so far) been responsible in what has been a free agent frenzy.
Looking back at the state this franchise was in just prior to Shanahan's arrival, it was apparent that there were no short cuts to be found in fixing it. No one personnel move, no matter how tantalizing it would seem, would have been enough to make the team a perennial contender. It's a lesson Redskins fans and observers have learned repeatedly over the years.
Hopefully for Mike Shanahan sake, he's learned that too.
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