ASHBURN, Va. - During his 11 years as the owner of Washington's favorite team, Dan Snyder rarely has been as excited about his Redskins as he is now, with his first true star quarterback.
Snyder had hired big-name coaches Joe Gibbs, Steve Spurrier and Marty Schottenheimer, but none of them won big. When it came to quarterbacks, Snyder inherited the competent but vanilla Brad Johnson. Jeff George was an over-the-hill bad actor. First-round draft choices Patrick Ramsey and Jason Campbell never fulfilled their potential and Mark Brunell was near the end. But Donovan McNabb, for 11 years the quarterback who defined the NFC East rival Eagles, has given Snyder and the Redskins hope. Plenty of hope.
The Redskins were 4-12 in 2009, their worst record during Snyder's ownership, but he couldn't be happier with the new leadership tandem of general manager Bruce Allen and coach Mike Shanahan and their Easter Sunday acquisition of McNabb in exchange for two draft picks.
"You can feel the energy, the excitement out of Mike and Bruce and now adding Donovan really gets us going," Snyder said. "We've restored our confidence."
That confidence was tangible one early June day at Redskins Park as McNabb connected with young receiver Anthony Armstrong on a long touchdown pass that ended practice on a rousing note.
"We're coming along pretty well," a sweaty McNabb said with a grin afterward. "We've had our ups and downs, but I think you go through that with a new offense and new personnel. The exciting part about it [is] days like this where you create big plays and everybody can get a feel of what we can do if we continue to work hard and stay consistent with it."
Shanahan, who won two Super Bowls in Denver with Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway but just one playoff game during the next decade with a trio of lesser passers, is just beginning to get a good feel for what the 33-year-old McNabb can do after working with him for 2-plus months.
"I'm just looking forward to spending more time with Donovan, getting to know him, and him getting used to our system," said Shanahan, whose West Coast scheme is closely related to the offense that McNabb had directed for coach Andy Reid since 1999. "I love the way he has handled himself thus far."
As good a quarterback as McNabb still is - his 92.9 passer rating in 2009 was the third-highest of his career - the Redskins are just as excited to have the six-time Pro Bowler in their huddle for his innate leadership ability.
Not long after coming to Washington, McNabb took it upon himself to get involved in the Redskins' messiest situation, reaching out to Albert Haynesworth to let the disgruntled defensive lineman know that he was missed. They have never been teammates or friends, but McNabb felt that was part of his responsibility as the starting quarterback.
"It's . . . [bonding] in the weight room, out here on the field running and spending time throwing after we run," McNabb said. "Sometimes we'll go to lunch and just kind of get together and get to know each other away from the game. I think that's very important in everything that you do because that builds a lot of trust and a big bond for certain situations."
McNabb noted that he had never participated in so many spring practices in Philadelphia, often preferring to work out in his adopted home of Arizona.
McNabb returned to Arizona for what he calls "Hell Week," inviting his new group of receivers, running backs and tight ends to train with him. This was an annual event with the Eagles. Last year's top three Redskins receivers, Santana Moss, Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, were among those to take part.
Even though he quarterbacked the Eagles longer than anyone, McNabb is no longer green and white. He is now all burgundy and gold. He has bought a house in Northern Virginia. His agent, Fletcher Smith, and the Redskins are negotiating an extension on his contract that expires after this season. His first training camp with the Redskins begins next Thursday.
Told that Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson made the cover of The Sporting News for saying that Philadelphia hadn't "lost anything" by replacing him with unproven quarterback Kevin Kolb, McNabb smiled and took a couple of seconds before responding.
"It's so wild what people can [say] when you're not there, but when you're there, everybody loves you," McNabb said. "I'm a Redskin. I'm no longer an Eagle. I had 11 great years, but I've moved on. Whoever may say things when I'm gone, more power to 'em. But [I'm going to be] a bigger man."
McNabb has declined to take a shot at the Eagles for going with the younger Kolb, but the trade has added some fuel to the fire that burns within him. It's hard to see the Redskins, who won just two playoff games during the decade that McNabb led the Eagles to five NFC title games and a Super Bowl, winning the world championship that has eluded him. But McNabb isn't fazed by their history or his approaching 34th birthday.
"I don't feel like I'm 33, even though that's not old," McNabb said. "People like to bring it up . . . but each year I try to challenge myself to do better." *