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Updated: December 1st, 2011 9:22pm
Zulgad: Vikings blew it on Donovan McNabb, who only wanted a paycheck

Zulgad: Vikings blew it on Donovan McNabb, who only wanted a paycheck

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Of all the missteps made by the Minnesota Vikings in 2011, the biggest was the decision to send a sixth-round pick to the Washington Redskins for Donovan McNabb shortly after the NFL lockout ended.

Having watched McNabb stumble through a loss to the Vikings last season in Washington, it was difficult to fathom what coach Leslie Frazier thought McNabb had left in his legs or his right arm.

At least when the Vikings sent the all-out blitz for Brett Favre, it was clear the veteran still had a cannon for an arm to go with his massive ego.

McNabb appeared to have little accuracy or arm strength left in his one season in Washington and couldn't even hold the job with that mediocre collection.

Why would it be any different in Minnesota?

Turns out it wasn't.

So, six weeks after benching McNabb in favor of rookie Christian Ponder, the Vikings released McNabb on Thursday. He follows Bryant McKinnie and Bernard Berrian out the door. Apathy in some form or another cost all three a roster spot.

In McNabb's case, Frazier said he had no regrets.

"Looking back and just knowing Donovan and knowing his history, I don't think I would have done anything different," Frazier said. "Knowing the circumstances and the situation we were in coming into the season, with the offseason being what it was (because of the lockout), that familiarity went a long ways toward making that decision, so I don't think I would have done it any differently."

Let's just say that statement doesn't increase your faith in Frazier. Giving Frazier the benefit of the doubt, he was simply being classy.

The immediate speculation was the quarterback-desperate Chicago Bears or Houston Texans would either claim McNabb on waivers or sign him as a free agent once he cleared the waiver wire.

To that there is only one thing to say: buyer beware.

The Bears and Texans might not have much -- and, yes, McNabb is from Chicago -- but what they have might be better than this 35-year-old.

When did it become apparent the Vikings' decision to trade for McNabb was even worse than originally thought?

Perhaps it was when he arrived in Mankato for training camp and started lobbying local restaurants for free meals. It was amusing, but also clear McNabb would be more than happy to take the free food.

It wouldn't be the last time he would get in front of cameras and welcome the opportunity to eat for free.

At that point, it just became sad. But not nearly as sad as the quarterback Vikings fans were forced to watch for the first six games of the season.

McNabb posted a 1-5 record as the Vikings starter and was lifted in a nationally televised 39-10 loss on Oct. 16 in Chicago.

The Bears got an up-close look that evening at McNabb's struggles to throw the simplest of passes with any accuracy.

Jay Cutler is likely out for the season because of a thumb injury and Caleb Hanie's inexperience makes the Bears' quest for a postseason berth that much more difficult.

But if coach Lovie Smith and the Chicago front office think McNabb can save their season, then they clearly saw a different quarterback than almost everyone else on that Sunday night at Soldier Field.

McNabb's six-game totals with the Vikings: 94-of-156 passing (60.3 completion percentage) for 1,026 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.

The one service McNabb did for the Vikings was playing in front of Christian Ponder so the rookie didn't have to start for this extremely subpar team from day one. That wouldn't have been fair.

What seemed silly about bringing on McNabb was the delusion this team could be competitive. An aging veteran who could have actually mentored Ponder would have been far more valuable.

Ponder finally got his chance in Week 7 and has had plenty of ups and downs in that time. That's fine and that's what was to be expected from a rookie quarterback who was the 12th pick in last April's draft.

Ponder is expected to learn on the job -- thus his 52.9 completion percentage is not all that disturbing -- and there is no expectation he would provide the calming presence of a veteran.

That same did not hold true for McNabb.

He was expected to provide stability.

Instead, the Vikings got a quarterback who refused to admit anything was wrong when everything was falling apart and appeared happy to simply see the ship sink.

To McNabb, there appeared to be little difference between Washington, Minnesota or his next stop. As long as the paychecks clear, little else seems to matter.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. 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
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