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A vision in burgundy

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Brett Favre wants to end his four-month retirement. The Green Bay Packers, who handed the starting job to three-year quarterback-in-waiting Aaron Rodgers in March, have told the NFL's all-time leading passer he can return but only as a backup.

In response, Packers fans are demanding No. 4's return to the No. 1 job.

How to resolve this mess surrounding the NFL's only publicly owned franchise and its longtime icon?

How about a trade to a team that has gone eight seasons without a Pro Bowl quarterback, has an inexperienced starter who grew up idolizing his fellow Mississippian and has an owner with an expansive checkbook?

Yes, the Washington Redskins. Envisioning Brett in burgundy yet?

Redskins owner Dan Snyder just might be, though NFL sources believe it is highly unlikely to happen.

While Washington traded up to draft quarterback Jason Campbell in 2005, his 20 starts so far have produced solid but not scintillating results: 22 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, a 77.3 rating and an 8-12 record. In fact, the Redskins went 3-0 last year with 36-year-old Todd Collins starting in placed of the injured Campbell.

Joe Gibbs, the coach who was building the offense around Campbell, is gone. New coach Jim Zorn is reshaping the 26-year-old's game as he teaches him a new offense. Ah yes, the West Coast offense, a system Zorn learned from one of its masters, Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, who taught the scheme to Favre as Packers coach from 1992 to 1998.

Favre is less than three months from his 39th birthday, but the NFL's career leader in touchdowns, passing yards and completions was better in 2007 than he had been since his three-year MVP run from 1995 to 1997. Last season, Favre posted 28 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 4,155 yards and a 95.7 rating while leading the surprising Packers to a 13-3 record and a berth in the NFC Championship game.

The Redskins haven't advanced that far since 1991, when Favre was a rookie backup for the Atlanta Falcons and Campbell was a 9-year-old in Taylorsville, Miss., about two hours north of Favre's hometown of Kiln. In the 16 seasons since, while Favre started a record 275 consecutive games (including playoffs), the Redskins have started 17 quarterbacks. That list includes Jeff George, whom Snyder forced on coach Norv Turner in 2000 even though Brad Johnson had led the Redskins to the 1999 NFC East title.

Johnson signed with Tampa Bay in 2001 and led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory the next season. George was cut after two games in 2001 by new coach Marty Schottenheimer. Gibbs took over three years later, decided he didn't like young incumbent starter Patrick Ramsey and traded for the aging Mark Brunell - initially Favre's backup in Green Bay - who had been benched in Jacksonville. When Brunell faltered in 2006, Campbell took over.

The Redskins took Campbell 25th in the 2005 draft, one spot after Green Bay chose Rodgers and made him Favre's heir apparent. Rodgers, who threw just 59 passes in three years as the backup, ascended to the top spot when Favre retired March 6. That is until Favre began dropping hints later that month that he wanted to play in 2008 after all.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, those conversations with Packers coaches prompted coach Mike McCarthy to schedule an April 1 trip to Mississippi. Before the visit, Favre told McCarthy he was going to stay retired. General manager Ted Thompson sat down with Favre on May 6 and came away with some doubt about Favre's intentions. Those doubts were exacerbated by offensive line coach James Campen's visit June 8. Favre reiterated the possibility of returning in a chat with McCarthy on June 20, by which point the Packers had finished their offseason practices with Rodgers in command.

On July 8, having perceived that Rodgers was firmly the starter, Favre and agent Bus Cook asked for the 38-year-old's release. The Packers denied it four days later, prompting a fan protest Sunday outside Lambeau Field.

"This is a very difficult spot we're in," Thompson told the Journal-Sentinel. "We're struggling to do the right thing. It's a very volatile situation, and we don't have all the answers yet. We care about the legacy of the Packers and the legacy of Brett Favre."

But while Thompson said Favre is welcome to return as the backup if he applies for reinstatement from the reserved/retired list, Rodgers is the Packers' starter despite Favre's Hall of Fame credentials and scheduled $12 million salary.

The decision is in Favre's hands. Does he come out of retirement? And if he does, could he handle backing up Rodgers, or would he demand a trade? Chicago and Minnesota certainly could use Favre, but Green Bay wouldn't deal him to an NFC North rival. The Redskins aren't nearly as quarterback-needy as the Bears, Vikings, Falcons or such AFC teams as the Ravens, Dolphins and Chiefs. And Snyder barely spent a dollar this offseason. Still ...

"There's zero chance," an NFL source said of Favre joining the Redskins. "Why would you do that for one year? I think Brett plays in Green Bay or he doesn't play."

Another source believes that if Favre is traded, it would have to be to an AFC team.

But other longtime NFL observers aren't so sure Snyder has changed his free-spending ways for good. One said the Packers would love a bidding war for the rights to Favre between Snyder and Falcons owner Arthur Blank that would land them a major compensation package and rid them of this public relations nightmare.

The Packers open camp July 28. Stay tuned.