Players are angry and upset over the move, according to several sources I contacted, and McNabb is perturbed and perplexed by the demotion to third string. This isn't looking at a promising youngster or a more mobile, youthful quarterback of the future. This is Rex Grossman -- a known entity, a journeyman's journeyman, a little-valued commodity.
For as much as McNabb has struggled, his numbers this season trump Grossman's career standard. A lack of competent offensive linemen, a solid rushing attack or sufficient offensive weapons would make any passer struggle.
Also, despite the concerns that Shanahan recently raised about McNabb's ability to flourish in a 2-minute offense, he rallied the Redskins for a touchdown in that circumstance last week and drove them into field-goal range in the 2-minute drill the previous week.
Team sources also questioned the timing of the move. The Redskins are the rare cold-weather team without an indoor practice facility, and bad weather forced them to have walk-throughs at offsite facilities Wednesday and Thursday, rather than a normal practice, thus greatly curtailing the practice reps for Grossman in this week of adjustment.
Players told me they feel like McNabb is a scapegoat for some of the shortcomings of young offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (Mike's son). Moreover, Kyle's stock is being questioned within the organization and beyond, according to team and league sources. Players believe Kyle Shanahan favors Grossman from their time together in Houston, and rather than spend the offseason adjusting some of the system to fit McNabb, he views Grossman as a better fit for the offense as is.
Two NFL coaches I contacted said they also believe the coaching staff has been too regimented with McNabb and not adapted its offense to match the potential Hall of Famer's skills.
"This is Kyle Shanahan only knowing one way to do things and not being willing to make adjustments for the player," one coach said. "Look at (Philadelphia Eagles coach) Andy Reid. He had one version of his offense for McNabb, and then tweaked it for Kevin Kolb, and then for (Michael) Vick. That's coaching. I can't believe they benched McNabb for Rex Grossman."
There was friction between Kyle Shanahan and McNabb from early on, according to sources, with the quarterback providing the kind of questioning and push-back as is the norm with an established, productive veteran. Even with the pass protection an ongoing issue, one source with knowledge of the situation said Shanahan's offense included very few screens, check-downs and hot reads, which were obviously central to Philadelphia's offense and a big part of McNabb's success there.
"Donovan had to keep asking for more screens and check-downs," the source said. "There was really no give and take. It was more like, 'This is my system, and the way we do it.' That might work with a rookie but not with a veteran."
One longtime NFL executive said: "It's all about the system there, but the system isn't working. How do you make the decision to trade two picks for McNabb, then give him an extension and then bench him? What's the plan there?"
Indeed, this quarterback change -- several weeks in the making, with Grossman gaining practice reps -- calls into further question why the Redskins gave McNabb a $3.5 million bonus as part of the extension he signed just last month.
Mike Shanahan hinted Friday that the team might exercise its ability to escape from that contract this offseason, leaving the franchise again seeking stability at the most important position on the field.
The 4-12 Redskins of a year ago actually were better positioned to move forward (they at least had a strong defense, then under the 4-3 scheme first implemented by Gregg Williams in 2004). Now the aging team can add quarterback to a laundry list of major needs that includes wide receivers, a nose tackle, defensive ends, an outside linebacker, a free safety and reserve cornerbacks.