After word came out Saturday that Jason Campbell of the Washington Redskins had been traded to the Oakland Raiders, Larry Weisman of Redskins.com had this to say: Wish Jason Campbell luck in Oakland. He never had any here.
Campbell, 28, is a decent quarterback. In fact, his stats improved from year-to-year, but with a Redskins offensive line that continually collapsed under pressure, Campbell spent most of his time on the ground looking up. Under former head coach Jim Zorn, with whom he played two seasons, in 2009 he suffered 81 sacks behind an offensive line rated 29th in the nation.
A first round draft pick in 2005, Campbell spent the beginning of his pro career warming up the bench. Just like the old days when QB’s like Ken “the Snake” Stabler, who played for the Super Bowl-winning Raiders in the 1970s, had to wait for a veteran to get injured before seeing any action themselves, head coach Joe Gibbs had Campbell sit out his first 25 games as a Redskin.
Two seasons ago, when Campbell finally became the starting quarterback—a title he took to the end of his contract—Washington became Cutler-obsessed. The Redskins knew Jay Cutler, the high-ranked quarterback from Vanderbilt, would go early in the 2006 draft (he ended up being the eleventh pick) and tried trading Campbell back then for a high enough pick to trump the Bears to obtain Cutler, who ended up in Chicago anyway. The following year they tried to be rid of him again, this time vying for the University of Southern California’s Mark Sanchez, who ended up as a New York Jet.
As the desire to remove Campbell heightened, his trade value began to decrease. Campbell is 20-30 in his career, went 12-20 under Zorn, and was 6-18 over the last 24 games. When Zorn was fired Washington finally made their move: Zorn was out and Mike Shanahan was in. Then came the big man from Philly, Donovan McNabb, at which point it was clear Campbell’s trade was inevitable.
Around 11:30 Saturday, the anxious Campbell, who said in a later interview he had gotten about two hours of sleep in anticipation of a trade, got the phone call the deal was done: Campbell would go to Oakland and Washington would receive a 4th round draft pick in 2012. (His value had seriously declined.)
Campbell is in desperate need of a new beginning, despite the fact that he has had a number of new beginnings since entering the NFL in 2005. Between Auburn and Washington, Campbell has gone through eight offensive coordinators and three head coaches in the ten years he’s been playing football.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” he said in an interview with the NFL Network during the draft. “If I ever became an offensive coordinator I’d have a lot of plays to choose from.”
There are advantages and disadvantages to having this sort of change over. Pro: Your personal playbook continues to deepen as you learn different coverages, different snap-counts, and different footwork. Con: “It feels like you’re always starting over,” Campbell said in the NFL Network interview.
But a fresh start is something Campbell needs just as much as the Oakland Raiders do. Campbell has the potential to be a successful quarterback but has never had an offensive line strong enough to protect him and give him enough time to get off a good pass in the pocket. When he was allowed a little breathing room, Campbell connected on 61.2 percent of his passes during his career as a Redskin for 10,860 yards and 55 touchdowns. He ranked 15th in passer ratings in the 2009 regular season: Not great, but not bad.
Meanwhile, Oakland’s starting quarterback—at least for the majority of last season—JaMarcus Russell didn’t make the top 30. In three seasons with the Raiders, Russell’s completed about half his passes, managed a meager 18 touchdowns, and fumbled the ball 15 times. In the press conference to address the decision to sit Russell in November, head coach Tom Cable was gentle in his approach: “This is in no way giving up on the guy. This is just trying to jump-start this team and really break it down and make a decision based on what gives us the best chance to win.”
Backup QB Bruce Gradkowski stepped in after the change and finished the season in better standing with a 54.7 percent completion rate and six touchdowns (double the amount Russell had managed in 12 games). But in the offseason, Gradkowski suffered a shoulder injury and spent the off-season recovering rather than training. In an interview at the conclusion of the draft, Cable said Gradkowski will be ready to compete for the starting quarterback position prior to training camp, but that the injury definitely set him back.
All eyes will be on minicamp (which starts this weekend) and training camp in July as the battle for the starting slot heats up. The problem is attitude: Both Russell and Campbell believe they’re Number 1. In his interview with NFL Network, Campbell said, based on the conversations he had with Cable and Al Davis leading up to the trade, he was the man for the job. But in the post-draft interview, Cable said Russell is still in the running and that the starting role was never even discussed in conversations with Campbell.
“What it comes down to is we’ve got five quarterbacks now and we’re going to have a big competition,” Cable said. “There are going to be some big decisions in the next month or so and we’ll just leave it like that.”
But the media says differently. ESPN’s “NFL Live” analyst John Clayton reported that the Raiders will be cutting Russell as soon as Davis says the word. The move would put roughly $6 million back into the organization’s pocket. One has to wonder if the Campbell trade has made the 2007 No. 1 draft pick Russell expendable.