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Updated: October 18th, 2011 4:05pm
Zulgad: Donovan McNabb decision made little sense from the beginning

Zulgad: Donovan McNabb decision made little sense from the beginning

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by Judd Zulgad

Brad Childress' pursuit of Brett Favre to become the Minnesota Vikings quarterback in 2009 was surprising only in the sense that it was clear it was setting up a relationship that at some point would turn dysfunctional.

However, Childress' inability to develop a quarterback during his time as the team's coach, left him feeling as though Favre was his only real option. 

Childress was hardheaded and Favre was stubborn but they needed each other because the Vikings had a very good football team that lacked a player at the most important position. So even as the Childress-Favre partnership turned sour late in that season, the coach was proven to be right in his assumption that he was better off with Favre than without him.

The last great season of Favre's Hall of Fame career resulted in a 12-4 regular-season record and a run to the NFC title game that wouldn't have happened with Tarvaris Jackson running the show.

Favre, though, only fit in because he was the missing ingredient for the Vikings.

That was what made the talk last offseason that the Vikings were set to pursue Donovan McNabb such a ridiculous notion. The Vikings were coming off a 6-10 season, Childress had been fired and it was clear that this team had many holes to fill and plenty of rebuilding to do.

Acquiring the 34-year-old McNabb to lead this collection made no sense.

The fact the Vikings had gotten a firsthand look at just how far McNabb had fallen in a November game in Washington only provided more reason for the franchise to stay away, even if the Redskins cut him.

The fact that teams could not conduct any business during the NFL lockout that lasted from winter into the summer helped quiet the McNabb rumors. But what appeared to be the knockout punch was the Vikings' decision to select Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder with the 12th pick in last April's draft.

Once that move was made, common sense dictated that the Vikings would try to bring in a veteran who could start ahead of Ponder, if necessary, but who also could be moved aside at a moment's notice with little issue.

It was logical to think that Ponder would become the starter at some point in 2011 and thus the last thing the Vikings would want is a potential high-maintenance quarterback in front of the rookie.

Frazier made it clear last January after being named the Vikings coach that he had no interest in bringing Favre back and thus it would have been a safe assumption that he would then have no desire to create any type of potential quarterback circus with McNabb.

So what happened when the NFL lockout ended?

The Vikings traded a sixth-round pick in 2012 and a conditional sixth-round pick in 2013 to the Redskins for McNabb.

Worse than expected

Even those of us who openly said the move was ill-advised, have to admit now we're a bit surprised at exactly how ill-advised it became.

McNabb completed 21 of 35 passes for 211 yards with an interception and a touchdown in the Redskins' 17-13 loss to the Vikings last Nov. 28 at FedExField.

An observer of that game came away with a few impressions: The veteran looked out of shape and his accuracy and arm strength appeared to be nearly non-existent.

McNabb's arrival in Minnesota this summer confirmed that one game was all it took to draw the proper conclusions. Those were the same conclusions that Eagles coach Andy Reid came to when he shocked many in the NFL by trading McNabb within the division before the 2010 season.

Six games into his first (and certainly last season) in Minnesota, the McNabb-led Vikings are sitting at 1-5 and the quarterback is a big part of the reason. McNabb was lifted in the fourth quarter of the Vikings' embarrassing 39-10 loss on Sunday night in Chicago after completing 19 of 24 passes for 177 yards.

Those stats caused a few to remark that it was McNabb's best performance with the Vikings and look elsewhere when placing blame on what had gone wrong.

But anyone who watched the game knew better than to give McNabb any credit for his play. His stats might not have been poor, but his performance was typical of what we witnessed for six games.

Wide receivers and tight ends caught McNabb's passes, but in doing so they either had to slow up or adjust their routes on more than one occasion because the accuracy wasn't there. McNabb has a 60.3 completion percentage, putting him 19th among 33 quarterbacks.

The Bears put eight-men in the box time-and-time again to stop Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson, and yet offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave never felt comfortable enough to have McNabb take downfield shots in order to loosen things up.

In the first quarter, Vikings center John Sullivan and Peterson were beaten on a play in which McNabb was sacked for a safety. The problem was that McNabb was all too satisfied to go down in the end zone and not attempt to push forward to avoid giving up two points.

Favre had many faults - and was a complete bust in 2010 - but put him in the front of the end zone with a pass rusher bearing down on him and he would have given an effort not to take the safety.

That was the thing his teammates loved about him. Favre hated many things about being a football player by the end of his career, but he still loved game days.

McNabb seemed ambivalent during games and the master of spin control after them.

Frazier told reporters on Monday that the Vikings brass would spend the next two days discussing whether to keep McNabb as the starter or switch to Ponder. But it was clear the decision had been made.

The NFL Network was the first to report Tuesday that Ponder will start Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers.

This isn't a short-term fix.

Who's responsible?

Frazier likely was buying himself time Monday because the Vikings now need an exit plan for McNabb. Either he will be let go - McNabb will collect the balance of his rather modest (for a quarterback) $5.05 million salary if the Vikings cut him - or he will agree to become Ponder's backup.

Either way it has the possibility to get far more messy than it would have if the quarterback's name wasn't McNabb.

So who made the call on this move? That's another interesting topic

On the same day Frazier was named coach, owner Zygi Wilf told a small group of reporters that Frazier and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman would share the decision-making responsibilities at Winter Park.

Wilf's feeling was that Childress had too much power and that it would be better to have two people leading the franchise. On the surface, this sounds fantastic, if not a bit idealistic. In reality, it's a poor idea.

Childress' firing should have triggered the search not just for a coach but also a general manager who had the ultimate say on matters such as whether to draft Ponder or acquire McNabb.

Wilf's mistake wasn't giving Chilress power, it was giving too much power to the head coach.

Frazier received a three-year contract, meaning he felt immediate pressure to win. It was misguided for him to want McNabb, but he can't be blamed for using the influence he did have to get a veteran quarterback.

What we are likely seeing now is Spielman asserting his power after the fact. It's clear that McNabb has nothing left in the tank and even Frazier has to agree with that assessment.

Spielman also can point to the fact that first-round selections Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert are starting in Carolina and Jacksonville, respectively. Second-round pick Andy Dalton has led Cincinnati to a 4-2 start.

There is no longer any reason for the Vikings to put off getting a good long look at Ponder.

The only scary part about the change is that Ponder - a guy expected to be a project of sorts - is going to give the Vikings a better chance to win than in 2011 than McNabb ever did. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd