The Campbell Conundrum

Steve O Speak

The Washington Redskins made a significant move yesterday when they were tagging their restricted free agents, when they placed a first round tender offer on Jason Campbell. All along you knew that Campbell was going to get tagged and would be a restricted free agent come Saturday, what was significant is the level they ‘tagged’ him at.

Teams have the option of extending a tender offer for the original round the player was drafted in, a 3rd round offer, a 2nd round offer, a 1st round offer or a 1st and a 3rd round offer. As the compensation increases, the money in the contract offer sheet is higher. The way restricted free agency works is a player is allowed to talk with any other team and negotiate a contract, then after they agree to terms, their original team has one week to decide between three options. First, they can sign the player to the contract that the other team negotiated, meaning if that player was to get a check for $15 million in year one, they have to pay that and have no recourse to change it. Their 2nd option is to simply let the player go and get what ever draft pick back in return. The third option is a bit tricky, but practical, and that is to ‘trade’ the rights of the player. Sometimes the team signing a player would rather give up multiple picks, in later rounds then one high draft pick, or they might not even have a pick in the round they are supposed to send to the original team, so they work out a trade.

So the Redskins decided to forego tagging Campbell at the highest possible tender level (1st and 3rd round), and as we know that decision didn’t have anything to do with money. Despite all the talk coming out of Redskins Park lately that Campbell will most likely ‘be with the team’ next year, yesterday’s tender offer makes me think that’s not the case (as it should be). If the Skins were so adamant with keeping Campbell, they first off wouldn’t even let him hit free agency. Secondly, if they did let him reach the market they would have extended the 1st and 3rd round offer, pretty much ensuring that Campbell remains in DC next year if they want him. The first and third round offer, would have pretty much meant the only way Campbell would leave is if another team trades for him. Now I think its much more likely that JC is taking his game to another team next year.

I would say a trade is a more likely scenario since most of the teams in need of quarterbacks pick early and won’t want to give up a top pick. The Rams, Seahawks (also pick 14), Browns and Bills could all potentially be interested in a new quarterback. The Raiders and Jaguars are also lesser possibilities, the Jags could use an upgrade over Garrard whom they seem unhappy with, and the Raiders could use Campbell’s big arm to throw to all those speedy receivers. Other teams that could use a quarterback upgrade include the 49ers (13th and 17th), Cardinals (26th) and the Vikings (30th). Now I don’t think any team would give up a top 15 pick for Campbell, so that eliminates everyone but the Cardinals and Vikings from signing Campbell outright (the 49ers 17th pick comes from Carolina meaning it would have to be a trade, since they would owe their pick if they signed him outright). Campbell would be a nice fit on a number of these teams.

Jason Campbell is far from an elite quarterback, but he’s hardly a bad one either, he’s put up good numbers and kept the Redskins competitive these last couple of seasons despite playing on a below average offense. Despite being 4-12 this year, the Skins were in pretty much every game this season with the exception of the Giants and Cowboys games. If the Redskins had an NFL offensive line, a consistent running game and at least a decent receiving corps (not to mention better play calling, and defensive backs who could do the ‘small things’ like tackle and intercept the ball), they would have at least doubled their win total. Despite all the problems around him, Campbell ended up having his best season as a Redskin, throwing for over 3,600 yards, 20 touchdowns (that’s impressive in Washington) and an 86.4 QB rating. Campbell also offers the ability to move around and scramble for some yardage when the pocket breaks down.

Now Jason Campbell is not without his detractors either. He’s not turned around a bad team like we’ve seen more elite quarterbacks do. And he seems to ‘zone in’ on particular receivers and force the ball to them (though that could be because Moss and Cooley were the only quality targets he had). Campbell has also grown skiddish behind the Redskins horrific offensive line, dumping the ball off the flat, instead of standing in there for another second to wait for something to open up down the field. Most of those issues could be fixed in Campbell with a better supporting cast and a coaching staff that believed in him. He might never win league MVP and might not head to too many Pro Bowls, but he definitely is a quality quarterback.

Now the question is…will another team be willing to trade for Campbell and will the Redskins be willing to accep? The answer to both questions should be yes, though when it comes to the Redskins I know they will always break my heart and do the wrong thing. Campbell is the best quarterback on the market this season, restricted or otherwise, and plenty of teams could use an upgrade behind center. The Rams sitting at the top of the draft have a major decision to be made that could be alleviated if they trade for Campbell. St. Louis is deciding between picking the player they want Suh or the player they need Bradford/Clausen. Suh is undeniably the best player in this draft, a disruptive force on defense, but he doesn’t fill the Rams biggest need of a top notch quarterback. Now there is a chance that Bradford/Clausen end up being a better quarterback than Campbell, but there is a much higher chance of them being a worse quarterback or even a bust. Additionally any rookie quarterback they draft will struggle their first year (if they play at all), Suh on the other hand will have an immediate impact and Campbell would be their starting QB. To me it is a no brainer for the Rams, they can address their quarterback issue immediately, and get the best player in the draft (this scenario could be played out the same way for any of the top 10 teams, though others might have to give a bit more in return). The question becomes would the Redskins be smart enough to take a 2nd rounder and say the Rams 5th rounder for Campbell?

Hopefully the answer to that question is a resounding YES. Campbell might not be the problem in DC, but he might not be the long term solution as well. No quarterback is going to lead the Redskins to the promised land with all the holes they have on their team (and that includes drafting one with the 4th overall pick). Washington needs to rebuild, and any additional draft picks help that cause. They can spend money to acquire some top talent on defense in free agency, but they can’t rebuild their offense, in particular their offensive line. That can only be accomplished in the draft, which is where the Redskins focus should be. As for the 2nd most scrutinized job in DC, the Redskins should look to add a veteran for a year, and draft a quarterback in the rounds 3-5 (though they will need to acquire a 3rd round pick) to develop. Even if that doesn’t work out its a better use of resources than drafting a quarterback early, behind one of the worst offensive lines in football. Or signing Campbell long term when you can’t acquire the pieces to build around him.

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