By Michael Wilbon
Friday, April 3, 2009
The critical question the morning after the debacle is whether the Washington Redskins have alienated Jason Campbell the way the Denver Broncos did Jay Cutler a month ago. Do we think Campbell is going to publicly snub his owner and coach, perhaps blow off a couple of weeks of team workouts, maybe pout and demand a trade?
Here's one of many reasons the Washington Redskins should be overjoyed Campbell is their quarterback. When Campbell's coach called him at 7:30 yesterday morning, Campbell answered the telephone. Jim Zorn didn't have to wait 10 days for his quarterback to return a message.
"I answered the phone," Campbell said, "and Coach Zorn said to me, 'Come meet me at the office.' I did, and we had a long talk. I told him: 'Coach, if you support me through this, I'll be fine. Even if they get rid of me, there will be no hard feelings between you and me.' And he said, 'Jason, you and I can do a lot of good things together.' He told me he'd be there for me all day. And believe me . . . that went a long, long way on a day like today."
Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato did a really dumb thing Wednesday night and yesterday. They tried to dump Campbell, a strong-armed work-in-progress with a 16-20 record, for Cutler, a strong-armed work-in-progress with a 17-20 record. They would have had to give up, probably, three high draft picks to do it, picks they ought to use to surround Campbell with better players. Snyder and Cerrato, instead of nurturing a player they'd invested so much in, trashed him publicly. Fortunately for them, the kid has a degree of class and humility they don't deserve in the least.
While Snyder and Cerrato signaled to everybody that they didn't think Campbell was good enough for them, you know what he did? "I still went and worked out," he said. "My teammates said, 'Jason, why are you here?' And I told them: 'I'm still the quarterback of this team until they get rid of me. You haven't seen the best of me. I'm not here for ownership. I won't miss days working out with you, and I won't miss time preparing for the season. Who knows? A trade may not work out.' "
And it didn't. The Chicago Bears dealt draft picks and starter Kyle Orton to Denver for Cutler. They're ecstatic in Chicago, as they should be. And the Redskins have a quarterback, if the people who run the franchise ever exhibit the common sense and patience to stop changing players and coaches the way we change underwear.
Campbell, for the record, isn't demanding a trade, the way Cutler did over the last three weeks when it got out that the Broncos' new coach, former Patriots assistant Josh McDaniels, contemplated dealing him for former pupil Matt Cassel. I asked Campbell if he had talked to Snyder or Cerrato after hearing the news the Bears had traded for Cutler.
"No, I haven't," he said. "But I know what they think of me."
Campbell had not a word of criticism for his bosses, even though they saw Cutler, a kid who has never played a playoff game, and reacted like he was Tom Brady.
I asked Campbell if he could be effective playing for the Redskins, and he had nothing but praise for his teammates. "It's going to make me a stronger person. I've got to stay positive. I'm not going to let this break me, or even define me."
I would say it's amazing the Redskins were even contemplating a deal, but it really isn't. This is Snyder's M.O.: Go for the stars; covet and acquire. That's why the Redskins are a six-time NFL paper champion.
Draft and develop? No interest. You mean you can actually use those first- and second- and third-round draft picks the way the Steelers and Patriots and Giants do -- on kids who'll, one day, become famous?
This has only a little bit to do with Cutler. I actually root for Cutler . . . because we were diagnosed with diabetes within days of each other a year or so ago and because the kid has become a role model for millions who have the disease. And I love Cutler because it's so rare that any player, especially a young quarterback with so much potential, takes on an NFL team and gets his way. The NFL isn't the NBA or MLB; management in pro football has 99 percent of the leverage. Yet, Cutler told his coach and owner to get lost . . . wouldn't even return their phone calls after they tried to trade him after professing their love. Bravo for Cutler in that context. There are a dozen teams in the NFL for whom Cutler would be a great solution, starting with the Bears, who have had maybe three good ones the last 50 years.
But the Redskins aren't one of them.
The difference between Campbell and Cutler is what, exactly?
Cutler is on somebody else's team. Looks good. Big arm. Compares himself favorably to John Elway. Puts up big passing numbers, no matter how meaningless they are to the actual outcome of a game.
But the Redskins much prefer other people's perceived stars to their own. Why else would they let Ryan Clark go to help the Steelers win a championship but waste money on washed-up Adam Archuleta? If there's a perceivable difference, it's that Campbell isn't a thin-skinned prima donna who refuses to return messages from his generous owner and rookie head coach, and doesn't pop up later and say, "I never said I wanted to be traded." But apparently the Redskins think that kind of insubordination is an asset. Personally, I've never seen a pouting, overly sensitive quarterback lead a team to anything of consequence, which is now the Bears' issue.
Campbell, as he did last season even when the line was collapsing around him, displayed a remarkable calm. He had tickets to the Wizards-Cavaliers game, floor seats in fact, to see LeBron James. Campbell knew it would have been too much of a circus had he shown up at Verizon Center. LeBron James . . . now there's a name the Redskins could covet in no time at all. I'm sure Cerrato knows LeBron was a great receiver in high school, and has had fantasy moments of playing football again. Don't tell Snyder and Cerrato. They've got a couple of first-round draft picks saved up, just burning holes in their pockets.