Hello Cleveland! Pencil in the Browns for the 2013 NFL playoff hunt.
Jason Campbell just flew in from Oakland and boy are his arms tired. No, but seriously folks… I’m not kidding (and I only said playoff hunt).
Campbell is not the long-term solution at quarterback in Cleveland, and he’s not going to be the one to lead them to the promised land (should this downtrodden franchise ever get there) but he will be a good stopgap to bridge them to the day they can finally land their franchise QB of the future.
Jason Campbell might not be an elite QB, or a vocal leader, or a franchise savior. In fact, he’s not a lot of things. And there’s been debate, one that will be renewed in Cleveland, about whether or not he’s even a viable starting quarterback. He won’t make anyone in Cleveland forget about Lebron James (or even Bernie Kosar). But Campbell is tough, mentally and physically, mostly because his road so far in the NFL been tough.
After playing through a few different offensive systems in college at Auburn, he was drafted by the Redskins and suffered through a large chunk of the dysfunctional Dan Snyder era while having a new offensive coordinator and/or head coach every season. He was never cut out to the be the QB savior or star Washington so desperately needed, but other than “time as a starter” he wasn’t given much of a chance behind a suspect offensive line with few weapons to work with beyond Clinton Portis and… well the Redskins didn’t do much of anything right between the day Snyder purchased the team and the day they traded up to draft Robert Griffin III (outbidding these Browns, by the way).
So while Campbell might never be mistaken for Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, he may have had a ceiling similar to that of Eli Manning. Peyton’s little brother now boasts two Super Bowl rings in large part because Giants GM Jerry Reese understood that dominant offensive and defensive lines, along with a strong running game, a smart/tough QB, and stability at head coach can still be a formula for success. It’s not a knock on Eli, but if he’d been drafted by the same Redskins that Campbell played for, he wouldn’t have a ring. I’m not saying that if Campbell had gone to that same Giants team that they would still have won two Super Bowls, or even one, but… Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer have rings.
During his time getting killed in Washington, Campbell displayed a physical toughness to shake off all the hits and the mental toughness and maturity to ignore the criticisms. Of course most fans and scouts have seen enough of Jason Campbell to know that “he is who we thought he was” (an okay/serviceable QB capable of starting) and probably not much more. Captain Checkdown.
(A little Odd QB Comparison tangent here: Campbell’s career QB rating is 82.5, Jay Cutler’s is 84. They both became starters a few games into the 2006 season. Through 2008, Campbell was 16-21 as a starter; Cutler was 17-21. Cutler was then famously shipped off to Chicago and a year later Campbell was sent to Oakland. One major difference: when Denver listened to phone calls about possibly acquiring then-Patriot Matt Cassel and/or trading Cutler away, little baby Jay pouted and ignored communication attempts from his new coach and Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. When Washington looked into replacing Campbell around that same off-season, all he did was keep working hard and saying all the right things about improving his game and understanding that there are business sides of the NFL that were out of his control. In other words, Campbell was mature and professional even back then, while Cutler acted like an petulant child. And yet Cutler was celebrated as The Franchise Quarterback on the Cusp of Greatness in a blockbuster trade to Chicago, while Campbell was ignored as a lame bust on the way to the black hole in Oakland.)
I’m not sure which is the fire and which is the frying pan, but could anyone play in two worse situations than pre-Shanahan Washington or Al Davis’s dying days in Oakland? That said, Campbell was looking good in 2011 as he had the Raiders offense humming and out to a 4-2 start before he broke his collarbone and never suited up in Silver and Black again.
He spent last season in Chicago backing up none other than Mr. Cutler. And now, still only 31, he’s heading to Cleveland to compete for the Browns starting job with Brandon Weeden.
I’ll say it now: Campbell is going to win that competition and give the new Browns brass a reason to bench Weeden (drafted by the previous Browns brass) and they will be competitive with a heavy dose of Trent Richardson running the ball and a revamped defense keeping them close enough for Campbell to “manage” them to a few more wins than some might expect.
Cleveland has built an impressive coaching staff with former Cardinals defensive coordinator (and almost head coach) Ray Horton opposite offensive coordinator (and former head coach) Norv Turner working under new head coach Rob Chudzinski. At the top of the umbrella is new GM Mike Lombardi, who I think is poised for a successful return to the league after 5 years studying the league for the National Football Post and NFL.com. Campbell knows the system, and he’ll not just benefit from the organizational stability and coaching staff, but the aforementioned Richardson will keep defenses honest and the Browns defense will keep the games close.
Their division shouldn’t be as brutal as it’s been the last several years. Baltimore and Pittsburgh are… having some growing pains, and Cincy always just lingers. Their schedule is manageable. Beyond two likely losses at New England and at Green Bay, their other road foes are the Jets, Vikings, and Chiefs. And they’ll host Jacksonville, Miami, Buffalo, Detroit and Chicago. It’s way too early to know who will be good, and how good, but it’s not hard to find 9 wins on that list.
And, there’s really not much pressure. It’s the Cleveland Browns and he’s Jason Campbell. This is not exactly Peyton to Denver or the prove-it-or-lose-it situations that guys like Weeden, Mark Sanchez, or Blaine Gabbert are in. If the Browns can get a little lucky with some offensive contributors through the draft and remainder of free agency, Campbell might just himself in yet another tough situation: a playoff game.