Long before Washington Redskins fans experienced edge-of-their-seat excitement about the imminent arrival of quarterback Robert Griffin III, they were hooked on the billboard-sized optimism that resulted from the acquisition of quarterback Jason Campbell.
A fresh-faced, well-mannered, strong-armed newcomer with a megawatt smile, Campbell was supposed to make everything right again for the Redskins. Convinced that Campbell could be “The One,” team officials traded three picks (including a first-rounder, which is about as valuable to NFL teams as prime real estate is to commercial developers) to move up in the 2005 draft and get their guy.
“You know, man, it’s really kind of crazy when I think about what’s happening with him,” Campbell said, pausing for a hearty laugh before continuing during a phone interview Monday.
“A lot of the stuff that’s going on with him, it was like that for me back then. All the media, the expectations coming in, knowing that [the franchise] is counting on you . . . I’ve definitely seen this before. I lived it.”
Hopefully for the Redskins, the similarities will end once they select Griffin with the second pick in Thursday’s draft and add him to their payroll.
Campbell’s career never matched the fanfare of its promising start: The onetime quarterback of the future was history after just five seasons. The Redskins’ union with Campbell, traded to the Oakland Raiders after the 2009 season, was as smooth as a botched snap. Its failure offers a hammer-to-the-head reminder that no single player is capable of being a savior in a sport in which 11 men must work in unison to succeed.
Going all in for Griffin was the right move for the Redskins. Griffin possesses light-up-the room talent and personality. He could become every bit the transformative figure the Redskins envisioned when they sent three first-round picks and a second-rounder to the St. Louis Rams for the right to draft him. But he’ll need help the Redskins can’t currently provide.
Griffin will join an organization that has finished last or tied for last in the NFC East four straight seasons and in five of six. The Redskins haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 2007. That’s not a team ready to take off. It’s one still trying to get out of the hangar.
It’s distressingly similar to the situation Campbell faced when he was brought in: The Redskins had gone five seasons without a postseason appearance. During that span, they never had a winning record. There was only so much a learning-on-the-job youngster could do while trying to remain upright.
Also, Campbell didn’t receive much help from management. Owner Daniel Snyder doled out big bucks for high-profile free agents — just not the ones who could have actually helped the team compete consistently.
The front office has undergone a makeover since Campbell lived in the film room at Redskins Park. The Redskins no longer waste millions on players. The roster has gotten younger under Coach Mike Shanahan. We’re still trying to determine, however, if it’s getting better.
“People don’t want to hear it, but it’s really about the supporting cast as much as it is the quarterback,” said Campbell, who signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract with the Chicago Bears in March to back up starter Jay Cutler. “When things don’t go right, you know the quarterback will take the bulk of the blame. . . . That’s just the way that it is.”
While with Washington, the hard-working Campbell made his share of big plays. He represented the franchise well. Even Campbell’s critics acknowledge he’s a class act.
Campbell, however, had too many “he-should-have-thrown-it-to-the-other-guy” moments. The football didn’t wind up in the end zone enough whenever it started in Campbell’s hands.
As a prospect, Griffin is rated significantly higher than was Campbell, whom the Redskins chose with the 25th overall pick in 2005. Campbell held a clipboard for 11 / 2 seasons while serving as Mark Brunell’s understudy. Griffin probably won’t get the white-glove treatment. The minute Griffin signs, he should receive the type of hands-on experience that comes only from playing. He has the ability to do it.
The Heisman Trophy winner is faster, quicker and better at eluding the rush than Campbell. He’s considered a more polished passer than Campbell was coming out of college. Like Campbell, Griffin has a take-the-hill-first mentality. He’s the type who will lead by example, from the weight room to the field. Unlike the mild-mannered Campbell, however, Griffin could also command by the force of his charisma.
“From what I’ve seen and heard about him, he’s very confident,” said Campbell, who has yet to meet Griffin. “It seems he doesn’t let a lot of things bother him. That’s what you have to have to play quarterback in this league: because you know the bumps are coming.”
Then there’s the off-the-field experience for the District’s most famous person who doesn’t reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The Redskins’ starting quarterback usually occupies that position. The potential impact of a black superstar quarterback in the District cannot be underestimated.
Campbell was embraced for spending significant time in the community, and Griffin “definitely has an opportunity to make a difference for a lot of kids,” Campbell said.
“The fans will welcome him and embrace him. He’s going to a great city that will support him just because he’s [the Redskins’] quarterback. And if he gets involved in the community, if he does stuff off the field, it will just make it even better for him.”
At some point, Campbell, entering his eighth season, will probably reach out to Griffin, as Doug Williams and Donovan McNabb once reached out to Campbell. If asked, he’ll offer as much or as little advice as Griffin seeks.
“Guys helped me,” Campbell said. “I’d be glad to help him if I can.”
Just before finishing our interview, Campbell was generous enough to say he hopes Griffin’s Redskins career turns out much better than his did. “I definitely hope it works for him,” Campbell said.
The Redskins and their fans certainly join him in that sentiment.
For Jason Reid’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/reid
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