Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Thinking Man's Take on the McNabb Contract

A loss like that almost makes you forget that the Skins made a franchise-altering decision by giving Donovan McNabb an extension. But really, this contract holds much greater importance for the franchise than Michael Vick looking like Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl.

Unfortunately for us long suffering fans, this decision is an absolutely awful one, and a reflection that past mistakes are continuing. The idiocy behind this decision goes way deeper than money.

First, I want go back to this summer, when the Skins decided to drop Jason Campbell and trade for McNabb. The Skins stubborn refusal to rebuild seemed poised to change with a new GM and Coach, but as we all know, there is something in the water around Ashburn...and by something in the water I mean Dan Snyder's kool-aid.

The Skins were 4-12, low on draft picks and in obvious of an absolute teardown. Instead? The team decided to trade a 2nd and what I believe will be a 4th round pick for a 33 year-old quarterback who ranked as very mediocre last year. By Football Outsiders metrics, in 2009, McNabb ranked 20th on a per play basis and 16th in total production. By the less telling quarterback rating, McNabb ranked 12th last year. You can sell the leadership angle all you want, but 33 years old and mediocre with declining production is not a good idea. There is no rejuvenation machine.

Meanwhile, the Skins already had a mediocre guy in JC. A 28 year old who in 2009 was 25th on a per play basis, 20th in total production, and 15th in QB rating. Campbell's 2009 numbers are worse than McNabb's, but he was playing with one of the worst supporting casts in the NFL. If you want to bring up McNabb's leadership, then you have to be open to the counter that Campbell might have more growth left in him than the average 28 year old QB, as someone whose literally had to learn a different offense for every of his football life since his freshman year at Auburn. I could go into some guestimating that Campbell and McNabb's respective performances last year were not very different, while Campbell was/is cheaper and younger.

Fortunately, Football Outsiders decided to tackle this very subject the day before the McNabb deal was signed. For those of you without Insider, FO uses 'similarity scores' to find comparable players, and Campbell's 2007-2009 stretch shows a lot of players, "on the verge of something great, or at least prepared for multiyear stretches with high levels of performance." Meanwhile, McNabb's 2007-2009 compares to a bunch of guys who, "were about to see serious downturns in starting time and overall production." These are not 100% predictive measures, but strong indicators. As FO states, "Is McNabb headed for a similar downturn? Prorated to a 16-game schedule, his 2010 stats certainly indicate it." Yeah, we noticed. But wait, there's more,

"The Redskins may have wished for the McNabb who came of age a decade ago, but again, it could be argued that they already had that player and let him go. When running similarity scores for McNabb's three-year period from 2002 through 2004 -- you know, the one that included three conference championships and ended in a Super Bowl -- the comparisons are even more interesting. Behind the Steve McNair of 2001, the second-closest comparison sticks out like a sore thumb: Jason Campbell, 2009."  

Wow. It would have been nice to bring this to our attention 8 months ago. You get the impression though that FO's article could have been planted on Snyder's desk this Spring and it wouldn't have made a smidgen of difference.

This is a prime example of the biggest problem with the Redskins in the Snyder era, and that is a refusal to rebuild with youth. It doesn't get more clear cut than the veteran McNabb blocking a younger Campbell. So Campbell may have been slightly worse, but to give up 2 high draft picks and take a 33 year old over a 28 year old is outrageous for a 4-12 team.

That is why this contract's atrocity goes beyond the money. Furthermore, the one thing the the Redskins have done well over the years is manage the salary cap. This team has never really been inhibited in the ability to sign someone to a contract, and continually throws money around. The problem with this team has never been the execution in signing these guys, but rather the plan in going after veterans at the expense of youth and rebuilding. The money the Skins gave McNabb is indeed outrageously high for a player of his caliber, but it doesn't matter.

