By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 31, 2009; D01
By this point in the season, the aches emanating from each joint blend with the pain that wraps around every limb. Quarterback Jason Campbell, sporting a 10-day-old black eye, can't pinpoint each throbbing sensation, and says he's "sore all over."
"It's been a long year, a long year for all of us," he said. "Everyone's looking for a fresh start -- to start over."
While the horizon is cloudy for most everyone at Redskins Park as the team prepares for its final game of the season Sunday in San Diego, Campbell's uncertain future is a particular subject of speculation.
Since he was drafted in the first round in 2005, Campbell has improved statistically every season. Before even taking the field in San Diego, Campbell enters Sunday's season finale having already tallied career highs in yards (3,337), touchdown passes (18) and quarterback rating (85.0). The 41 times he's been sacked this season also mark a career high.
Despite his growth, the team isn't committed to him beyond Sunday's game, and Coach Jim Zorn on Wednesday provided perhaps his most honest assessment yet of Campbell as an NFL quarterback.
"A lot of people want to just label every quarterback, 'He's got to be a franchise player.' I don't know if that is where he's at," Zorn said. "I don't think it is. But I think he continues to improve as a starting quarterback in this league."
Zorn was asked whether Campbell could grow into a franchise quarterback, and he responded with an "Uh" and a three-second pause before answering: "I think the way he works, I think his grit, his determination, he can. But in every instance, the QBs all have help from other guys. That remains to be seen."
Campbell's rookie contract expires at the end of this season, and there have been no indications the team wants him back. While that decision might ultimately be made by whoever coaches the Redskins next season, Campbell said he's had no conversations with Bruce Allen, hired two weeks ago as Washington's new general manager.
If the NFL team owners and the players' union reach a new collective bargaining agreement, Campbell would be an unrestricted free agent at season's end and free to sign with any other team. But if there's no agreement and 2010 is played without a salary cap, Campbell would be a restricted free agent because he has fewer than six years of service. That would mean the Redskins can match any other team's offer. But even then, the offseason dance could be a complicated one.
The Redskins have scouted college quarterbacks and with a first-round draft pick that could be as high as No. 5, they could choose to begin anew their search for a franchise quarterback. In that scenario, they may still want to keep Campbell around for one more season.
But if as a restricted free agent, Campbell is offered a two-year contract by another team, the Redskins may not want to match such an offer.
"If you're a restricted free agent, it's pretty much the team's choice, depends on what they want to do," Campbell said. "You never know how it's going to unfold so you have to be open to both situations."
If Campbell receives an offer from another team -- and because he's rated among the middle of the pack in most statistical categories, it's likely he'll draw some interest -- the Redskins would have to tender Campbell a contract to receive draft compensation if he signed elsewhere.
Campbell's minimum tender amount would be $3.14 million, according to a league source familiar with his contract situation. If the Redskins increased the offer to $3.268 million, they would receive first- and third-round compensation. Campbell has a salary of a little more than $2.857 million this season.
Asked about his future beyond Sunday, Campbell said simply, "Pretty sure it will all take care of itself."
Asked if he wants to return to Washington next season, he sidestepped the question for a second time this week. "I just pray about the situation and whatever happens is going to happen," Campbell said. "And I'll be ready for any situation whether it's here or somewhere else."
The Associated Press reported that Campbell is one of 212 players who would be an unrestricted free agent in a capped year but only a restricted free agent in a capped year. Campbell said he has been in touch with his agent, Joel Segal, about the ramifications of the collective bargaining agreement and how his status would be different in an uncapped year.
"He's just like, 'I'm not going to shoot you a whole bunch of details, a whole bunch of lies right now. We'll just see how thing unfolds,' " Campbell said. "He's just like, 'The one thing I want you to do is just finish this season on a strong note and put yourself in a good position that either way it goes, you'll be playing and starting in 2010.' "
Zorn has worked more closely with Campbell than perhaps anyone since the quarterback was drafted. And though he didn't want to bestow the "franchise" label on Campbell, Zorn has noticed plenty of progress in the past two seasons.
"He showed this year, he can turn a receiver down, really read a coverage, read a progression and get the ball to the right guy," Zorn said. "I don't think he's been as stuck on just a single receiver like he was in the first year."
Others note that some of Campbell's most impressive qualities can't be found on the stat sheet. Campbell has endured a season playing behind a patchwork offensive line. The team's playbook has been limited and all but eliminated most five- and seven-step drops. He's led an offense that's cycled through four starting running backs and rarely established much of a running game. He lost his favorite receiving target -- injured tight end Chris Cooley -- and had to break in young teammates Devin Thomas, Fred Davis and Malcolm Kelly.
"The difference I see with Jason and everybody else, a lot of quarterbacks aren't going to take the stuff that he's taking every week," wide receiver Santana Moss said. "They either going to say something to those guys in front of him or they going to say something upstairs . . . but he just shut his mouth every week and went out there and played football, dealing with the circumstances. And that's hard. That's hard for me to even sometimes look at because I'd be wanting to talk or say something for him."
Staff writer Jason Reid contributed to this report.