While many saw this merely as a tactical move to keep the Cowboys on their toes, it turns out Shanahan wasn't bluffing.
NBC Washington's Lindsay Czarniak confirmed that McNabb has been benched and Rex Grossman will start Sunday's game against the hated Cowboys. After that, McNabb will become the third-string QB and John Beck will be the backup so Shanahan can evaluate him, too.
"Once we were eliminated from the playoffs, I made a decision that I was going to start Rex Grossman, and I want to get a feel for how Rex can run our offense over the next three weeks," Shanahan said. "What I'd like to be able to do is at the end of the season evaluate where we're at at our quarterback position.
"I told Donovan that there was nothing that he could do in the last three games that could influence me over what he's done in the first 13 games," Shanahan continued. "I said I was proud of him of what he did on that last drive, going 75 yards for a touchdown. ... As of right now I've got to do what is in the best interest of this organization, and that's get a good feel of where we're at at the quarterback position."
And another thing...
"I also told (McNabb) that I cannot guarantee him that he will be back next year," Shanahan said.
The players were informed of the decision Friday morning.
"(Shanahan) came in today and told the team," Chris Cooley said. "He was very up front with it."
Shanahan said Friday that he knew the decision would cause an uproar, so he didn't tell McNabb until after practice on Thursday, Czarniak reported. And if you're wondering, McNabb is healthy, Czarniak said.
While that was unclear when reporters talked to them Friday after practice, there weren't many smiles on the players' faces. Some said they were surprised by the decision, while others said they weren't.
Santana Moss said he doesn't have time to be surprised about the McNabb decision. He just has to go with it.
"Just got to go with it, man," Santana Moss said. "He said, 'Hey, you have to see some other guys.' We still want to win, but he wants to see what he has next year. He's seen enough of McNabb and now he's going with Rex."
Cooley said he was surprised by the decision, but also said that Grossman has been taking some reps in practice for a couple of weeks.
"We're out of the playoffs," Cooley said. "We haven't put up a lot of points in the past couple weeks. It's a great opportunity for Rex."
"You've kinda seen some signs, but I didn't think it would happen," Mike Sellers said. "But we're football players, coach is coach, and we run what's called, so if they want another quarterback in there, we gotta play with him."
McNabb's agent, Fletcher N. Smith, told the Washington Post that "disrespectful is probably not strong enough of a word."
"Donovan has handled himself with nothing but class, not just in Washington but as an ambassador for the league," Smith said. "To treat him this way ... it's beyond disrespectful."
The move marks another tumultuous episode in what has been an uneasy first -- and possibly only -- season together for Shanahan and McNabb. The head coach memorably benched McNabb in the final two minutes of the Redskins' loss in Detroit. The following week, Shanahan was unable to provide a clear reason for the benching, citing reasons that varied from McNabb being out of shape to him not having a full understanding of the playbook.
McNabb has certainly has his struggles on the field this season. His 15 interceptions this season are a career high. His 77.1 quarterback rating would be the lowest of any season of his as a full-time starter.
Speculation has been swirling most of the week whether McNabb would actually be benched, though few believed that would actually be the case.
Shanahan invited rumors on Wednesday by saying, “We’re not committing to tell you who the starters are at any position. They’ve got to get ready for a couple of players. That’s good for us.”
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