What does matter is that we are committing to McNabb. I know the Skins have an out after this season, but you are kidding yourself if you think McNabb isn't going to be the starting Redskin QB for at least next season. As FO concludes,

"This situation may not affect the Redskins in the long term; McNabb is scheduled to be a free agent after the 2010 season is done, and he may take his talents elsewhere in the offseason. But if the Redskins actually do succeed in signing McNabb to a long-term deal, past and present trends indicate that it could be a dangerous risk ... and that Campbell may have been the smarter choice all along."

Even worse than being saddled with a bad QB when we had a better and cheaper option in-house, is what this deal shows about the franchise direction: the Redskins are again refusing to admit a mistake and rebuild. We never should have expected otherwise, as Jamie Mottram of and Jack Kogod pointed out, 'The McNabb contract was the inevitable conclusion of the McNabb trade.' Admitting a mistake is difficult, especially in an organization with a high turnover rate, but the trade is a sunk cost and this floundering team should cut its losses.

Not only is the rebuild delayed (I know, any chance of a rebuild under Snyder, ever, is optimistic), but as long as McNabb is the QB of this team, we will not be good; the Monday night loss underscored the state of the franchise. What this contract really means is that the next few years will continue to be excruciating if we are not already numb.

(Campbell and McNabb image couresty of and McNabb image courtesy of


  1. My biggest beef with this position is that you are trying to shove Jason Campbell into the "young, developing guy who would fit well with a rebuilding team" mold when it simply doesn't fit. Campbell had run his course here. Query whether McNabb was appreciably better than Campbell, but let's not pretend that Campbell is actually good. He isn't. He won't be. He's nothing more than average (at best). That is well established.

    The reason I find this mis-perception to be important is that you are ignoring one obvious potential explanation of the basis for this new McNabb deal: to bridge the gap to the young QB they are going to draft this year.

    The deal Allen worked with Donovan is incredibly flexible, and the majority of the guaranteed money does not kick in until Year 3. So, the Redskins can pay McNabb his extra $3.75m this year (irrelevant chump change in an uncapped season), and then pay him the $12m for 2011 while the rookie we draft gets up to speed and tutors under a capable veteran who can show him the NFL ropes. Then, if things are progressing well with the kid and/or Donovan is in the midst of a downward spiral, we get rid of him for less money than it would have cost us to franchise him next season. No harm no foul. If the rookie isn't ready and/or Donovan has a renaissance in 2011, the team has the option in place to keep him. That's a pretty nice spot to be in.

    Of course, this all depends on us actually drafting a QB in April. But I don't think it's fair to assume quite yet that the Allen/Shanahan are simply dumb when a perfectly plausible explanation exists that reflects a sensible strategy.

  2. wasn't the second round pick the skins gave up a 2010 draft pick? I've read many similar reports like this one and they all leave out who the skins could have gotten with the second round pick. colt McCoy for one. Campbell ain't great, but McCoy might be.

  3. Jim -- We tried that exact same approach with Brunell/Campbell. The point of the article is that we continue to try to maintain high expectations without fully ever rebuilding the team. The costs of high priced veterans, including the QB position, hinders our ability to build depth. The fact that we have traded picks to get those "bridge" QB's furthers that position. If the management of this team puts us into full rebuilding mode, there would never be a need for a bridge QB. There are plenty of veteran QBs that can serve as backups on the cheap that can mentor young talent.

  4. I disagree with the above, only in the sense that giving up draft picks and making terrible (putting it lightly) selections is what has hindered our depth. Signing an albert haynesworth is not as bad as the Jason Taylor, CP, and other trading of draft picks. Drafed rookies (non-first round) are the lifeblood of a team because they are cheap and in a lot of cases talented (top GM's covet 2nd/3rd rounders)

    Then even when we make the right moves (2008 traded back for 3 2nd round picks) and use our draft picks, terrible management whiffs on the picks (thomas/kelly) or grabs un-needed talent (davis).

