Snap decisions for Redskins: Franchise of Sonny Jurgensen and Joe Theismann struggles to find long-term quarterback

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 8, 2009

Amid the beer specials and buffet spread at an Arlington bar last week, three men from three generations chatted with football fans: Sonny Jurgensen with a cigar, Joe Theismann with a smile and Jason Campbell with an uncertain future.

The night was billed as "A Night of Quarterbacks," sponsored by ESPN 980 radio, as all three have spent time filling one of the most high-profile jobs in Washington. But while Jurgensen is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Theismann twice led the Redskins to the Super Bowl, Campbell, 27 years old and 4 1/2 seasons into his tenure as a Redskin, has yet to appear in a single playoff game.

After taking photos with fans, the three each grabbed microphones and took seats on the stage. "When you step on that field, you're not just playing for yourself," Campbell told the gathered crowd. "You're playing for all the guys who played that position before you, guys that carried a great legacy."

The team's recent history at quarterback is more of a broken record than a shared legacy, and Campbell likely will close the 2009 season as the latest unsuccessful attempt to stabilize the franchise's most unstable position.

Anointed the team's quarterback of the future when he was drafted in 2005, Campbell is in the final year of his rookie contract, and there have been no discussions of an extension this season. At season's end, it seems increasingly likely that Campbell might search for success in a different city with a different system, and the Redskins could well resume their hunt for the next franchise quarterback

"It's not an easy thing to put that whole puzzle together," said former Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy, now an analyst for NBC. "If they decide Jason isn't their guy, then number one, who is? Who's available? Who can you get -- is it someone in the draft? A free agent? Someone in trade? Then second, when you get that guy, now what do you have to put in place around him? Personnel and offensive system to take advantage of what he does? That could mean a lot of people learning something they've never done before."

Even as speculation swirls around the Redskins concerning the organization's coaching staff and front office, the question at quarterback -- the one the franchise has been unable to answer for more than 15 years -- could be as important as any the team faces.

A forgettable group

The names are mostly forgettable. Since Daniel Snyder took over ownership in 1999, the team has cycled through 10 starting quarterbacks: Brad Johnson, Jeff George, Tony Banks, Patrick Ramsey, Danny Wuerffel, Shane Matthews, Tim Hasselbeck, Mark Brunell, Todd Collins and Campbell.

In that same period, the team has drafted seven quarterbacks, though Campbell and Ramsey were the only two selected in the first four rounds, the only two to start for Washington and the only two anointed as the team's quarterback of the future.

If Snyder's 10 years of ownership have demonstrated anything, it's that quarterback shopping is a perilous venture. The hits are few and far between, and a miss can set back a team for several years. If the Redskins give up on Campbell at the end of the season, they will try to avoid allowing the position to turn into the turnstile it was before Campbell took over the starting job in 2006.

The winningest quarterback of Snyder's tenure remains his first. Brad Johnson left with a 17-10 record, but he lost his job to Jeff George in 2000 at Snyder's urging. Johnson won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay two years later, the same year the Redskins heavily invested in Ramsey. But when Joe Gibbs returned to town as coach in 2004, the Redskins immediately acquired Brunell.

Though the team had given Brunell a seven-year, $43 million deal and though Ramsey was just 26 years old and entering his fourth season, Gibbs felt like Campbell was the long-term solution and had been willing to pay a heavy price to get him. Ramsey, no longer the quarterback of the future, was gone following the 2005 season, and Brunell took over as starter until Campbell was deemed ready.

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