At first glance, the new contract the Washington Redskins gave QB Donovan McNabb before their embarrasing Monday-night loss to the Eagles looks stupid. After benching McNabb in a two-minute drill comeback attempt, the Redskins immediately handed him a five-year contract extension reportedly worth up to $88 million. The deal, which puts McNabb below Tom Brady but above guys like Aaron Rodgers on the QB payscale, appears exorbinant for a 33-year-old player who is declining and appears to be in coach Mike Shanahan’s doghouse to boot.
But on closer inspection, this deal may be a smart deal wrapped in a stupid package. In reality, the only obligation the Redskins take on for sure is a $3.75 million up-front payment that basically keeps McNabb from automatically hitting the free agent market after the season. At that point, the Redskins would have to pay $10 million in an option bonus plus a $2.5 million 2011 salary to keep him around.
That’s a smart investment. While McNabb is no longer an elite quarterback, he would undoubtedly have offers on the open market. Arizona and Minnesota have been rumored to like McNabb, and McNabb would be a significant upgrade over both teams’ 2011 options, even in his late-career decline. So if McNabb hit the open market, Washington would have to pay this kind of deal (if not a bigger one) to keep him, just based on market forces. By paying $3.75 million now, the Redskins assure that they will have McNabb if they want him. That’s a good investment, especially since the Redskins’ other 2011 options (Rex Grossman?) aren’t appealing either.
Plus, Peyton Manning’s impeding free agency will result in a record-setting deal for him in Indianapolis. (There’s no way the Colts let him leave.) And Drew Brees is one year away from the open market and a candidate for extension as well. Both players are better than McNabb, but their new deals may well drive up the market rate for starting QBs. Signing McNabb now gets them assurance that, at most, they pay 2010 prices for their QB, not the 2011 going rate.
McNabb has not played well for the Redskins, but he hasn’t been a disaster either. So letting him go via free agency with nothing in return would be a huge mistake for Washington. Now, they control his rights and have the opportunity to keep him, trade him, or cut him – instead of facing the uncertainty of the market. That kind of control is worth $3.75 million for the team.
For McNabb, meanwhile, the deal gives him money up front and keeps him on the list of elite quarterbacks, at least in financial terms. Getting that check now looks especially appealing with the specter of a 2011 lockout keeping money out of his pocket. If the lockout happens before free agency begins, McNabb will still have $3.75 million in his pocket. Plus, the contract assures him that the Redskins will have to cut or trade him early if they don’t want to keep him. That should give McNabb options if he must move on.
The raw numbers on the contract looked ridiculous, but the Redskins actually made a shrewd move through this deal. Their $3.75 million up front investment is well worth the options it gives them, no matter how McNabb performs on the field over the rest of the season. Kudos to the Redskins front office for being willing to take a PR hit to do the smart thing – even though everyone accused them of being stupid.