    At this point, the best the fans can hope for is to trust Allen/Shanny to make the right moves rebuilding the team. I personally expect a lot of turn over again this year, as they continue to fix the damage done the last 5+ seasons.

    Unfortunately, that means even in the best case we are looking at 2012 until we really contend again.

  5. I have no idea how people see CP being bad news. Check his production, and the team's record when he destroys his shoulder chasing down Brunell's preseason INT.

    I find myself agreeing with Jim, mostly. McNabb can be cut at any point. If there's no 2011 season, he's probably gone already, right? Very flexible.

    And though I like JC and hope he continues to do fairly well in Oakland, does the JC = McNabb claim pass the eyeball test? Honestly, who would you rather have playing in the 4th quarter? JC overthrowing Moss, McNabb... or Rexy? As a fan, I'm still more relaxed seeing #5 out there. The team had 154 points at this point last season. This? 183. I think much of that FG per game is McNabb.

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone. I agree with the comment that 'bridging the gap' is a poor approach. We stink, so what exactly is the 'gap?' A gap implies that we are good, will have a gap of poor play, and then be back to being good. The gap doesn't exist when you stink. McNabb is a commitment to mediocrity.

    Even worse, if you actually want us to be at least mediocre right now, then this is also flawed because we could have had similar production from a cheaper QB without giving up precious draft picks.

    And I was/am a huge Colt McCoy fan, as are the metrics, and I would have 110% endorsed drafting him with that 2nd round pick.

  7. the issue with CP is that we gave up a 2nd round pick AND a "shut down corner" (who is still playing and has played 12 more games than him over the last 7 seasons) for a RB that never played nearly as well as his first 2 years.

    I wont deny that portis has played hard and has been successful, but a good RB can be found anywhere - just another example of overpaying and bad management.

  8. We now know for sure that a rational approach to rebuilding the Redskins last offseason would have been to say that to be a Super Bowl contender we need a marquee LT and someone good at every other OL position. Assume w/proper OL Shanny can get what he needs out of unheralded backs. We also need a #1 WR and a #3. We also need a top end NT, and if Haynesworth is jettisoned, another good DL. We need a big inside LB and will need to replace Fletcher within a couple of years. And we need a FS.

    Those are all screaming needs. Once we have a decent OL and team, then we can start thinking about the QB. No point in putting a high end QB behind that line.

    In the long run, it was too soon to trade for a QB.

    In the short run, Shanny thought he could do it with mirrors and with a good QB he could tell what else needed to be done. Fallacious logic IMO. Everything feeds off the line, and the line is awful. Let's pray Jamaal Brown gets healthy next year and Williams continues to improve and we get a new guard and center.

    What's more, you have to ask yourself if Campbell behind this line, bolstered with a second round lineman, would be better than what we have. I think the answer is probably yes. But it doesn't matter, because we are not going to the playoffs and even if we continue to pick up fumbles and watch opponent field goals miss at improbable rates, we wouldn't compete with the better teams in the league for a title. All that matters is long term, and in the long term, by the time the other pieces are in place, McNabb will be on his last legs.

    That said, it's the trade (like the trades for Brunell, Portis, Lloyd, the first with which we drafted Campbell, Taylor, and Duckett) that is the problem, not the contract. All those 1st, 2nd and 3rd round picks we've given up since Gibbs 2.0 started would fill a number of those holes listed above, presumably at least three or four of them anyway.

  9. I am throwing my voice in with the crowd of it was stupid to make the trade. The contract isn't a big of a deal in and of itself for me because of the outs. However, if people are arguing that it is worth a 2nd and 4th round pick to "bridge the gap" that's just silly. If you want a wily veteran to school a developing QB then there are much cheaper options, like grabbing a Delhomme for example (not that he's any good, but he's got experience at least).

    I don't think the author of the article at any point said that Campbell is 'better' than McNabb as Jim suggested, just that at the bare minimum he still has some upside and also wouldn't cost any draft picks to keep on roster. Hell, if they'd used a lower tender on Campbell we could've potentially gained picks!!

