- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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What makes the Eagles' trade of QB Donovan McNabb to Washington even more remarkable is the timing.
The trade comes during an offseason in which improving an offense is extremely difficult. In a quarterback-driven league, the fastest way to improve a team is to increase the number of points scored by an offense. This offseason wasn't set up for that type of success.
Even though this year's draft is considered one of the best in more than a decade, offense isn't the reason. Sam Bradford might be the only true franchise quarterback available, and it's now pretty obvious the Redskins had some questions about Jimmy Clausen, who is expected to be the second quarterback taken. Clausen still might go in the top 10, but the others in the quarterback class have holes in their scouting reports.
Most projections show that 18 or 19 defensive players might go in the first round, leaving only 13 or 14 offensive players in the first round. It's not out of the question that only two quarterbacks, one or two running backs, one or two receivers and one tight end will go in the first round. That's one of the lowest numbers of offensive-skilled players to go in the first round in years.
This draft is loaded on defense.
That's the way free agency and trades have gone as well. Eleven of the top 14 unrestricted free-agent contracts were given to defensive players. More of the released players given second chances were on defense than offense. Eighteen players have been traded in the past month -- 10 of those were defensive players.
Breaking it down further, the only true offensive impact players to change teams have been McNabb and wide receiver Anquan Boldin (who was traded from Arizona to Baltimore). Wide receiver Antonio Bryant (now with Cincinnati) and Nate Burleson (Detroit) were the highest-paid unrestricted offensive players to move, but they didn't go to their new teams as No. 1 receivers. Most of the quarterbacks moved were first-year starters or backups.
Thanks to McNabb, the Redskins are one of the few teams that can make a significant improvement on offense.
From the inbox
Q: I'm wondering why there is absolutely no talk of Colt McCoy going to the Vikings at the end of the first round. I know Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels are already on the roster, but does Vikings management truly see them as franchise quarterbacks? McCoy performed outstanding at his pro day and everyone talks about how great a fit he is for the West Coast offense, which is what the Vikings run. I think he could be a great pro quarterback and the opportunity to learn behind Brett Favre (assuming he comes back) for a year could only help his progression. Is it a solely personnel and money issue or do they not want to spend that high a draft pick or something else?
Josh in Madison, Wis.
A: The Vikings are in the mode of winning now, which means they probably are not thinking about McCoy. They should have Favre back. I'm not assuming. I feel pretty certain about that. You could have seen the scenario in which Donovan McNabb would have signed in Minnesota in 2011 if Favre retires after this season, but McNabb now is expected to get a long-term deal from the Redskins. The Vikings will worry about next year when it happens. They have Favre now, even though they won't confirm it. Plus, who is to say Favre might not want to play in 2011? That's for another day.
Q: Why didn't the Broncos try and package Kyle Orton and a draft pick to the Eagles for McNabb? It makes sense in that it would have given the Eagles a decent backup to Kevin Kolb. For the Broncos, it would have given them a veteran QB for a few years while Josh McDaniels works his magic with Brady Quinn.
Justin in Denver
A: The first problem is the Eagles wouldn't want Orton. Nothing against him, but they are trying to get rid of quarterbacks, not add them. Orton's value to the Eagles is nothing. It was McDaniels' decision to get rid of Jay Cutler, who is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league. Orton did well, and McDaniels believes he can get something out of Quinn. McDaniels staked his reputation on winning with Orton, and he's going to have to play it out before making another major move at the position.
Q: I know that the Green Bay Packers have some serious O-line issues, which was evident with Aaron Rodgers on his back the entire first half of the season, but should they be addressing other issues in the draft besides O-linemen? Green Bay had a great defense last year, but Al Harris is aging and coming off a major injury. Do you think the Packers should be fixing up the secondary in the draft or free agency?
Brandon in Madison, Wis.
A: The Packers do have a problem. They are drafting 23rd in the first round, and I think four offensive tackles will go in the top nine. Is USC's Charles Brown or Indiana's Rodger Saffold good enough to be the long-term left tackle for the Packers? The Packers might not be in a spot to get the right cornerback, either. The Texans could grab the second- or third-best cornerback, and it's not out of the question for the Ravens to jump up a few spots and get the cornerback of their choice. That could leave the Packers in position to take a linebacker, but that doesn't fill a pressing need on this team. The Packers have gotten way too old at tackle and at corner. Trading up might be the option, because you know GM Ted Thompson won't be much into making free-agent moves.
Q: Have you heard any negatives about the new draft format from fans? I personally, along with my friends, hate it. For 14 years now I have had a draft party on Saturday with my friends to enjoy the last weekend of football. Now I can have people over on a Thursday night, but work looms on Friday morning. It seems the NFL overlooked this joy of real fans for ratings. I hope the average fan checks out after their team picks on Thursday so the ratings suffer.
Josh in Buffalo, N.Y.
A: You raise a good point. The three-day draft is an experiment, just like having the Pro Bowl between the championship games and the Super Bowl. I didn't like the Pro Bowl move, but the fans tuned in and that's why the NFL is going to do it again. I would assume the Thursday and Friday night ratings for the draft will be good too. It is going to cause an adjustment for fans. Maybe you can hold miniparties with the big carryover to Saturday. The fans will dictate how this experiment will work out. If they don't watch, the draft might go back to the old format. I predict that the ratings will be good. It sure helps that this is the best draft in more than a decade.
