Donovan McNabb would be a welcome upgrade at quarterback for the Buffalo Bills if not for the weight such a transaction seems to carry.
McNabb is signed only through this season and, according to widely circulated reports, wants no part of Buffalo or Oakland when it comes to his long-term future. Who can blame him? The Bills and Raiders have been prime players in the Dysfunctional Playoffs for most of the last decade, winning the title some years, barely being edged out in others. Why would a 33-year-old quarterback with Pro Bowl credentials and a history of relative success spend his twilight years with any franchise that keeps talking the talk but never walking the walk?
McNabb's reluctance or refusal to sign a contract extension with an aimless organization makes it easier for the Bills to eliminate him as a trade option. The Philadelphia Eagles may have incentive to part with McNabb, namely a $6 million roster bonus due him in six weeks. At the same time, the Eagles have no assurances that replacing McNabb with heir apparent Kevin Kolb will make them a better team, or even maintain the status quo. So it's unlikely any shoppers will find McNabb hanging on the clearance rack. Philly coach Andy Reid isn't even sure he wants to deal, which means the Bills won't get him at a bargain rate.
If the going price is at least a second-round pick, the Bills must ask themselves whether McNabb would transform the franchise into an instant and legitimate contender in the AFC East. If they answer "yes," they're mistaken. If they answer "no," accept it as a sign that the new regime has a handle on reality.
Gaping holes at offensive tackle, the introduction of a 3-4 defense and lean pickings at wideout argue against the idea that the Bills are an experienced quarterback away from putting it all together in the coming season and providing relief to playoff-starved fans. The situation was far different in 2002, when the franchise dealt its first-round draft pick to New England for Drew Bledsoe. Back then, it could be argued that quarterback was the glaring need, the missing piece. There were no major concerns at other positions. The deal didn't pay off as anticipated, but the thinking that supported it was sound. Circumstances had called for an immediate upgrade at QB.
That's not the case this time around. Any prime draft picks surrendered would impede the team's ability to fill holes elsewhere. A second-round pick spent on acquiring a quarterback is a pick that can't be used to shore up the offensive line or enhance a receiving corps that basically consists of Lee Evans.
A trade for McNabb would be worth reconsidering if he's open to a contract extension that would make him a Bill for three seasons. A three-year window would provide the franchise this season and next to identify and groom his eventual replacement. It would permit them to draft a young quarterback without the pressure of rushing him under center. There would be justification in making the deal.
But a one-year rental of McNabb makes little sense unless the price drops 50 percent. If they were to pay a second-round pick or more with an extension in hand then we have a clear indication that the marketing department is making the football decisions and protecting the bottom line by adding to the roster another ticket-selling novelty, another short-term promotional tool.
McNabb could help this franchise, help it a lot, but only if he's willing to give it three years. Otherwise, the Bills would be better off pursuing other options at quarterback while building around the position. Because when you get right down to it, there's one reason McNabb is loath to join the Bills. He wants a chance to go to another Super Bowl, and the Bills haven't shown they're anywhere close to that.