Vikings’ McNabb is only short-term upgrade

Published 9:36pm Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Minnesota Vikings have its quarterback of the future. It’s not Donovan McNabb.

McNabb, who was traded Wednesday to the Vikings for two sixth-round draft picks, will provide temporary stability at the game’s most important position, and give first-round draft pick Christian Ponder a Pro Bowler to develop under. But the aging McNabb isn’t a savior. He isn’t a long-term answer. He’s just … average.

The acquisition of McNabb will benefit the rookie quarterback Ponder’s young career. Because of the four-month long NFL lockout, Ponder is already behind the curve. There was no rookie camp, mini camp or OTAs to participate in, so Ponder doesn’t know his receivers and he doesn’t know the playbook.

For McNabb, the move to the Vikings means a fresh start and a chance to revive his career. McNabb had the worst season of his career in 2010 during his one-year stint with the Washington Redskins. In 12 starts, McNabb threw 14 touchdowns and a career-high 15 interceptions. His passer rating was also a career-low 77.1.

In McNabb’s defense, his season in Washington was toxic from the beginning. After being slighted by the Philadelphia Eagles, a team he served loyally for 11 seasons, and traded to a division rival, McNabb wasn’t treated fairly as a Redskin. In Week 8 of last season, with the Redskins trailing the Indianapolis Colts 30-25, McNabb was benched by coach Mike Shanahan in favor of Rex Grossman. Two weeks later, McNabb was demoted to the third-string quarterback position for the final four games of the season. Shanahan later stated there was no guarantee McNabb would be the team’s starting quarterback in 2011.

But McNabb, 34, is a winner, and last year’s embarrassing season should fuel his drive once again become a top quarterback in the NFL. He’s been there before. McNabb peaked in 2004 when he passed for 31 touchdowns to eight interceptions, and led the Eagles to the Super Bowl. While he never threw close to 30 touchdowns again, McNabb was still putting up some of his best numbers in recent seasons. In 2008 and 2009, McNabb threw for 23 and 22 touchdowns, respectively, his third and fourth most in a single season.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, it’s no safe bet that McNabb will be the Vikings’ starter when the regular season opens. Ponder made it clear Wednesday on Twitter that although the six-time Pro Bowler is joining the team, he isn’t going to just slide over and play second fiddle. Ponder tweeted: “Excited to have McNabb join. Will learn a lot from a Pro Bowler. But that doesn’t mean I’m not still fighting to start week 1!”

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier should be excited to hear that. Ponder already has the drive to be a starting quarterback in the NFL and while he respects McNabb and acknowledges he can learn from him, he will still challenge him for the top spot on the depth chart.

McNabb is a short-term upgrade at quarterback but Vikings fans should tame their enthusiasm. McNabb will only be in Minnesota for one season and there’s no guarantee he’ll start 16 games this year even if he stays healthy throughout. Ponder is Vikings’ quarterback of the future – if not the quarterback of now.

Andrew Dyrdal’s column appears each Thursday in the Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @altribunesports. He can also be heard at 12:35 p.m. Thursdays on KATE Radio.