Jason Campbell initially learned about the Raiders pending trade for his replacement, Carson Palmer, through the media, while starting to recover from surgery on his broken collarbone. He reacted as anyone would. He felt hurt, maybe a little betrayed, and frustrated about the way his season -- leading Oakland to a 3-2 record before going down during the sixth game of the season -- was turning once again.
Campbell was stung, caught by surprise and frankly depressed for about a week after surgery. He was having what he believed was his best season, in the last year of his contract with an extension or free agency looming, and now it was all cut short. Campbell also had just lost his owner, Al Davis, the man who traded for him after the Redskins acquired Donovan McNabb. Davis helped Campbell reclaim his career as a starting quarterback and was a constant source of support, a resource for the quarterback.
Suddenly the tenor of the organization, and his future in Oakland, had taken a seismic shift, with Campbell left to figure out how he would fit.
Coach Hue Jackson opted not to put Campbell on injured reserve, calling him into his office after the trade to say he still might need the quarterback "in an emergency role." And though Campbell is still limited in his rehab, he hasn't given up hope of being game-ready in December, should the Raiders need him. He knows that Palmer is clearly The Man in Oakland, with a first-round and second-round pick dealt for him, and given Palmer's close bond with Jackson going back to their college days together. But Campbell is trying to find other ways to be there for his teammates in the meantime and keeping open the possibility of playing again in 2011.
"I don't rule out anything," said Campbell, who turns 30 on New Year's Eve. "I think the main thing is just focusing on getting my injury healthy, spending as much time and most of my effort into that. And I go to all the meetings, and all of that. I stay on it mentally. I can't do it physically at this point, and I know the free-agent market is coming in the offseason, and I feel very confident in that, too.
"I feel like I have proved myself as quarterback, and I feel like I've helped turn it around here in Oakland and got it going to the right direction, and we won and I helped us win here, and you never know what's going to happen, as far as playing this season. But I feel very confident in doing my part if things don't work out that way."
'Where does that leave me?'
Palmer has made some nice throws in his six quarters of work for Oakland after his protracted holdout from the Bengals, but he also has struggled mightily at times. Raiders sources said Jackson is trying to tailor the offense to Palmer as much as possible, installing the same signals he used with Palmer in Cincy and running more of what Jackson and Palmer did with the Bengals -- more no huddle, minimizing the role of the tight end (which led to free-agent signing Kevin Boss being benched for most of last week's loss) and going out and signing veteran receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Palmer's security blanket with the Bengals. (The somewhat drastic changes, midseason, have puzzled some of Oakland's veterans, and Jackson's future power in the organization could well be dictated by how they finish the season, with a general manager search pending).
There are no shortages of scouts or personnel directors who wonder about Palmer's durability in health, however. He sailed balls the past few years with the Bengals, and there were concerns that eventually he might need a procedure on his elbow. How he holds up and whether he can elevate his play back to his form in the first half of his career are topics of considerable debate.
Campbell said his interaction with Palmer has been very limited. For the first few weeks after the trade, Campbell stayed away, didn't want to be a distraction or to do anything to create any issues for the new quarterback. "I kind of kept my distance a little bit," Campbell said. But for the past few weeks, Campbell has been back in the offensive and quarterback meetings, he is rehabbing daily at the facility with friends like injured running back Darren McFadden and trying to make the best out of what has become an awkward situation.
"Naturally, I was down for a week or so," Campbell said, "because this was one of biggest years of my career, and a contract year and I've overcome so many obstacles to be in the position you're at winning games and having fun. And then to get hurt and see a big trade for Carson and it's like, 'Where does that leave me?'
"And there's so many things going through your head. But now I have a positive spirit about myself. I trust in God and know things happen for a reason. And right now maybe I can't see it, but you have to stay positive and keep pushing forward and know the best is ahead of you."
'It wasn't easy'
Campbell was selected 25th overall by Washington in the 2005 draft after an unbeaten season at Auburn, and was to be the young quarterback to take the second Joe Gibbs era to greatness in Washington. But Gibbs remained loyal to an aging Mark Brunell, and when Campbell first secured the starting job in 2007, an injury ended his season late, and journeyman Todd Collins flourished, getting the Redskins to the playoffs. Campbell had no stability in Washington, with new coordinators and positions coaches shifting every season and the team changing offenses just as frequently.
