Thomas Boswell on the Redskins and Jason Campbell

By Thomas Boswell
Sunday, April 26, 2009

One more two-hour meeting with Jason Campbell ought to be enough.

The Redskins' brass can explain to him that, even though they tried to move heaven and earth to trade for airhead, pouting, party boy passer Jay Cutler three weeks ago, and despite the fact that they were still trying to trade up to grab USC quarterback Mark Sanchez on draft day yesterday, the team's top executives still love him madly.

Or, as Vinny Cerrato, executive vice president of football operations, said, "Jason was always going to be the starter next season," even if the Redskins had gotten Sanchez.

Would that have been before or after Campbell requested a trade?

The day before the draft, NFL sources said Campbell's agent, Joel Segal, said that if the Redskins drafted Sanchez, Campbell would make a get-out-of-town request.

For the last 10 years, the Redskins have treated far too many people like trash. Maybe that's why their results so often look like "garbage in, garbage out." Now, with their whole Campbell calamity, they risked treating their dignified starting quarterback like disposable refuse. At least that potential showdown has now been avoided.

"We made a couple of calls [about Sanchez], but the price was too high," said Cerrato. In other words, the Redskins would have loved to have landed him, as long as they didn't have to give up their first-round pick next year.

Oh, that should make Campbell feel better, more secure. The Jets traded up with the Browns to get Sanchez. The Redskins didn't have the ammo for a deal like that. The missing ingredient? The Jets had both a first-round (No. 17) and second-round draft pick to offer the Browns, as well as three secondary players. The Redskins only had a first-rounder (No. 13) but no second-rounder. The Redskins used that second-round pick to acquire semi-useless and now-departed defensive end Jason Taylor before last season.

Seldom, in the long annals of the Redskins' soap opera offseasons, has the franchise topped this year's shenanigans. Sometimes they look dopey right away. Sometimes they look smart, at least for a while. And sometimes they hit a jackpot or even lure back Joe Gibbs. But this time, the Redskins have succeeded in both improving their team and undermining it -- simultaneously. Which influence will prove more powerful in '09?

Maybe Brian Orakpo of Texas, chosen by the Redskins with the 13th overall pick, will turn out to be a fine defensive end; the Redskins certainly need one. Orakpo now owns all the college awards with names such as Lombardi, Nagurski and Hendricks engraved on them. Perhaps, as the Redskins claim, Orakpo was even ranked in the "top five players" on their draft board.

With the addition of the 260-pound Orakpo, along with free agents Albert Haynesworth and Derrick Dockery, the Redskins have finally spent an offseason focusing on what they truly need: large, scary linemen like those who once led this franchise to titles.

However, these are the Redskins and nothing can be that simple. This draft and, in fact, this entire month of April will probably be remembered in Redskins history for one primary reason -- the brutal and unnecessary damage the team did to its relationship with Campbell. If only this offseason could be summarized as Haynesworth-Dockery-Orakpo, then the preliminary verdict could be praise. But the impact of recent weeks has been spectacularly mixed. Significant talent was added. But the core team-player relationship -- with the starting quarterback -- has been fundamentally altered.

"I know in my heart I'm a good quarterback, and I'm trying my best. But, yeah, you know that stuff is out there," Campbell said last week of the pursuits of Cutler and Sanchez. "The only thing that makes you a little [upset] through all of it is that it makes you look like you're not a good quarterback and you're not wanted. To any competitor, that's hard. When your team tries to trade for another quarterback, and now all this stuff with Sanchez, it's a tough league and a tough business.

"I just don't like it when you see so much about [the Redskins] trying to get a quarterback. I don't think anybody would like to see that about your job. It just makes you feel like people have thrown you out there like you're just a bad quarterback," Campbell added. "When the tables turn, when you do have that big season, and when you do have those great playoff games, you can look back on it and appreciate how it all helped you get to that point."

If this draft has an irony, it is that the Orakpo addition, which should further improve an already very good defense, is just more good news for Campbell. The more the line play improves, the more likely it becomes that Campbell can lead the team to the playoffs. And the better the Redskins, the better contract Campbell will get after next season -- in Washington or somewhere else.

For the Redskins, there was always a better premise on which to conduct this offseason. First, don't worry about quarterback as your primary issue. Instead, try to build a playoff-caliber team around the quarterback you have and are developing -- one whom Zorn continues to praise. Go ahead: Add a Haynesworth, Dockery and Orakpo. Then give Campbell your full support and confidence to run this improved team.

If you don't like what you see, then make the decision that Campbell isn't your franchise quarterback, your future, the player you want to re-sign. But you can't make that decision, or at least you can't make it sensibly, on the basis of his work with an 8-8 team with basic problems along both lines of scrimmage.

Just three weeks ago, after Campbell, owner Daniel M. Snyder, Cerrato and Zorn had their two-hour air-clearing meeting after the Cutler fiasco, Campbell said that he was determined to become "the type of quarterback Mr. Snyder wants." He added, touchingly, "I trust Coach Zorn."

In just three weeks since then, that tone has changed. Campbell still talks about his desire to improve, how much he wants to help his team and learn his coach's offense. But the names of two people have not crossed his lips: Snyder and Cerrato.

Many a lifelong Redskin fan has, sadly, felt the need to make a similar distinction during the past decade: pull for the team and the coach, but draw the line at those in the suite seats who seldom seem to be in touch with reality on the field.

Now, for the first time, the Redskins' starting quarterback seems to be in the same ambivalent position as vast numbers of the team's fans. And he's barely mincing words.

When the '09 Redskin season begins, the broad-based support for Campbell with his 84.3 passer rating and only six interceptions in '08 will probably be far stronger, both in the stands and the locker room, than it has ever been.

Who knows? Perhaps Campbell will play better than he ever has if he doesn't worry about pleasing "Mr. Snyder" and others who would be delighted to supplant him.

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