By Mike Wise
Thursday, July 30, 2009
The biggest change from a year ago is the missing RV; it's no longer parked in the farthest corner parking lot of the team's training complex in Ashburn. The mobile home Casey Rabach once called "an oasis away from camp," the place where large, sweaty men could bond over movies, red meat and, um, beverages is gone -- just as the player who owned it is gone.
"It's a shock," Jon Jansen said through the telephone early Thursday morning from his Michigan home. "It's still upsetting to think I won't be there for the first time in 10 years."
"I've seen so many things happen over the last 10 years I shouldn't be surprised," he said. "I just felt I had been there for so long I deserved a little more respect."
The 33-year-old right tackle, the only player on the roster to pre-date Daniel Snyder's ownership, the guy who played with two broken thumbs one season, a torn calf another -- and with a sprained medial collateral ligament against doctor's orders in his final game as a Washington Redskin this past December -- was quietly released from the franchise a couple of days before June.
Knowing the business, Jansen expected it at some point. He knew any NFL player that weathered six coaches in one decade was bound to run into one guy who didn't believe he had the physical skills and talent to fit in the newest sideline savior's plan. Jansen survived Spurrier's silliness, thrived for a while in Joe Gibbs's second go-round, and somehow outlasted Al Saunders's attempts to reinvent the wheel.
But he somehow couldn't sell Jim Zorn, who had more to do than anyone with jettisoning Jansen from the roster. Zorn called Jansen and told him Snyder wanted to speak with him two months ago. Jansen asked if he should bring the family. "Best if you left the kids there," Zorn said.
"Up until that phone call, I was making every plan to come back," Jansen said. "I couldn't believe it."
When it transpired threw him for a loop. So long after the season, after the start of free agency, after the draft -- after most teams had made their decisions and spent their money. Though contracts have been restructured to curb the salary-cap loss, releasing Jansen when the Redskins did cost the team about $6.5 million more than if they had kept him.
When a player like Jansen is assured he will be released, if at all, when there is still money left in the offseason market -- and when that player is cut a few days before June -- someone badly wanted Jansen off that team and out of the locker room.
"There was going to be a coach come in who wanted something different," he said. "Hey, I get it. There are certain types of players I would want to coach if I got the job. But if I don't fit your mold, just tell me."
Other than that, Jansen won't go there in detail. But all you have to know about his last days in Ashburn was the falling-out between he and his greatest supporter over the years, Joe Bugel, leader of the original Hogs and the modern-day Sluggos like Jansen.
"For what I had given to the organization, the injuries I came back from, the injuries I played with, I would have thought there would have been a little more respect," Jansen said. "Everything about it was jarring -- the timing of it, the way it happened. I'm still in shock. I just felt such a big part of the organization and community."
Messy departures for once-treasured and respected athletes are nothing new in this town, whether it be the way Michael Jordan was ushered out of Verizon Center, LaVar Arrington left Ashburn or Olie Kolzig was benched for a hockey team he once guided through lean times.
The difference is, Jansen bit his tongue and played company man when the ship was going down. The reason it was a story when he took a poke at his team's archaic offense before the draft a few years ago is because it was Jon Jansen, who never gave anyone ammunition about his teammates or coaches.
He wasn't about pulling the team apart; he was the guy holding the jalopy together with duct tape before it stopped running altogether, even when they said he couldn't protect his quarterback any longer and had to be replaced by Stephon Heyer.
What was the universal group-think on Jansen -- heavenly smash-mouth run blocker, hellish pass protector, a liability to Jason Campbell pausing in the pocket? Everyone but Jansen bought into it, forgetting he was the same rookie who helped his offensive line allow 31 sacks a year after Washington had allowed a franchise-record 68.
"I'm as good a player as I was five years ago and I'm going to prove that," said Jansen, who signed a one-year deal with his hometown Detroit Lions. "When the Redskins come to Detroit that third week, they'll see that's not the case."
Until then, all that's left is the past:
Most Egregious Moves Made in Ashburn: "After we won the division in 1999, the wholesale changes that were made with Deion [Sanders] and Bruce [Smith]. They were good guys, but to go out and get a completely different team after we won the NFC East, that was definitely one of the times I scratched my head and went, 'Huh.'"
"That first playoff run with Coach Gibbs qualifies too. We run the table at the end of the season, win a playoff game and all of a sudden his offense wasn't good enough? I liked Al's offense; it wasn't that at all. But to have to start over every year, I just didn't get that.".
He said Ethan Albright, his roommate the past eight seasons, is his favorite teammate, and added that Campbell's challenge this season isn't physical.
"Can he put aside that they tried to replace him two or three times?" Jansen said. "They're telling him that and they're bringing Sanchez in at the same time. If he can, he's going to have a terrific season and the Redskins are going to have a great year. He's going to be the quarterback there for a long time if he can do that."
The house in Northern Virginia is still for sale, and even in this market Jansen doesn't want to take as much of a hit as his realtor would like him to. Talk about having one foot still in Washington: Jansen was at the team headquarters last week, finishing up a workman's compensation claim with the team.
"Bein' there, knowin' that you're looking in as an outsider, it was just tough," he said. Jansen said he made it through the emotional gantlet until he stopped and gave the team's longtime secretary, B.J. Blanchard, a hug. "Saying goodbye to B.J., there were some tears involved in that," he said.
And Zorn? "I just wish he would have taken a little more time to get know me, what I contributed to the team, contributed to the community.
"You know, everybody hides behind the same quote, 'It's just part of the business.' Everybody can rationalize it if you call it business. That's just not true. There are people involved, families involved, a lot more involved than just business."
The RV used to be parked in the very back of the lot, a sanctuary from the heat and humidity of late summer. "It wasn't real visible, but the guys knew where it was," Jansen said. Rabach. Albright. Chris Cooley. Randy Thomas. "Coaches came back and hung out too, I think everybody at some point.
"When you came back there you weren't the guy I had to beat out for a position, or my coach. You weren't anybody but my teammate and my buddy. I feel like I should be getting ready right now to go park and be at training camp. It's still a shock."