Gibbs abruptly retired after the 2007 season, and rookie head coach Jim Zorn began the strange task of trying to convert the tall, drop-back passer with a long windup into a West Coast quarterback with quick reads and shorter passing routes. Zorn was under duress his brief career in Washington, and when he was fired in 2009, Mike Shanahan came in and traded for McNabb, ending Campbell's star-crossed tenure in Washington.
In Oakland, coach Tom Cable preferred Bruce Gradkowski to Campbell, stunningly benching Campbell just two games into his career in Oakland. He won the job back and nearly led Oakland to the playoffs, starting 12 games in all, playing excellent football in the second half -- much of it without McFadden at times.
"You look at the great quarterbacks every year," Campbell said, "and they have stability and not so much changes and they've been able to grow and grow. Me, I haven't been able to be in those situations, but now I'm at a point in my career where I'm pushing forward, regardless."
The 8-8 record was as good as Oakland had been for a long time, and Campbell and defensive lineman Richard Seymour were the team's fulcrums during the long workouts. Campbell hosted receivers at his house in Virginia for weeks at a time and he and Seymour organized workouts in the Atlanta area.
"It wasn't easy -- when I got here, the team had won like five games a year for something like seven years in row," Campbell said. "Guys didn't want to come here, and I get traded here and Seymour gets here and things start to change and it becomes more of a place where guys want to come."
'A forgotten child'
This season Campbell again had a solid 84 quarterback rating -- on par with his career average -- and though he threw four interceptions in six games, some were Hail Mary offerings late in games. Oakland was 4-2, and building off last year's breakthrough.
Davis, in near weekly conversations with Campbell's agent, Joel Segal, would always stress that he wanted to see continued fire and leadership from the quarterback. He wanted him to be more vocal with the young roster, and Campbell was taking it to heart. He barked a bit more, came out of the huddle clapping, with more fire, and about a month ago -- before the owner's passing and before getting hurt -- Campbell figured he was going to get an extension offer from the Raiders, he said.
"I had a great relationship with Mr. Davis, and the reason was he's a player's guy," Campbell said. "He was very confident and showed all the confidence in you and gave you support to go out and show what you can do. And the main thing with me was nothing was given to me; I had to earn it and fight through a lot of things and overcome a lot of things.
"And we have a good year and we're undefeated in our division, and we prepare for the season and guys are staying at my house during the lockout and we start out 4-2 and we're a couple of seconds from beating Buffalo and being 5-1. Everything is going in the right direction and I have so much chemistry with these guys and look at them as brothers. In Washington, I was the young guy and here they look at me as a veteran and I'm given an opportunity to take on a leadership role and I'm enjoying it and unfortunately I get hurt."
Campbell said that amid all of the Carson Palmer hype, he felt like his strides in Oakland went unrecognized, feeling a bit like "a forgotten child." He's still trying to mentor younger players during his rehab. Surgery was performed Oct. 17, and offensive coordinator Al Saunders, who was with Campbell in Washington, has made a point to try to keep him in good spirits.
"When I was hurt, Coach Saunders texted me every night to see how I was doing," Campbell said. "He keeps me involved and everything, and said I was having a great year and growing and growing every year since I came into the league. He said, 'I hate this for you, but things will work out with what you've done. Look at third down and the red zone. You were right up there. Keep doing what you were doing and don't get down.' "
Campbell in turn, sends those same messages to McFadden, his rehab partner, as the young running back on the cusp of major stardom deals with another injury of his own.
'All right, what's next?'
For Campbell, however, the harshest reality is mental, not physical. He believed he would sign an extension with Oakland, and now, he knows the reality is his best options will come on the free-agent market. The owner who wanted him most is no longer there, and Jackson, clearly running the show in all regards in Oakland after Davis's passing, had always seemed lukewarm at best about Campbell.
The good news is, it's a shallow free-agent market at his position (Kyle Orton, Matt Flynn and Chad Henne, among others), but then again, there could be four quarterback taken in the first round, with many playing right away. Probably 5-6 teams will be in the market for a starter by the time free agency kicks off in March.
So Campbell is preparing himself to move on, while working hard daily to ensure that should the Raiders need to call on him next month, he will be as ready as can be.
"I felt like I had finally found a place, found a home, and I felt like I had helped turn a franchise around," Campbell said. "And then the injury and then a big trade like that and it's like, 'All right, what's next?' We'll see. Everything happens for a reason. I can find the good in anything, so we'll see."