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Initial thoughts: Mike Shanahan speaks at the combine

Here’s what I’m thinking after listening to head coach Mike Shanahan address reporters for more than 20 minutes this evening at the NFL Scouting Combine:

The odds of quarterback Donovan McNabb returning next season remain long.

Shanahan finally held his meeting with McNabb’s agent, Fletcher Smith, here in Indianapolis earlier this week. They met for 90 minutes, Shanahan said, but he would not share details of the conversation.

If they had reached some sort of perfect-fantasy-world resolution that involved McNabb returning to the team, they’d have every reason to say so. Fact is, their relationship soured on both sides last season and not much has changed. They have not spoken this offseason.

Asked if there exists any scenario in which McNabb could return as the starting quarterback next season, Shanahan said: “I don’t want to really speculate on that after our conversation.” Shanahan also wouldn’t say what he learned from analyzing the film of McNabb’s 13 games.

Shanahan doesn’t plan on letting this issue linger into the summer. McNabb is owed a $10 million bonus at the start of the 2011 regular season.

“I think over the next few weeks we’ll get the chance to talk again, and then we’ll make a decision right after the draft of the direction we’ll go,” Shanahan said.

That makes sense. In Shanahan’s best-case scenario, a new CBA is reached before the draft, meaning trades involving players would be permitted. He could then try to trade McNabb for draft picks as in a normal year.

If no new CBA is finalized before the current one expires next week, player trades will not be allowed until a new agreement is reached. (Only trades involving draft picks would be permitted.) All player moves are prohibited in that scenario, so that would be a waiting game.

Smith did not respond to text messages or phone calls Friday.

***

Defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth’s future with the Redskins isn’t quite as clear.

“Albert right now is appealing a four-game suspension,” Shanahan said. “He’s had a couple alleged [criminal incidents] he’s got to take care of. Obviously that goes through the commissioner and hopefully that comes out positive. There’s a lot of ramifications there, so we’ve got to take care of that first.”

I don’t see how Haynesworth can return as a productive member of the team. Shanahan still has not spoken to him, and Shanahan wasn’t amused today by a bad joke expressing surprise that they haven’t made up by now. Haynesworth hasn’t changed his mind about playing in a 3-4, so the impasse still exists.

That said, Shanahan described to the Redskins’ website this week his aversion to cutting Haynesworth after Haynesworth cashed his $21 million bonus check last spring.

“But if you do take that check, I’m just not gonna cut you and let you go out and go to another football team and get another payday,” Shanahan said that he told Haynesworth.

So to recap: their relationship can’t be salvaged, but Shanahan doesn’t want to grant Haynesworth his freedom. That clouds the outlook because those two are mutually exclusive.

My thinking is that Haynesworth won’t play another down for the Redskins, but his name will appear in trade rumors for a bit before he’s either traded or released.

And here’s a thought: If a new CBA is finalized soon (an unlikely development, apparently), we’d have another round of Haynesworth-skips-the-offseason-program stories. Fun times!

“After the [appeals] process is over,” Shanahan said, “I can tell you exactly what our plans will be.”

***

It sounds as though running back Clinton Portis will be released.

This has been expected since Portis went on injured reserve last November, and Shanahan sounds ready to follow through. Portis is scheduled to make a non-guaranteed base salary of $8.3 million next season, and considering he has missed 19 of the last 32 games due to injury, that’s not good value for the Redskins.

“If we’re not going to sign Clinton to that high salary, I’ll let him test the market out,” Shanahan said. “Not to say we don’t want him, but for a lower price, and obviously we’ll try to find the best deal.”

I’ll save more comprehensive remarks on Portis’ Redskins tenure for another day, but he has been, without doubt, one of the best offensive players in team history. This sort of thing is just life in the NFL.

***

There’s a strong chance Shanahan won’t like what he learns about former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.

Shanahan wants a quarterback who not only is physically gifted but has certain intangibles—loves football, is a student of the game and is an extremely hard worker.

Newton, however, didn’t convey that type of makeup when he told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King this week: “I see myself not only as a football player, but an entertainer and icon.”

Shanahan today downplayed the importance of that quote, saying: “Just because somebody tweets something to their friend on the internet, that doesn’t mean that’s who the guy is. I’m going to get a chance to spend some time with him, get to know him as well as the rest of the quarterbacks, but that’s for you guys [reporters] to have some fun with.”

If Newton really does see himself as an entertainer and icon, Shanahan is going to find that out during interviews this weekend and a thorough background check that will last at least into next month. And I don’t believe Shanahan wants that type of quarterback, especially after how McNabb’s situation devolved.

Shanahan heralded McNabb’s class and professionalism, and things still got incredibly messy. If those traits aren’t assured with Newton, why would he risk going through similar hardships with his new franchise quarterback?

Regarding Newton’s physical ability, though, Shanahan sounded impressed.

“I’ve watched a lot of film on Cam and he’s an unbelievable athlete,” he said. “He can make all the throws and is what you want in a quarterback. I think a lot of people will spend some time and ask what kind of a guy are we dealing with? Is it a one-year guy, or is he going to take you to the next level? Obviously, though, he has all the skill you’d want in a quarterback. Very talented.”

***

Many coaches and executives during the pre-draft process create smokescreens regarding their needs. Shanahan doesn’t have to. Everything he listed tonight is true.

“You’re always looking for that great nose tackle,” he said. “They don’t come around every day. We’ve got a plan in free agency, we’ve got a plan in the draft. We’re just going to have to let that play out. We do have a couple of guys there, but we don’t have a dominant guy there.”

How about a rush outside linebacker opposite Brian Orakpo?

“I think [outside pass-rusher] ranks right at the top [of our priorities list],” he said. “Obviously when you have any consistent defense, using the 3-4, you’ve got to have two great outside pass-rushers, a great nose tackle and a great safety.”

He emphasized the need for depth, youth and character—attributes coveted by all teams but ones the Redskins have lacked.

“We’ve got a ways to go,” he said. “The only place we’re really deep at is the tight end position. That’s why we’ve got to have a good gameplan for free agency and the draft and build it the right way. It’s not going to happen overnight. It never does, but we’re going to focus on character and guys that want to be a part of this football team long term. We want to try to get younger, but we’re not going to do it all overnight.”

***

Shanahan hopes that wide receiver Brandon Banks learned from his recent stabbing incident.

“Nothing good happens after 2 o’clock in the morning,” Shanahan said.

Did he tell Banks that?

“Oh yeah,” he said. “He knows that.”

***

Shanahan is letting general manager Bruce Allen handle free-agent negotiations. Not that Shanahan was expected to detail the team’s plan for free agency, but he offered us no insight or updates on the statuses of players such as receiver Santana Moss and cornerback Carlos Rogers.

“It’s one of the situations that when I came to Washington that I didn’t want to be involved in, the everyday communication with these agents,” Shanahan said. “Bruce is in charge of that. He’s got a plan; we’ve got a plan what direction we want to go relative to each position with free agents. First, second, third guy at certain positions.”

***

Shanahan sounded impressed by free agent safety Oshiomogho Atogwe following Atogwe’s visit last week.

“He’s a very smart safety,” Shanahan said. “He’s had a lot of turnovers in his career. You can see that he’s a student of the game. A very high test score. A guy that would compliment what we do very well. Jim Haslett knows him too, and he likes the type of guy he is.”

Atogwe has said he wants to wait to sign with a new team until after a new CBA is finalized.

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