Did we witness the end of Donovan McNabb's career as a viable NFL quarterback on Sunday? That is a strong possibility.
McNabb was a three-time Big East Conference Offensive Player of the Year (1996, 1997, 1998) while at Syracuse University, and was named Big East Offensive Player Of The Decade for the 1990s. In the NFL, he has been a six-time Pro Bowler. None of that meant anything Sunday when his current team, the Minnesota Vikings, benched him as they faced the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. McNabb watched first-round draft pick Christian Ponder lead the Vikings during a 33-27 loss. Ponder played like a rookie making his first start, going 13-for-32 for 219 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Most likely, though, there is no turning back now that the Vikings have handed Ponder the keys to their future.
Watching the game and thinking about McNabb, 35 next month, you have to think he has been handed those keys by an NFL franchise for the final time.
This is the third team in three seasons that a team has given up on the one-time star quarterback. The Philadelphia Eagles determined that they needed to move on from McNabb after the 2009 season, despite McNabb having gone 10-4 as the starter and being selected for the Pro Bowl. They traded him to the Washington Redskins. After an acrimonious and unsuccessful season, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan gave up on McNabb and sent him to Minnesota.
Now, after six games the Vikings have apparently decided they have seen enough of McNabb and are moving on to Ponder, whom they selected 12th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Would the Vikings release McNabb? Will they just let him back up Ponder, ostensibly using his 13 years of experience to tutor the rookie? If they did let him go, would anyone bother to pick him up?
McNabb averaged a career low 171 yards passing per game in his six starts this season, and his quarterback rating was just 82.9. He posted a 77.9 rating last season for Washington.
There are probably teams out there that would offer McNabb a backup role in 2012. There almost certainly are not any teams that would bring him in and anoint him as their starting quarterback the moment he arrived. The question for McNabb will be whether he wants to continue his NFL career as an insurance policy rather than as the leader of a team.
After being replaced by Ponder, a surprised McNabb opined "I have a lot of football left."
He may believe so. It seems, though, that he may have run out of chances to prove it.