By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 4, 2010; D10
SAN DIEGO -- The quarterback and the head coach -- at least in title and at least for a few more hours -- walked through the concrete tunnel, two of the last members of the Redskins to exit Qualcomm Stadium.
Jason Campbell walked alone and 20 feet behind Jim Zorn, with a couple of team employees at either side. Zorn stepped in silence, his eyes cast at the ground in front of him. The coach's fate was all but sealed. The quarterback's, though, not quite as certain.
"I don't know what's going to happen," Campbell said following the Redskins' 23-20 loss to the Chargers, in what amounted to the final game of the 2009 season, the final game of Zorn's tenure as head coach and quite possibly the final game of Campbell's run as Washington's starting quarterback.
"I don't know my situation," Campbell said. "But I'm going to do everything I can to prepare myself for 2010."
The question is, for which team will Campbell be playing in 2010? If next season is played without a salary cap, Campbell will become a restricted free agent, which means the Redskins can match any other team's offer.
Finishing the season with a 4-12 record, the Redskins will pick fourth or fifth in the NFL draft in April, which puts them in great position to nab a top college quarterback.
The last time the team spent a first-round pick on a quarterback was when it selected Campbell with the 25th overall pick of the 2005 draft. In the five seasons since, Campbell has improved statistically each year. Against the Chargers on Sunday, Campbell was 28-of-42 passing for 281 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He posted a 101.4 passer rating, the fifth time this season he topped 100.
This season, Campbell set career highs in completions (327), attempts (507), completion percentage (64.5), yards (3,618), touchdowns (20) and quarterback rating (86.4).
Though his numbers have improved -- his 20 touchdown passes were seven more than he threw in 2008 -- the Redskins' win total dropped in each of Campbell's past three seasons under center.
Following Sunday's loss, Zorn offered an endorsement that probably won't be etched on a plaque anytime soon.
"I thought he improved himself this year," Zorn said. "He was our quarterback this year. He has a chance to still be the QB. He played well in this final game. Can he improve? Absolutely. I could say that about everybody. . . . If he's allowed to be the QB here next year, he'll get better, because he'll work at it, and he'll become stronger. He became a better QB because of this football season, and I just continue to think that he's going to improve his game.
"Everybody wants to know, is he a franchise quarterback? And he didn't prove that in this particular point in his career, with what he is doing. But he's certainly a starter in this league, an improving starter, and he plays in a courageous fashion."
Campbell was sacked 43 times this season, and he called the past 17 weeks the most painful and physically demanding of his career. He's had to break in young receivers and do it behind a patchwork offensive line that changed almost weekly.
"You know it wears on him," said cornerback Carlos Rogers, "but he continues to smile, continues to come out and grind, continues to come to practice and work hard like it doesn't bother him. But deep down inside, you go through something like that at the quarterback position, it's going to kind of bother you. But like I said, he's the type of guy who keeps a smile on his face and keeps going."
Rogers and Campbell have been teammates since their college days at Auburn. They were both drafted by the Redskins in 2005 and talked about how prosperous their pro careers would be in Washington. Now both could be gone next year, something the two friends have discussed in recent weeks.
Regardless of what management decides, Rogers is convinced that Campbell could help the Redskins moving forward.
"You give Jason time, he can play," he said. "Going into the offseason, that's not one of our main concerns in the offseason and rebuilding this team. I think we have a lot of other problems we haven't addressed."
Still, team owner Daniel Snyder, General Manager Bruce Allen and whomever is coaching this team by week's end will be the ones prioritizing the Redskins' offseason needs, and several people in the organization think a new quarterback will be high on the list.
Redskins players packed their bags Sunday night, and with few exceptions, had no idea which lockermates would be back in the spring.
"Changes happen every year. It's something you get accustomed to," wide receiver Santana Moss said. "You can say it's tough, but then again, it's something you've seen before. It's not nothing new. Guys get traded, guys go to a new team every year. It's a situation where you don't who's that guy, whether it's going to be you or someone else."
Campbell's offseason plan is simple: rest, allow his body to heal, study tape and wait for the phone to ring. As the clock wound down on the season -- and possibly on his career in Washington -- he didn't waste any time reflecting on whether his Redskins days are finished.
Asked whether he wants to return, he said, "I'm open to all situations," but as rough as this season has been, Campbell said he'll walk away with plenty of positives.
"Sometimes things happen for a reason," he said.
The night over, the season finished, Campbell stopped by a table, put some chicken in a Styrofoam container and carried his bag onto the team bus. Next was Zorn -- dragging his roller-bag behind him -- onto the bus, to the airport and back to Washington. For both men, their professional futures beyond that plane ride home were masked in uncertainty.