Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Giants: McNabb trade

It was really a surprise to see McNabb get traded from the Eagles; doubly so to see him traded within the division to the Redskins. McNabb has been such a fixture in Philadelphia for 11 years, it is going to be really hard to see him in another team's uniform. That's why the trade was shocking, more than on its football merits, though certainly there are some surprises there too. While of course this is a Giants blog, this trade, involving two NFC East teams has enough of an impact to warrant some thoughts.

I have posted occasionally about McNabb and have not been shy about saying that I always thought he was an overrated player. When he first came into the league he was a poor passer, not very accurate and not comfortable sitting in the pocket. His passing has certainly improved over the years and he has become a good (but in my opinion not great) passer. He does throw a fairly nice deep ball and has a strong arm to throw hard, short and medium range balls fairly accurately. His mechanics do occasionally break down and he will hold the ball too tightly, releasing it late, which causes him to throw more than a few balls into the dirt. Worm-burners is what we like to call them. His main deficiency as a pure passer is his intermediate balls which require some touch - a pass to get the ball over the LBs and drop it in front of the DBs. I think Reid recognized this and did not call on McNabb to throw that type of pass too often. Eagles used a west coast style offense which required McNabb to throw short quick slant routes, out patterns mixed in with deep balls. His intermediate routes were off of in-cuts, where the WR cleared the defender running across the field and McNabb could use his arm strength to squeeze the ball in to the opening. McNabb's great strength, of course is his athleticism, his running ability and his escapability in the pocket. Over the years, he made more plays escaping the pocket, running outside and throwing on the run than he did sitting in the pocket. Everyone remembers the Giants-Eagles playoff game at the end of the 2008 season, when the Giants had McNabb sacked on a play early in the second half, but he escaped and completed a clutch 3rd down pass to move the chains on the way to a TD drive that changed the game. The Giants strategy in his early years was not to blitz him too heavily and not to flush him from the pocket. Instead, they would rush in very disciplined lanes, keeping McNabb in the pocket and forcing him to beat them with his arm. This worked early in McNabb's career, but over the last several years, McNabb and the Eagles have improved and he has a good record against the Giants.

On the surface, this makes life much tougher in the NFC East for all the teams, particularly the Giants. Giants have beaten the Redskins 4 times in a row and generally have dominated the match up for the last several years. This certainly makes the Redskins a better team and a tougher game. While it is a risk for the Eagles, depending on how well Kolb and Vick play, there is no doubt that they are a very talented team. DeSean Jackson is a star at WR and the other WR, Maclin also is a threat with great speed. They could use an upgrade at RB, but their OL seems pretty solid and a decent pocket passer could do very well with that offense. Add to the fact that this is purportedly one of the deepest drafts in memory and the 2nd round pick that the Eagles acquired from the Redskins at pick number 37 overall, is almost like another first round pick. If the Eagles draft well, they could add two first-round-talent type starters with these picks and will have lots of young talent on their team. While it is shocking to see McNabb in another uniform, it is almost easy to understand why the Eagles traded him. They have a history of trading players a year too early rather than a year too late. McNabb certainly has a great record, having taken his team to the NFC Conference Championship game 5 times in 11 years. Placing this load on Kolb is a risk, but I think he will probably do well. In fact, if he is an accurate pocket passer, maybe the Eagles will be better. McNabb's contract being up at the end of the 2010 season was surely the motivator.

In that context, it's almost hard to understand why the Redskins made this trade. Certainly I understand that they have upgraded their QB situation and that Jason Campbell apparently does not have the talent to take a team to the promised land. However, the Redskins finished 4-12 last year after making the big free agent signing of Albert Haynesworth at DT. They were an old and often injured team, particularly on offense. Portis is showing signs of age at RB and their entire OL was battered and bruised. They fired the coach, hired a new GM and gave him lots of authority to rebuild the team. They cut several OL-men from last year's team and had one, Chris Samuels, retire. In fact the Redskins don't have a LT signed on the current roster and are rumored to be interested in recently released Flozell Adams. They even have made attempts to trade Albert Haynesworth and wanted to include him in the McNabb trade, with the Eagles declining that offer. With all that rebuilding necessary, why would the Redskins take a QB who is an eleven year veteran and give up draft choices to get him. The Redksins should have the outlook to rebuild, not to try the same old Snyder formula of acquiring veterans and trying to win now. Especially this year, where there seems to be so much talent in the DL and OL in the draft, would be a time to acquire draft picks, rather than shed them. Nevertheless, it certainly makes the Redskins a better team now. Maybe McNabb is the kind of QB that can upgrade a poor team and make it mediocre, but is not the kind of players that has the skills to take a good team and make it superior. A QB who has finely honed passing skills is needed against the dominant, elite offenses in the league that you are likely to come up against in the playoffs. But a team that has a mediocre OL and exposes their QB, needs a QB that can elude the rush and make plays while scrambling.

McNabb is probably considered a border-line HOF candidate. If he hadn't upchucked (literally) in the huddle in the SB against the Patriots and had won that game, his stock would certainly be higher. Furthermore if he had won a few of those other conference championship games, and had gone to, say, 3 Superbowls instead of just 1, surely he would have been thought of more highly. In a way, therefore, it might also be surprising that the Redskins gave up so little to get McNabb. The way to evaluate what a player is worth, however is not just by his career accomplishments, but also how many years the player is under contract for and how many years the team has control over the player. McNabb's contract is up in 2010, so this was more of a rent-a-player for a year rather than acquiring a player for 5 years. Redskins could sign him to an extension, but they could have signed him as a FA after the 2010 season also. So they are giving up two draft choices for one year of Donovan McNabb's services. Especially now after this trade, McNabb will surely shop himself as a FA after the 2010 season and the Redskins may get nothing more than the one year of his career.

Bottom line is that the NFC East got much tougher. Cowboys and Eagles have lots of talent and are both coming off playoff years. Redskins improved themselves with this trade and the teams in the NFC East will beat each other up again this year, making it harder for more than just the division winner to make the playoffs.

The only explanation for why the Eagles traded him within the division is that: (1) the Redskins made the best offer and (2) Eagles don't fear McNabb as a player. If it makes the Eagles better and they're still not worried about the Redskins led by McNabb, then why not do it. The Eagles had all three QBs on their rosters with contracts expiring after 2010. They had to do something. Time will tell if they got rid of the right player.

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