By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 6, 2008
Carrying notebooks and reading material in each hand, Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell prepared for another long study session at home. The Redskins still are in the early stages of learning Coach Jim Zorn's version of the West Coast offense during offseason workouts at Redskins Park, and Campbell has plenty of homework.
"I'm the leader of this team, the quarterback of the team, and I've got to set an example," Campbell said. "My first goal is always team success, and if I'm going to lead this team to the type of success we want, that I know we can have, then I'm going to have to put in all the time it takes. And if the team does well and reaches a high level, everyone is going to receive what they're deserving of individually. I believe that."
After three seasons in the NFL, Campbell hopes to establish himself among the elite starting quarterbacks. He has shown flashes of the potential that prompted the Redskins to select him with the 25th overall pick in first round of the 2005 draft, but numerous factors out of his control -- having to learn three offensive systems, conservative game plans, losing key members of the offense because of injuries and a dislocated left kneecap that cut short his 2007 season -- have affected Campbell's career. And now, the NFL's labor situation could impact potential contract negotiations between Campbell and the Redskins.
Campbell would prefer to remain with Washington, he said, and directing the team to big things is the best way to make it happen.
"You definitely want that long-term security," Campbell said after practice Wednesday. "You definitely want to know where you'll be living, where you're going to be raising your family and that your organization is totally behind you. You want to know that they believe in you and think that, that they know that, you're going to achieve everything that you want to achieve in this game.
"I love the Redskins organization. I love the area, and I love the opportunity I see for our team to win for a long time. I'm always going to play as hard as I can to do my part to help us reach our goals. At the same time, you know that there are certain realities about this game and this business. You know it's a big year for you as an individual, too, because your contract is coming up."
Campbell has two more years remaining on his rookie contract. Because of escalator clauses, he will have a base salary of $1,235,000 this season. As of yesterday, the Redskins, who do not comment on contracts, had not initiated extension talks with Campbell's agent, Joel Segal. "Jason is preparing very hard this offseason to keep the Redskins on track for a great season," Segal said. "And as Jason continues to develop, the contract situation will take care of itself."
On May 20, NFL owners voted unanimously to terminate the labor agreement two years early. The 2010 season would be uncapped if the owners and the players' union fail to reach a new agreement before then.
Under previous guidelines for unrestricted free agency, Campbell, assuming he did not sign an extension, would be a free agent before that season. But if there is an uncapped season, unrestricted free agency would begin with six seasons of service time, so Campbell would not be eligible.
"You really don't know what's going to happen with that," Campbell said. "But that's why I hired Joel as my agent, so he can deal with all of that stuff and I can just focus on trying to win games. I know that the [labor agreement] is kind of down the road, and we're definitely open to talking to them whenever the time presents itself. If there's a right time [soon], I'm sure that's what Joel will do."
Generally, teams move quickly to extend the contracts of young star quarterbacks because of the importance of the position. And if teams wait to sign franchise quarterbacks, it could cost them more to retain them. Although Redskins officials have privately expressed optimism that Campbell will have a breakthrough season under Zorn, they apparently need more time to evaluate him.
Campbell did not appear in a game in his rookie season. He made his first start in a regular season game during Week 10 in 2006, and he started the first 13 games last season before injuring his kneecap against Chicago.
He finished the season with 2,700 yards passing while completing 60 percent of his passes. Campbell had 12 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 77.6 passer rating. Campbell made strides from his first shortened season as a starter, but with only 20 starts in his career, the Redskins are taking a wait-and-see approach.
"I figure that's what they probably want to do," Campbell said. "They probably want to take a look at how this year goes with a new offense and a new system. At the same time, every time you have a new system, you really can't judge a person in the first year of it."
The pass-oriented offense of former play-caller Al Saunders, now with St. Louis, was predicated on timing and rhythm and numbers were used in play calling. Timing is a component of Zorn's offense as well, but the pace is much quicker than that of Saunders's and words are used instead of numbers.
Former coach Joe Gibbs rarely permitted Saunders to open up the offense in 2007, players said, and Campbell worked behind a makeshift offensive line. Top wide receivers Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El also were slowed because of injuries, especially in the first half of the season. Considering those limitations and his inexperience, Campbell was proud of what he accomplished "in only two seasons in Coach Saunders's offense. I grasped a lot of it, and I feel like I was one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL.
"Now I'm in Coach Zorn's offense. It's a different offense and you have to do different things, and this is another change for me after only 20 games. Now I have to change my whole mind-set again and go back and learn something new. That's fine. That's what I'm doing because that's what I have to do for my team and my career, but that doesn't mean it's easy. And for a guy who has to make that change so many times, I feel good about what I've done. I think I've shown what type of quarterback I can be."
According to several teammates, Campbell is the right quarterback for Washington for the long haul. "Everybody knows what type of quarterback J.C. is, and J.C. knows," Moss said. "Every guy thinks about [getting a big extension], it's in the back of your mind, especially when it comes to a young quarterback.
"There's more pressure on you to excel because everyone else is depending on you. But what it all boils down to is going out and just doing your job. J.C. knows that."
The Redskins re-signed backup quarterback Todd Collins, who led the team to a season-ending four-game winning streak in 2007. Zorn has said he is committed to Campbell as the starter, and how Campbell fares in the early games could help determine whether the Redskins make him an offer during the season.
"The only thing I can do is do what I have to do every day," he said. "As long as I do that, I know it can work out. I'm confident."
Staff writer Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.