For the most part, observers have been shaking their heads about Washington’s NFL team since the turn of the century. Owner Dan Snyder’s tenure has been marked by blunder after travesty after embarrassment, giving the franchise a well-earned reputation for incompetence and dysfunction.
The latest example involves the handling of Kirk Cousins, set to be paid franchise-quarterback money for a second consecutive season with iffy chances of playing a third with the team. Former Washington QB Jason Campbell can’t relate to the dollars but recognizes the nonsense.
“The hard thing is the Redskins have a really big fan base and you fall in love with people in the D.C. area,” Campbell said during a phone conversation. “That’s the part that makes you want to be there. Then there’s the football side of it. “You have a good relationship with the guys who played before you.
“But the flip side is when you realize there’s a whole bunch of crazy going on.”
Campbell, who’ll be in the area Saturday as special guest at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden’s annual Car & Bike Show, knows of what he speaks. No other quarterback in history had his helmet wired to a guy who in two weeks went from calling bingo to calling plays.
“That was really weird,” Campbell said of Sherman Lewis’ hire as an offensive consultant in Week 5 of the 2009 season. Lewis, a longtime NFL assistant who had retired after the 2004 season, was elevated to play-caller for Week 7.
“He didn’t even know all the plays,” Campbell said. “It was just crazy. You could feel the animosity on the field. Lewis told me in all his years in football he had never seen a quarterback deal with so much chaos going on around him. It was a hard position for me to be in.”
You can argue that Campbell’s entire career put him in tough spots. Being drafted at No. 25 by Washington put him on the wrong track right away.
After sitting during his rookie year, Campbell became the starter midway through 2006 and thereafter never spent more than two years under the same head coach and offensive coordinator. When Washington traded for Donovan McNabb following its disastrous 2009 campaign (4-12), Campbell was shipped to Oakland. He later bounced to Chicago, Cleveland and Cincinnati and retired after the 2014 season with a career completion percentage of 60.3 and passer rating of 81.7.
“I just wonder if I stayed in one system, one team with one head coach and one coordinator, how far could I have gone,” Campbell said.
Cincinnati and Baltimore offered contracts entering the 2015 season. Dallas and Indianapolis expressed interest during that season. But the pain of injuries — and opportunities lost due to injury — helped convince him to remain on the sideline. His left knee, dislocated in 2007, still “really hurts a lot” and swells up after too much activity. His lower left back can ache as well. The broken collarbone that preceded his release in Oakland and the injured ribs suffered before Cleveland cut him loose left their own scars, along with hard lessons on a cold business.
“If I want to do something, I have to make sure I’m whole-hearted,” he said. “At the same time, I started thinking about the future. I got hit a lot in Washington and Oakland. My mind said ‘Hey, we can do this,’ but my body said something else.”
These days, Campbell spends his time landscaping, coaching youth sports, doing some radio at his alma mater (Auburn), traveling and speaking. He had prepared for life after football ever since his older brother suffered a career-ending injury as a senior linebacker at Mississippi State. “From that point on, I wanted to be in position to do things in the future and not have life stop because of football,” Campbell said.
He was never in a position like Cousins, but Campbell can imagine how carefree it must feel. It’s the exact opposite of what he experienced during a nine-year career spent with five teams. He never earned $5 million in a season and job security was fleeting.
“Kirk is making 20-plus million dollars and can sleep at night,” Campbell said. “He’s not super-stressed because he knows if Washington doesn’t sign him, other teams will. It’s not like he’s making two or three million and worried about getting hurt. He’s already made more than most NFL guys are paid in eight or nine years.
“He just has to play this year out. They’re gonna give him a long-term contract here or he’ll get one somewhere else. Either way, he’s good.”
Cousins’ journey from a fourth-round draft pick to one of the NFL’s highest-paid players is an amazing story, even more so considering his two-year haul from Washington (at least $44 million) and ability to walk after this season.
Folks look at the franchise and wonder how it bungles matters so badly. But Campbell doesn’t have to wonder.
He lived it.
• Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.