The Redskins can't help themselves.
They were reserved in the early days of free agency this winter, and earned praise from various pundits for refusing to shell out big dollars for what's been at best an inconsistent free-agent class. Daniel Snyder usually likes to make a splash, yet guys like Julius Peppers, Dunta Robinson, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle and Aaron Kampman found their huge dollars elsewhere.
Well, well. Splash.
On Sunday night, the Redskins traded the 37th pick in this month's NFL draft, along with a conditional 2011 pick, to the Eagles for Donovan McNabb.
Let that sink in a moment. How confident must the Eagles be that Kevin Kolb is ready to outplay McNabb right now, if they're going to trade McNabb to a hated division rival? There are few front offices that evaluate talent as well as Philadelphia's. And this time, they'd better be right.
McNabb may never have produced a 4,000-yard season in his 11-year career, but with the Eagles he's been a pretty good bet for 3,500 yards, 20 touchdowns and single-digit interceptions when he's been able to stay healthy. (More on that in a moment.) His physical tools have never been a perfect match for what Andy Reid likes to do in his West Coast offense; McNabb didn't throw downfield enough to justify middling completion percentages around 60 percent, which is where he's been throughout his NFL career. But he always adapted pretty well, and he finished among the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks in each of the past four seasons. Only Peyton Manning and Drew Brees can make that same claim.
In D.C., McNabb's fantasy value takes a hit. Instead of DeSean Jackson, he's got Santana Moss; each guy can run, but Jackson is faster and younger. Instead of Jeremy Maclin, he's presumably got Devin Thomas, which is a downgrade. The tight ends (Brent Celek for Chris Cooley and a splash of Fred Davis) might be roughly a wash. But oh, those offensive lines. Listen, Jason Peters may have been crummy as the Eagles' left tackle last year, but he's John Hannah compared to what the Redskins ran out there after Chris Samuels got hurt. Ask Jason Campbell what it was like to play behind those guys in 2009. He took 43 sacks, third-most in football.
Don't rule out the possibility of some big plays and big days for McNabb as a Redskin. They don't call Mike Shanahan the "Mastermind" for nothing. But the odds are McNabb falls out of fantasy starter territory; I moved him from No. 11 on my quarterback list to No. 15. Remember, we're also not talking about one of the league's most durable guys (he's played a full slate in only one of the past six seasons), and if he takes hits like Campbell did last year, watch out.
Moss is probably the Redskins player who deserves to rise the most, fantasy-wise, but don't go crazy. There are an awful lot of great receivers in the league right now, so for Moss to crack the top 20 would be saying something. Is McNabb an improvement over the mercurial Campbell? Of course he is. But frankly, I haven't found that Moss' biggest problem the past couple of years has been his quarterback. It's been the lack of receiving threats on the opposite side. He showed in Week 3 against the Lions that he can still get open (10 catches for 178 yards, including a prototypical 57-yard score, where he squeezed behind the defense and outran everyone for the touchdown). That just didn't happen very often, as teams routinely rolled safeties his way, and now Moss has just three scores in two of the past three seasons. But better quarterback play will help him. In 2009, he had 119 targets his way and caught 70, a 58.8 percent conversion rate that put him 30th among the 44 players who caught 50 passes or more (and Moss didn't have a drop-prone season). Give him a healthier conversion rate, and he'll come close to posting another 1,000-yard season and respectable single-digit touchdowns. (The question of whether McNabb will be upright enough to help Moss do that is an open one). On this news, I moved Moss up from No. 47 on my receiver list (I was pretty down on him with Campbell continuing to throw to him) up to No. 28. Heck, when he caught 79 passes for 1,044 yards and six touchdowns in '08, he finished as the 16th-best receiver in fantasy.
Can Thomas, this year's presumed starting wideout opposite Moss, shake his maturity problems and deliver on the promise of his two-touchdown game against the Saints last year? Maybe. I can see an argument for him as a deep sleeper now, but really, haven't we been saying that for a couple of years about both Thomas and Malcolm Kelly? Both guys are big and can run, and will likely score a few times with McNabb throwing it to them. But I can't say I'm sure they won't just flame out again, as they've done in each of the past two years. Cooley would be an even safer bet than he normally is, except I don't think anyone quite knows how things are going to work out between him and Davis. We do know that McNabb likes to throw to the tight end, and Tony Scheffler had a couple of decent seasons with Shanny calling plays in Denver. Oh, and remember the name Marko Mitchell. I'm still high on him as a really, really deep sleeper at wideout.
As for the Eagles, this is the move they obviously wanted and needed to make, because in his two-game audition last season, Kolb obviously proved to Reid that he's ready to start immediately. I'm not as sure. Listen, Kolb's numbers against the Saints and Chiefs look boffo: 55-of-85 for 718 yards and four touchdowns. But remember, the Eagles were hopelessly behind in that Saints game, and, well, should anyone win a starting job because they beat the Chiefs? I'm skeptical that Kolb gives Philly the same (or better) chance to win this year than McNabb would have. Do first-year starters sometimes catch lightning in a bottle? The past couple of seasons obviously illustrate that they do. And Kolb's probably at least as accurate a passer as McNabb is right now. But he hasn't done it, and that spooks me a little. As a dink-and-dunker with the Eagles, McNabb has regularly been near the bottom of fantasy's top 10 signal callers, and since I think Kolb represents (at least at first) half a step back, I'll put him at No. 13 on my quarterback list for now.
Celek won't be hurt much at all here, and I'm leaving him at No. 5 on my tight end list. He and Kolb are fast friends and road roommates, and showed excellent chemistry right away in Kolb's limited action last year. Jackson deserves to be a No. 1 fantasy wideout with almost anyone under center (OK, not JaMarcus Russell), but I did push him down a few spots on my receiver list, to No. 8. And the same holds with Maclin, whom I actually have ranked exactly one spot behind Moss, at No. 29. Even with the quarterback switch, it's pretty tough to argue that the Eagles won't continue to have a more accomplished passing game overall than the Redskins will this season, if only because the outside weapons look so much more reliable.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.