  10. Our scandinavian friend is correct. I don't think Campbell is definitively better than McNabb. I personally thought before the season actually that they would be very similar, which has proven just about true with Campbell ahead in QB rating, but McNabb holding a slight edge in metrics. By the way, 1 costs like 3x more in salary and 2 extra draft picks....

    Any way you look at it, the McNabb trade is awful. For a team not going anywhere and needing to rebuild, having the older expensive QB who cost us draft picks and possibly Colt McCoy is not helping. If you think we have a shot at winning now in this parity-driven league, similar production from Campbell + a 2nd round pick > McNabb this year.

    In sports, you either want to be contending for a title, or rebuilding, nothing in between. We have been mediocre for years, and signing McNabb is staying the course of mediocrity. We are in 'the gap', we aren't walking the bridge, we are in the pile of turds the bridge is supposed to go over.

  11. We aren't mediocre. We may be 4-5, but we are not mediocre. I still say that what we did this off season was smart, but am not a fan of the recent extension.

    Without trading for McNabb with a second round pick, we would NOT have draft Williams or any other lineman with our first round pick. We would have taken Jimmy Clausen and a lesser talent at the 2nd round slot. This cannot be overlooked. Yes, I know I can't prove we would have taken Claussen, who looks like he sucks, but yeah, that's where we were headed.

    Instead, we have 1, rather than zero building blocks, behind out oft injured rookie LT. Yes, we could have still taken an OT in the 1st and McCoy in the second, but everyone reading this knows that this would not have happened. So, consider the trade one boneheaded step in the right direction.

    Campbell was leaving and HAD to leave no matter what. Plus, he sucked. I don't give a shit what metrics says, you can't overthrow all of your receivers and miss on every downfield pass (compare this to McNabb if you'd like) and still be considered good. He needed a new city. I still don't want McNabb, but recognize that the front office prevented themselves from spending 40 million on Claussen with no outs and avoiding grabbing a tackle.

  12. When you say we aren't mediocre, do you mean we suck, or are better than mediocre?

    I will accept the 'we aren't mediocre' statement only. Our schedule is really easy, and we've been a little worse than our record. 3-6 is probably more like how we've played.

  13. If you want to play with the past and discuss the trade in hindsight with JC's totally incomparable numbers in Oakland in a system he was always best suited for, that's fine. But why write it under the guise of this contract being bad? One has nothing to do with the other. Seems a bit far-fetched to read into this contract any future plans other than McNabb most likely being back next season. This deal hardly keeps us from going after a young QB in the offseason.

    Was it better for us to not lock up McNabb and have a huge question mark going into the offseason? I hardly see that as a better option.

    Let us also not forget that we tried to get Bradford. In hindsight, it might have been smart to give up whatever St. Louis was asking for, cause Bradford appears to be the real deal. I for one am glad that we have the right people in place to judge that kind of talent. Clearly they weren't as hot in regards to McCoy, which is interesting considering Kyle has a direct line to the coaching staff in Austin. Maybe they just didn't like Trent and McCoy plus 2011's 3rd or 4th vs. Trent and McNabb w/out that future pick. Not hard to believe.

    I don't see how anyone can paint the contract itself as bad. This is the best deal I think the FO has done that I can remember. They give #5 some cash up front this year. Then if they choose to keep him next season they pay commensurate to what the Franchise Tag number would be. Plus they got this deal done before Peyton's deal blows the top off the market. McNabb is most likely getting paid his market value. I for one think his poor numbers this season are more a reflection of his supporting cast than his actual skills. We all knew the OL situation going into this season, let alone the past 3 was pretty bleak. Seems many have quickly forgotten that this offense as poor as it is, is actually better than last season's.

  14. That the good insight.. keep it up! amanda vanderpool the dirty


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