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Letting Go of Jason Campbell

As it turns out, I have time today.

Jason Campbell: Campbell had another trademark performance on Sunday night. His team could barely start a drive before it was all over but the crying. Then, in the waning moments of the game, he check-mastered his stat line towards respectable. Redskins fans discount Campbell's stats and somewhat rightfully. Winning is what matters, and there's cognitive dissonance when a quarterback's stat line looks solid, but the offense he leads never looks competitive. One tends to throw out one or the other. Either Campbell is good and his team is throwing him to the wolves or Campbell sucks and his stats immaterial.

It sounds like Campbell will be under team control for another season. That makes the Campbell debate a lot less relevant for Seahawks fans. He was the most promising name in an otherwise weak free agent class for quarterbacks. Seattle badly needs a bridge between now and its next shot at being competitive. If a franchise is too bad for too long, it not only risks amassing burdensome rookie contracts, it risks misevaluating its talent.

It wasn't long ago that Roddy White and Michael Jenkins were bums that couldn't catch a pass. Matt Ryan fixed that perception. The same problem arises less directly at other positions. Teams like Seattle that cannot create or hold a lead can mask otherwise emerging talents. Consider Darryl Tapp. He only has 2.5 sacks this season, but is winning matchups and busting his ass on every damn play. Look deeper and you'll see, he also has a career best seven tackles for a loss. He only had 10 in three seasons prior. The abilities are similar, but when Seattle is losing, Tapp faces a lot of runs, but few downs where he can "pin his ears back", i.e. rush the passer on a passing down that the opponent needs to convert.

In that situation, quarterbacks are vulnerable, because they must take their time to find an open receiver and are therefore much more likely to take a sack. A sack is an acceptable outcome when a team is behind and desperate to convert. Commentators, a font of nonsense but nevertheless guarded football wisdom, will even criticize a quarterback that checks down on third and long and quip they'd have been better taking the sack. They would not be, but minus the risk of a fumble, a sack, an incompletion and a five-yard gain on third and 13 all have about the same value. For a trailing team, it is better to risk the sack than accept the inadequate completion. For a winning team, especially a team up by multiple scores, a failed conversion is minor -- an acceptable outcome.

Even an otherwordly talent like Jared Allen suffers when his team isn't competitive. The 2007 Kansas City Chiefs won only four games, but Allen recorded 15.5 sacks. He did not record a single sack when his team was behind by 10 or more points. 15.5 sacks, and not one when the 4-12 Chiefs were losing a blowout. I picked ten because of its obvious human significance and its significance as the meaningful threshold of a two-score lead. You might think I'm cooking the stats, and I'm surprised to see such a clean result myself, but Allen was the very first name and only name I looked at. I remembered his monster showing in 2007, 15.5 sacks in just 14 games played, and thought it an apt test. Well, I might have to contact Brian Burke and run this research proper, because the reality aligning so perfectly with the theory seems almost too good to be true. Are sacks a product of game situation as much or more than talent? It wouldn't surprise me.

The larger point is that Matt Hasselbeck makes the Seattle Seahawks impossible to easily evaluate. Seattle needs a league average quarterback in 2010, but that player is seemingly unavailable. Campbell was the best candidate, but not anymore. Chris Redman is a possibility. He's never been too bad and is likely better, and certainly cheaper, than Hasselbeck. David Carr could be available, but Carr could be satisfied collecting backup quarterback checks until retiring into broadcasting. Chad Pennington should be available, and he is 9/10ths the problem Hasselbeck is, but cheaper and proven better at throwing short passes. Still not much of an upgrade.

That puts Seattle in a pickle. The CFL is bear. NFL Europe is gone. The UFL was dominated by Brooks Bollinger and J.P. Losman. I'm sure some eyes are starting to roll. Proposing that a CFL or UFL player could be an upgrade over Matt Hasselbeck is sure to seem like pointed irreverence and shock tactics to some, but I see it more simply: Replacement value. Hasselbeck has fallen below replacement value, is thought otherwise only because of his reputation, and like Shaun Alexander before him, can be improved upon with freely available talent. Alexander could no longer accelerate into the hole and so his vision and ability to follow blockers was immaterial. Hasselbeck can no longer throw an NFL pass, and so his decision making, timing and accuracy is immaterial. He can make the best read, time the pass perfectly and throw into a vanishing window, but if his passes hover, the window closes and Hasselbeck is exactly like Alexander in the hole. He makes the right decision, but it looks wrong when the ball arrives. The window has vanished, the timing is off, and, too often, the pass intercepted.

Campbell was not intended to win Seattle a Super Bowl. He just had to be average. Who else is possible? Kellen Clemens, Brian St. Pierre, Charlie Whitehurst, Troy Smith and ...