By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 25, 2010; D01
Drafted into a rudderless organization, quarterback Jason Campbell probably never had a chance to truly succeed with the Washington Redskins.
The trade Saturday afternoon that sent Campbell to the Oakland Raiders for a fourth-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft ended the five-year veteran's difficult experience with Washington and also marked a new beginning for him. Of course, Campbell starts over with the one franchise that has been even more mismanaged than the Redskins during his time in the league, "but that's not the way I'm looking at it," Campbell said in a phone interview shortly after the deal was completed. "The Raiders want me. I got a call from [Raiders owner] Al Davis, he told me he wanted me there, and that really means a lot. It's just a fresh start for me."
It was long overdue. Officially, Campbell was bumped to second-string status April 4 when the Redskins acquired Donovan McNabb in a surprising trade with the NFC East rival Philadelphia Eagles. In reality, however, owner Daniel Snyder gave up on Campbell before the 2009 season.
In the previous offseason, Snyder's failed pursuit of Jay Cutler and strong interest in drafting Mark Sanchez signaled to the league that Campbell no longer had the confidence of the people who directed the football operation at that time. The team was expected to make a change at quarterback unless the Redskins had a big season in 2009, a tall task considering the state of the offensive line and Jim Zorn's short leash. When a team misses the playoffs eight out of 11 seasons, as the Redskins have under Snyder, there is a systemic problem in the organization -- not only at quarterback.
Washington was awful from start to finish in a 4-12 season that included Zorn being stripped of play-calling duties. Longtime NFL assistant coach Sherman Lewis was lured out of retirement and quickly handed play-calling despite his lack of familiarity with Zorn's version of the West Coast offense and the Redskins' personnel. "I try to always be positive and find the positives in every situation, but I'm not going to lie and say last year was a normal situation because it wasn't," Campbell said. "Everything that we went through, I had never seen anything like it.
"I could have said stuff about it [publicly], but what was that going to help? My teammates counted on me to go out there every day, prepare as hard as I could and play as hard as I could. I know some guys get caught up in talking all the time and not focusing on the right things, but I just wanted to try to set a good example as the quarterback of the team and try to win. But it was hard. You looked around some days and just couldn't believe some of the stuff that was happening, but I had to just push through and do the best job I could. I wouldn't have been able to do that if I got caught up in all that stuff."
The offensive line was the team's weakest unit since the middle of the 2008 season, but management did nothing substantial in an attempt to bolster the group. Battered the last two seasons, Campbell earned his teammates' respect for his toughness. "We lost a couple of guys," Campbell said. "Everyone was trying, but you need as much help as you can get there."
Especially with as often as the Redskins change their offensive philosophy. Just when Campbell was becoming comfortable in Al Saunders's system, which was predicated on timing and rhythm and numbers were used in play-calling, they switched to a West Coast attack in which words were used instead of numbers. Even a former NFL executive who is among Campbell's detractors recently acknowledged that Washington's lack of offensive stability adversely affected Campbell.
"Every year they were trying to find somebody to replace him," outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "It's kind of hard to perform and have the confidence in yourself when you're not always backed completely. I mean, he had his opportunities, but I don't ever think he had the complete chance of just going out there and competing, not worrying about his job."
To be sure, the Redskins gave Campbell a shot to prove himself. He was a starter for three-plus seasons, so it wasn't as if they yanked him after only a day on the job. But for quarterbacks to reach their potential, whatever it may be, it helps to be part of an operation that makes sound decisions in the front office and has stability on the coaching staff. Just ask Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.
Obviously, Campbell is not in their class in terms of success, though he has ability. Before the offensive line fell apart in 2008 because of injuries and ineffectiveness, Campbell seemed to be putting it together in his second full season as a starter. He had passer ratings of at least 104.1 three times in Washington's four-game winning streak early in the season that also marked the high point of Zorn's brief tenure with the team.
"I think everybody who knows football understands it really wasn't his fault," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said of Campbell. "But it still comes a point when, whether it's your fault or not, it's time to go separate ways, and I think this organization kind of felt that way."
With Coach Mike Shanahan in control of the football operation, McNabb figures to have the type of support system Campbell longed for with the Redskins. Shanahan's three Super Bowl rings (he won two as a head coach and one as an offensive coordinator) give him credibility with Snyder that Zorn could never attain. Players have fallen in line under Shanahan's direction, and Washington even drafted an offensive lineman in the first round, selecting tackle Trent Williams with the fourth overall pick to help protect McNabb. Before picking Williams, the Redskins had selected just four offensive linemen in the top four rounds of the draft since 2000.
"Everything has changed since Coach Shanahan got here," Campbell said. "All of a sudden, guys are doing what they're supposed to do in the weight room and getting focused on trying to get better in the offseason. You see crazy stuff going on sometimes and you think it must be like this in every organization, and then Coach Shanahan comes in and you realize that's not the way it's supposed to be. I think I did some good things as a young quarterback in this league, but it comes down to winning. We didn't win so they made a change, and now I'm going to someplace that hopefully will be better for me."
Staff writer Dan Steinberg contributed to this report.