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Jason Campbell will retire an afterthought, and that's not his fault

Jason Campbell is leaving football as one of the best journeyman quarterbacks to play the game.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

A 10-year NFL veteran quarterback, a career 60 percent passer who started 79 NFL games, is disappearing into the ether. His name doesn't really matter. There have been others like him. He had a good, lengthy career across five different teams before calling it quits, and there may be nothing more unremarkable in football.

Think about it: Campbell was a first-round selection by Washington in 2005, but would you dare call him a bust? He was drafted No. 25 overall, a spot that invites high, but tempered expectations. He nestled himself against the lower bound of one standard deviation of those expectations. He topped 3,000 yards passing twice, and hit 20 touchdown passes once. He approached but never achieved a 2:1 touchdown:interception ratio in a single season, but also never threw more picks than scores. He was a 2.0 student. He passed.

And that's not easy to do in the NFL. The list of higher first-round quarterbacks who were devoured by the NFL in the last 15 years is long. A C-grade NFL quarterback is still a hell of an athlete. Unfortunately for Campbell, his teams flunked. Over 10 seasons, teams with Campbell on the roster went 76-83-1, and 1-3 in playoff games.

Meanwhile, the following quarterbacks all won or participated in a Super Bowl since 2000 despite having a career passer rating worse than Campbell's: Trent Dilfer, Kerry Collins, Jake Delhomme and Rex Grossman. Brad Johnson, Matt Hasselbeck and Eli Manning were less than one point better.

Campbell should have won more. In 2013, Chase Stuart at Football Perspective calculated the expected winning percentage for teams based on quarterback efficiency and found that Campbell ranked 117th out of 140 qualifying passers in what was essentially a measure of luck. Jon Bois found something similar when he looked at why teams kept benching Campbell, an adequate starter, for players who were worse. He didn't find the answer, just more weirdness:


The best explanation may be the fact that Campbell's head coaches seem to get promptly axed after he joins the team. Only Marvin Lewis, Campbell's coach in Cincinnati last season, has seemingly been able to hang on. Campbell is either bad juju, or he had the rotten fortune of repeatedly landing with ass-backward franchises.

It's hard to say what Campbell deserves now that he's on his way out. No one should ever be forgotten, but what else can befall Campbell's legacy? He hung around like that acquaintance you see at every party. He's affable, quiet, you like him fine and forget to call him to make concert plans. One day you never see him again, something you only realize years later when the one neuron in your brain devoted to his memory fires for no particular reason.

If Campbell serves as an example of anything, it's how close players can be to greatness despite never approaching it on paper. We will forget Campbell because of circumstance. He could have filled in aptly for the 2006 Seahawks or 2007 Bears in the Super Bowl. He might have won it in 2008 if the Giants had waited a year to draft a franchise quarterback. He might even still be playing.

It can be a fine line between a legend and an afterthought. Campbell definitely fell to one side of it, and it's hard to say what he did wrong, exactly.

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