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Donovan's Decline

Could this be the end of a distinguished career? Andrew Brandt

Print This December 06, 2011, 05:55 AM EST

The career of one of the NFL’s most celebrated quarterbacks in the past decade may have come to a quiet close last week. The Minnesota Vikings – Donovan McNabb’s third team in the last 19 months – granted McNabb his freedom, placing him on waivers Thursday. McNabb – who went unclaimed – now waits for a call from a new team, a call that may or may not come this season or even next.

House Money

The Vikings, as the Broncos last week, (1) saw injuries to other NFL starting quarterbacks, and (2) disposed of an expensive player that was never going to play for them again. Like the Broncos, the Vikings were playing with house money.

As vested veterans, Kyle Orton and McNabb were entitled to the remaining balance of their salary – as termination pay -- if released and unclaimed. The Chiefs saved the Broncos $2.6 million by claiming Orton. The Vikings were not as lucky with the $1.45 million due McNabb.

Many have asked whether McNabb gave up his termination pay for his release. When I asked a Vikings official about that, he answered with a long pause and heavy sigh: “We still owe.”

McNabb has had a disappointing couple of years since being the signature player of the Philadelphia Eagles. Let’s examine:

McNabb had a productive but sometimes choppy career in Philadelphia.

Eagles Rough Landing

In June of 2009, with McNabb’s contract having two more seasons, the Eagles gave McNabb an adjustment that (1) added $5.3 million to his 2009 pay, satisfying his discontent about that contract, and (2) allowed the team flexibility in 2010 to move that contract without penalty. Which, of course, they did.

On Easter day 2010 the Eagles traded McNabb to Washington.  After the Eagles paid McNabb close to $80 million over a long career in Philadelphia, the team then handed the keys to understudy Kevin Kolb (only to take those keys from Kolb and hand them to Michael Vick a year later).

In consulting with the Eagles at the time, I noticed the players’ reaction to Vick when he arrived. Players were energized and excited to have Vick, a different vibe from their feelings about McNabb who, while liked and respected, was seen as corporate and a bit detached.

The end of the McNabb era in Philadelphia was significant but not traumatic; his time had run its course and it was time to move on. As with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, the Eagles had seen Kolb for three years and liked what they saw; it was time to bring him out of the bullpen.


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Liberty Square
Dec 06, 2011
08:36 AM

McNabb was over-rated for most of his career and it just caught up with him. Tough to see any team wanting him now..

Dec 06, 2011
09:14 AM

Interesting article. None of which discusses the obvious degradation of his skills over the last few years. he was horrible in Washington. Perhaps the "clash" you speak of led him to tank it. Or perhaps the clash was due to McNabb being terrible either in that "system" or his willingness to learn it.

Bill Bates 40
Dec 06, 2011
10:00 AM

A big reason behind his relatively rapid decline is his famously poor work ethic and preparation. He is a prime example of a player that skated as long as possible on pure talent alone and made little to no effort to prepare his game for the day when his physical skills would begin to erode.

Dec 06, 2011
10:41 AM

McNabb was a good player but it is time to go. Give the person credit when credit is due.

Dec 06, 2011
12:14 PM

I think Philly again let a guy go at the right time. I remember all the trade rumors, keep Feeley, keep Garcia, draft a new QB, etc. that were flying about for years. Only the year that they did trade him did I think it was finally time.

He was a very good QB in Philly, able to extend plays with his legs, and to win games and move the ball without any weapons on the outside for the most part (the Thrash, Pinkston, Fred-Ex, Reggie Brown type years). He threw those worm killers, but didn't turn it over.

His time in Washington and Minnesota wasn't awful, just inconsistent and a step down from where he was, and with a QB in his mid-30's that isn't likely to get better. Also those teams weren't good enough to win with or without him, so they decided to move on with their rebuild. He might be the only starting QB benched two seasons in a row after games with QB ratings over 95. lol

Dec 06, 2011
12:43 PM

Great point made by rockin. Thought he had more game in him, felt Donovan would make it count to a higher level of play at either stop. He failed at both attempts, and the stories he left behind at each franchise are both at the work in progress level with him gone, no different than when he was there, for the most part.

Andrew was good to see this coming and get out from under it when he advised the Eagles. Better to let go of a player a year early, than two years too late. Guess his experiences with the Packers front office had him uniquely positioned to anticiapte this for the Eagles.

Great read, will the story resurface? Wonder if the home town boy could have helped any in Chicago....

Dec 06, 2011
01:42 PM

Mr Murder,

The prob I see with Donovan or Favre in Chicago is that those two QB's spent their entire career in a WCO and would have to learn Martz's system and playcalling. Remember the plays have completely different names (200-300 of them). That's a lot to pick up in just a couple weeks.

I'd put the list out before, but IF Chicago goes for a QB, I think they will look at someone that knows the playbook. O'Sullivan, Trent Green, Bulger... One of those types, that can step in, knows what the plays are and how to call them and just needs to get used to the team and receivers rather than starting from scratch. Just my 2 cents there though.

Dec 06, 2011
05:15 PM

The Redskins were really lucky to be able to keep the Shanahans and dump McNabb. I mean, Rex Grossman, Mr Two Turnovers Per Game, is clearly an upgrade.

McNabb has always had rough spots, but he said in an interview he was on track to set a redskins single season passing record when he was benched. How terrible can that be?

In retrospect, it was dumb for the Redskins to trade for him, but dumb front office moves are a Redskins tradition.

Dec 06, 2011
10:33 PM

I remember when McNabb was traded the national media kept saying to Philly fans, "be careful what you wish for." Philly fans knew what they were talking about because they watch every game and every snap, McNabb went downhill after the Super Bowl, way back in 2004. But the national media stood by him, just like they do with Andy Reid. I have heard the same "be careful' quote about Reid in recent weeks, but as you can see by the way the Eagles are playing, and the amount of time he's been in Philadelphia, Philly fans want him gone. As for McNabb, a coach trying to get his team into the playoffs, doesn't need the media circus McNabb would bring. They need the team focused. And his constant complaining in so many of the interviews after each of his benching the last 2 years from 2 different teams, probably didn't help his cause.

sir Wacks-a-lot
Dec 07, 2011
09:44 AM

Someone here wrote:

**He might be the only starting QB benched two seasons in a row after games with QB ratings over 95. lo**

Donny's numbers always *looked* good. He jobbed those numbers by doing things like:

1 5 yard passes on 3 & 7

2 holding the ball too long and getting sacked

3 not letting go of the ball unless the wr is w i d e open i mean open, open...


Dec 07, 2011
10:50 AM

And as a result of letting McNabb go Eagles are overpaying for a QB that will continue to miss 4-5 games a year and Defense that lacks any playmakers.

Dec 11, 2011
10:05 AM

And because of his excellent play and leadership qualities, he goes unclaimed. Rookies and Arena league QB's are getting a shot before him.

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