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Is Donovan McNabb a better option for the Bears than Josh McCown?

Donovan McNabb

Donovan McNabb

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Updated: January 3, 2012 10:40AM

About a half-hour before practice Thursday at Halas Hall, reports surfaced that the Minnesota Vikings were releasing quarterback Donovan McNabb.

The Bears immediately were pegged as his next stop.

Jay Cutler is potentially sidelined for the rest of the regular season as he recovers from right thumb surgery, and Caleb Hanie struggled in his first NFL start, throwing three interceptions in a 25-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders.

During an appearance on ESPN’s ‘‘SportsCenter,’’ McNabb never was specifically asked about the Bears or any other team. But he suggested a team with “veteran players who know how to win” would be appealing.

The 7-4 Bears fit that description. That they play their home games in his hometown can’t be discounted.

Ultimately, though, the decision isn’t McNabb’s.

He’ll be subject to the NFL’s waiver wire, and all 32 teams will have a chance to claim him. Last week, former Bears quarterback Kyle Orton reportedly wanted to return to Chicago. And while the Bears wanted him, the claims of the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs superseded their position, based on record and strength of schedule.

Orton is taking 40 percent of the practice snaps for the Chiefs, and Josh McCown is working overtime at Halas Hall as the backup to Hanie.

The Bears, Cowboys and Houston Texans were widely cast as teams that could claim McNabb and save the Vikings the $1.4 million he’s due for the rest of this season. The Cowboys would have the priority, followed by the Bears, then the Texans.

The Houston Chronicle reported the Texans aren’t interested in McNabb.

Sage Rosenfels, also a former Vikings quarterback, was officially waived from the Miami Dolphins’ reserve/non-football illness list Thursday evening. If he’s claimed by an NFL team, he’s due $441,000 for the rest of the season.

Coach Lovie Smith didn’t tip his hand about McNabb.

“He’s been a great player in the league,” Smith said. “But I don’t speculate on anything else besides that.”

Smith could’ve squashed all the speculation, reinforcing his belief in Hanie and McCown.

But the news of McNabb’s release wasn’t official until 4:05 p.m., about 15 minutes after Smith addressed reporters.

Either way, the Bears likely spent some time addressing one question: Is McNabb better than McCown?

When that question was posed to several NFC North coaches and scouts, their answers varied. One suggested McCown was better than McNabb. Another insisted McNabb was superior to McCown. Another was undecided.

The X-factor is McCown.

He’s familiar with coordinator Mike Martz’s offense, but his last start was in December 2007, and his last appearance in a regular-season game was Sept. 13, 2009, when — while with the Carolina Panthers — he completed only one of six passes for two yards in a 38-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

McNabb, meanwhile, was a disappointment after the Vikings traded a sixth-round pick and another conditional sixth-rounder to the Washington Redskins during the offseason.

He was benched after a 1-5 start and replaced by Christian Ponder, a rookie taken by the Vikings in the first round last April.

McNabb, though, completed 60.3 percent of his passes for 1,026 yards with four touchdown passes and two interceptions. His passer rating was 82.9.

Cutler’s is 85.7.

McNabb starred in the Eagles’ West Coast-based offense engineered by Andy Reid, but he struggled in Mike Shanahan’s offense with the Redskins.

Many believe Martz’s scheme is even more complicated.

But McNabb made clear in his ESPN interview that he has something to prove.

Asked what he would tell a general manager, McNabb said, “You’re bringing in a veteran who can bring experience to your ballclub, athletic ability, a guy who is not a locker-room cancer, works hard, great work ethic and only wants to win.

“A guy who will try to make the guys around him better.”

If that pitch persuades the Bears, then McNabb may be coming home.

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