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Campbell makes the best of a bad situation

By Mike Wise
Monday, December 14, 2009

OAKLAND, CALIF. Another name surfaced in the unseemly drama this week, and again the person cheated on said nothing about the young, exotic thing on the other end of the line.

Vinny Cerrato, that cad, flirted heavily with NFL-quarterback-to-be Jimmy Clausen on Friday. As usual, the team architect forgot Jason Campbell ever existed, continually pining for something better just two days before the most loyal employee in the locker room went out and helped guide this hard-times franchise to its first road victory in almost 13 months.

Cerrato's crime may have only been a harmless interview with the Notre Dame junior on his weekly radio show. But this comes after dalliances with Mark Sanchez and Jay Cutler last spring -- when he felt he could trade up, jettison the only Redskin behind center in 10 years to start and finish a 16-game season. Just last month, Cerrato flew to see his old college coach Mack Brown at Texas, where Colt McCoy bedazzled the brain trust the day before the Cowboys game.

Call it bona fide scouting or due diligence by the Redskins' executive vice president of football operations. Or forge whatever rationale needed to hide the truth:

Campbell was never wanted. He could march his team downfield every week for four touchdowns, like Sunday against the Raiders in Washington's most one-sided victory of the two-years-and-out Jim Zorn era. He could come into the game as the fifth-most sacked quarterback in the NFL, dodging large, menacing men paid to hurt him -- behind a duct-tape offensive line that many of those large, menacing men use like Rock Creek Parkway at rush hour -- and it still wouldn't matter.

He could keep picking himself up, groggy from another hit, and pull his mud-caked No. 17 jersey over his exposed shoulder pad. On a cold and sloppy field in Northern California, he could win a game of last quarterback standing with knocked-out Bruce Gradkowski and JaMarcus Russell, still running from Andre Carter and Brian Orakpo. It still wouldn't matter.

Campbell was long ago compartmentalized in the minds of management, thought to be who he is and not what he might become, just like all the rest.

He is the most recent model of the impetuous people in control, enraptured by the sound of the train in the distance because they have no faith the one in the station can take them where they want to go.

Antonio Pierce, Ryan Clark and Brad Johnson, a quarterback once replaced by another big name that didn't pan out, all have something in common. When the Redskins became enamored by someone else, they left and won Super Bowls elsewhere.

Campbell is a restricted free agent in less than a month. Four and nine is 4-9. Understood. But no one can argue his continued progression and improvement the past month, despite losing every genuine offensive weapon he had coming into the season except Santana Moss, not to mention any semblance of experienced protection on his line.

Beyond being sacked 36 times, thrown to the ground many more and essentially treated like a rag doll, he is still standing. Despite his own organization giving up on him before the season started, he never gave up on his employers.

Campbell never so much as pointed a finger at a guy who failed to block for him or blamed Cerrato for looking out for his personal safety by fortifying the line through the draft. Whatever critical can be said about his play, especially early in the season, he kept taking physical and psychological hits and kept going forward. In many ways, he was the resilient character from the "Friday the 13th" films -- only this Jason was the victim.

If the Redskins had shown complete confidence in him to begin with, Moss and others in the locker room sometimes wonder where the team would be.

"You do wonder if he had different things in his mind at that point how he would have performed without all the pressure of him thinking he had to show everybody he belonged -- instead of just going out there knowing he was the guy, you know," Moss said Sunday night. "It's not for me to say, but when you go through how much he has this season, when you get plunged into the ground every week, when other people have tried to show you might not be the guy and all you do is say, 'I'm going to show you I belong,' and, 'I'm going to show you I wouldn't quit on you,' you can't turn your back on a guy like that.

"Whether that means another year or some kind of extension or new deal after it's over, whatever. I know I don't make that decision, but it would be a shame if Jason went somewhere else after we just started to get going."

Cerrato may actually find a way to bring Jason back, the way a GM hopes to bring back most restricted free agents who can help. In hindsight, it might be the least he can do.

Why? For all the disloyalty showed Jason Campbell by the people who pay his salary this season, the only thing he did in return was help save the GM's job.

If Cerrato returns, if his wide receivers drafted in 2008 are vindicated and his creative play-calling brainstorm was enough to convince Daniel Snyder he should stick with his longtime confidante and friend, Campbell is the one who got the ball to those receivers, the one who rifled that ball to those receivers. As Devin Thomas said Sunday night, "Without Jason, things would be a lot different for all of us."

It's why Campbell laughs anytime Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen or Colt McCoy is mentioned, why he loves to peek at Cutler's passer rating and hear about Sanchez's recent benching.

It's why, when someone quipped how Campbell had a lot in common with Tiger Woods's wife, Elin Nordegren, he managed a half-smile and allowed himself a moment to relish Sunday's game. "That's a good way to put it," he said. "I like that."

Whether he stays or goes, Jason Campbell has been nothing if not honorable in the employ of the Washington Redskins. The same can't be said about his fickle bosses, forever convinced something better is out there than the quarterback they put through hell, who still managed to stay loyal and, amazingly, upright, in this crumbling, chaotic season.

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