Mike Shanahan famously benched McNabb in the closing minutes of the Lions game: a clear demonstration of frustration with his starting QB.
Two weeks later, and with the bye to think about it, the Redskins gave McNabb a huge contract extension in the hours before the Eagles game. On closer examination, the contract apparently gives the team annual opportunities to release McNabb at little cost.
So, what happened over the bye?
We know what has happened *since* the bye: the Redskins went from possible contender to a blundering mess. Eagles blowout was the opening act. A surprising win against the Titans is followed by a loss to the Vikings and a blowout by the Giants. The best defensive player is held back with a mysterious achilles injury. The starting left tackle is held out of the Giants starting lineup, in addition to Haynesworth. Then Haynesworth is suspended, after more friction with Shanahan.
What's going on here? A lot of smart people are starting to call out Shanahan and Bruce Allen for fielding a team whose progress from the Zorn era is hard to measure. I'm not one of them, for a variety of reasons.
One reason is a simple theory. What if Shanahan and Allen are a whole lot smarter than anyone dares imagine? What if Shanahan concluded over the bye that McNabb was simply not going to be "that guy" (i.e., Shanahan's next John Elway), and that the Redskins needed to define a strategy for landing the next franchise QB of the future, as priority #1? What if the target turned out to be Andrew Luck? What then?
If you were coach of the Redskins and you decided over the bye to go after Andrew Luck, the events since that time are relatively consistent with such a strategy. Sure, the Skins did beat the Titans, but the Titans helped that to happen by failing to field a QB in the 4th quarter. The McNabb contract extension and details, the blowouts to the Eagles and the Giants, the handling of injuries, and the handling of Haynesworth ... are all consistent with a plan to draft Andrew Luck.
They won't win the race for the #1 pick in the draft. But, the Redskins might land a top 6 pick. And, when you're trying to trade up to #1, it sure helps to be able to throw Donovan McNabb into your offer for the #1 pick. Especially with that nice contract extension you arranged over the bye.
The way to trade for the #1 pick is to offer a good QB with a good contract to the team holding the #1 pick, as part of the package. That's real value. Now think about that contract again. A curious contract by its timing, or an incredibly savvy play, looking months ahead to the draft?
Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen, you've got my vote of confidence. Especially if I'm right.