McNabb’s pain in D.C. not over

The joke around the water cooler last weekend was that John Elway was the only quarterback who fit Mike Shanahan’s system. And even that once-friendly player-coach relationship ended on rather frayed terms, Elway racing to retirement after he won his second Super Bowl. Elway just hated being forced to run bootlegs on a damaged hamstring at age 38.

Of course, we know that Elway, possibly the greatest quarterback of the modern era, could have played in any system. But he basically defined Shanahan’s offense, which took roots in San Francisco with Steve Young.

It is also safe to say that Rex Grossman is not John Elway.

But more important to Team Shanahan in Washington is that Grossman is not Donovan McNabb. However, the bigger question that remains is how does a so-called brilliant coach mess up an acquisition like this and then demote a five-time Pro Bowl quarterback like he’s some incompetent left guard?

Yes, it’s Shanahan’s prerogative to start whomever he sees fit at quarterback. But don’t you treat a veteran like McNabb with a little more respect? Tell him face-to-face early last week that you are serious about making a change? Just man up and honestly tell him it’s not working out?

Now, McNabb knows how Jake Plummer, and maybe Brian Griese, felt when Shanahan discarded them. Plummer was 39-15 as a starter for the Broncos when he was dumped in favor of Jay Cutler. Plummer was so good he’s still in the Denver record books with 27 touchdown passes in a single season, tied with Elway.

Yes, Redskins owner Dan Snyder gave Shanahan the keys to the franchise after wooing him during much of the 2009 season when nice-guy Jim Zorn was kept dangling by a thread.

This hiring, the merging of Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen, was billed by many as the perfect combination for the Redskins, one that would allow Snyder to focus on marketing the franchise and counting the money. This new brain trust would keep him from making such disastrous headline moves like Albert Haynesworth, Deion Sanders and Steve Spurrier.

(On an interesting side note, Shanahan traded Plummer to Allen when he was running the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2007. In one strange twist, Plummer actually had to pay Allen and the Bucs to remain retired.)

Grossman did perform admirably in the second half against the Cowboys, leading Washington to a 30-30 tie in Jerry’s House thanks to his third touchdown pass of the game and a two-point conversion pass to Mike Sellers with 7:37 left. The Redskins did wind up losing 33-30.

Grossman, who last started a game in 2008 for the Bears, was just 7 of 14 for 108 yards with two interceptions while being sacked three times in the first half. He turned it around during those final 27 minutes, throwing for 214 yards and two touchdowns. He also was intercepted on the Redskins’ last snap with just 13 seconds to go.

“For a guy to come in this late in the year and have to go in a big game like this, he showed us what kind of a guy he is,” Santana Moss said of Grossman.

Of course, Shanahan gushed over Grossman, who really was pushed into this position by the coach’s son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

“I thought Rex did an excellent job,” Mike Shanahan said. “I wanted to give him an opportunity and I thought he took advantage of that opportunity. He came back in the second half and demonstrated a lot of poise and played well. I was proud of the way he handled himself.”

The loss was Washington’s sixth in seven games after a promising 4-3 start under McNabb. Basically, the defense has fallen apart in Washington, considering how many blown opportunities the Cowboys had in the red-zone yesterday. Dallas easily could have been up 30-7 at halftime had it not failed on one fourth-down plunge at the goal line and missed another field goal.

The Redskins are now 5-9 and can play the role as playoff spoilers in their final two games against Jacksonville and then the New York Giants.

McNabb, who actually walked out for the pregame coin toss as a team captain, will be demoted to third string this week as the Shanahans get John Beck ready to play. It’s not so much that they believe either Grossman or Beck is their long-term starting quarterback answer, but they want to know which one is a reliable backup for the future.

One must assume Shanahan and Allen will draft a quarterback in April whether there is a lockout or not. Shanahan was in love with the Rams’ Sam Bradford before the 2010 draft and even suggested trading McNabb and their first-round pick, fourth overall, for the right to select Bradford. The Rams were never really interested in such a deal.

There is no question McNabb struggled with the terminology change from Philadelphia to Washington to the bitter end. Andy Reid always allowed him to freelance a bit as he got older in Philadelphia, but that was taboo with Shanahan. He needed to see McNabb grasp the offense and advance in his system. Of course, it didn’t help McNabb one bit that neither of his running backs, Clinton Portis nor Ryan Torain, could stay healthy and give the offense a sense of balance.

And there are some in McNabb’s camp who believe that if Hunter Smith hadn’t dropped that center snap against Tampa Bay last weekend, giving him a chance to rally the Redskins to a win, McNabb would still be the quarterback.

That, for sure, is wishful thinking.

The next and final insult for McNabb, who signed some phony-baloney five-year contract extension for $78 million with the Redskins last month, is that Shanahan and the Redskins simply won’t allow him to walk away once this season ends. They own his rights for $3.5 million in 2011 and they will be wise to hold onto him, maybe until they finalize their 2011 roster next August when the team would be obligated to pay another bonus.

Who knows who wants McNabb next year?

But when you spend a second- and a fourth-round pick for such a player, you are going to want some compensation in return. That $3.5 million will become a bargaining chip between McNabb and the Redskins. That bonus money might be the final straw that breaks McNabb’s back.