Q: I've been hearing that the Lions will trade down if Sam Bradford doesn't get drafted No. 1. Is it possible, even if the Rams take Bradford No. 1, that someone would trade up to the Lions' spot (No. 2) to get Ndamukong Suh or maybe Jimmy Clausen? And the Lions still need help at running back and wide receiver. Is there a chance that they bring in Terrell Owens [to] fill out the receiver need?
Steve in Lincoln Park, Mich.
A: If Bradford doesn't go No. 1, there could be a chance for a trade, but the Lions would have to drop to No. 7 (the Browns are the likeliest trade parter), and that's taking them out of the running for a lot of good players. By moving that far back, the Lions would lose the chance to get Suh or Gerald McCoy. I don't see Bradford slipping away from the Rams, though. They need a quarterback, and Bradford locked up the first spot by having a great workout March 29. Plus, the McNabb trade kills any chance of the Redskins' trading up for Bradford. Without the Redskins' threat, the Rams have a better chance of getting Bradford to sign a contract. The Lions will get a running back in the second round. There is a good chance they could get Jahvid Best from Cal in the second round. No way on Owens. They signed Nate Burleson for $5 million a year. Owens wants $5 million. Not happening in Detroit.
Q: Does Dez Bryant's so-so workout increase Brandon Marshall's trade value? The guy has issues. However, his production over the past three years is incredible. I think Denver has more leverage than people think.
Mitch in Denver
A: In some ways, Bryant's so-so workout hurts Marshall's trade value. I see Bryant falling to the 21st pick in the first round if the Seahawks don't take him at No. 14. That fall is dictated by the likelihood that teams from No. 15 through No. 20 will be drafting mostly on defense. If the first receiver goes at No. 21, more receivers with first-round grades will slip into the second round. The Broncos don't hold a lot of leverage on this one. Sure, maybe the Redskins could jump in, but Mike Shanahan isn't giving Pat Bowlen a first-round pick. The Seahawks are still interested. What holds down Marshall's value is his off-the-field issues along with the fact that he will want to be paid $10 million a year.
Q: I keep hearing solutions to the overtime dilemma, and I still feel that the new rule is not the right way to go. All the new rules are going to do is give coaches a chance to find loopholes to find an advantage, which the league will eventually need to look at time and time again. My solution is simple: red zone points. If a team can make it to the red zone, then it deserves a shot to kick, and the defense or special teams did not do their job. It eliminates easy drives to within field-goal range, and low-scoring games would not lose their defensive feel. What do you think?
Adam in Los Angeles
A: That sounds too radical. Look, the overtime rules work during the regular season because they minimize the chance for ties. Keep those rules the same. All we are talking about in the playoffs is giving the coin-toss loser a chance if the other team kicks a field goal. Defense can still prevail under the new rule. Quarterbacks will still be aggressive. The game itself doesn't change that much just by giving a playoff quarterback a chance to tie the game or win it instead of letting him sit on the sidelines and watch a kicker try a field goal. Nice thought, but I don't buy it. I don't think the competition committee would either.
Q: I'm a big Panthers fan, and like most Panthers fans, I'm a bit worried about what options are available for them at QB. I've accepted that Matt Moore is going to get his chance, but if he goes down, do we use Josh McCown? That's a formula for disaster. The draft doesn't seem to offer any help with the team not having a first-round pick.
Duncan in Wilson, N.C.
A: You have to think the Panthers will draft a quarterback in the second or third round. I could see them going for Tony Pike or Dan LeFevour. Face it, it's a rebuilding year. John Fox is probably in his last season in Carolina, so the plan will be to play good defense and run the ball. The Panthers like Moore, but they don't know whether he's going to be good enough to put up enough wins to stay with the Saints and Falcons in the NFC South. You have a right to worry.
Q: Do you think the Arizona Cardinals will successfully defend their NFC West title? Also, what is the chance Derek Anderson will be the starter in Arizona? I think Matt Leinart still has a lot to prove.
Branden in Phoenix
A: The division is wide open, but the Cardinals don't hold the edge anymore after Kurt Warner's retirement. Leinart might be functional at quarterback, but he's not going to be as efficient in scoring points. Plus, they took some serious hits on defense, losing Antrel Rolle and Karlos Dansby. The nose tackle position is thin and uncertain. The Cards should be all right at wide receiver, but they lost a lot of leadership after trading Boldin to Baltimore. They still have a chance, but it's going to be tight. Anderson was brought on only as insurance in case Leinart struggles, but he could see playing time this season.
Q: There's always so much attention given to the money given to the top pick, but don't the owners hold the leverage this time? There's no reason for a team to pay a draftee record money when they could easily tell the player, "Go ahead, come out next year when your value drops, there is a rookie salary range, and you'll make even less money." Could you see any team pulling this tactic this time around?
Ryan in LaCrosse, Wis.
A: The owners could use that strategy, but I don't think it's necessary. I do believe the NFL will get a deal with the union to prevent a lockout, and I do believe it will include a strong rookie pool that prevents rookies from getting the big contracts. We're talking only top-10 picks as the problem, and this is a great draft. Teams need those draft choices to try to win this season, and will do everything possible to get them signed and not let them hold out. Sure, one or two holdouts will linger into training camp and maybe into the first week of the regular season. But the team doesn't get a draft choice back if the unsigned player goes into the next draft. It's a threat that can be used, but the threat is pretty weak.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.