BEREA: At this time of year, it’s fitting that Browns quarterback Jason Campbell will star in the NFL’s version of A Christmas Carol when his past, present and future collide at 1 p.m. today at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Campbell will face his former team, the Chicago Bears (7-6), as he leads the Browns (4-9) in their final home game of the season. He’ll also be auditioning to remain in Cleveland for the second season of the two-year, $3.75 million contract he signed in March.
“I have a two-year contract here,” said Campbell, who will turn 32 on Dec. 31. “They have an option in February whether they want to bring me back. My goal is to keep doing the things that I can to improve as a quarterback and improve as a player. There’s a lot of youth on this team. You can see a lot of progress is being made from last season to this season.”
The majority of the progress made on offense has been evident in the three games Campbell has played while healthy. He has finished those games with passer ratings of 105.4, 116.6 and 116.8, which he registered last Sunday in a 27-26 loss on the road against the New England Patriots.
“We’ve seen him go out and play at a high level,” Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “There’s no question he’s capable of doing that, and it’s nice to see him have the opportunity to go do it.”
An injury to Campbell’s ribs hindered him as he finished with a passer rating of 44.3 in a 41-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 17. A concussion knocked him out of a 27-11 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 24 and kept him sidelined a week later in a 32-28 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
However, Campbell bounced back strong against the Patriots and gave the Browns a chance to prevail in crunch time before quarterback Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes in the final 1:01.
“When I had the rib injury, I really didn’t talk much about it, but it really does affect the way you thrown,” Campbell said. “You really can’t follow through with a lot of throws, and you can’t move and be as active as you usually are. But when you’re healthy, I feel like it gives me the best opportunity to reach my maximum ability.”
Even with the injuries, Campbell’s overall statistics have been respectable. With three games left this season, he has completed 116-of-197 passes (58.9 percent) for 1,324 yards and nine touchdowns with three interceptions. His record as a starter is 1-4, and his passer rating is 88.
Still, Campbell’s future with the Browns isn’t set in stone. Brian Hoyer, 28, led the team to back-to-back wins in September before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Oct. 3, and he’ll be back in 2014 for the second season of his two-year, $1.965 million contract. Plus, the organization has stockpiled draft picks and positioned itself to pick a top quarterback who Campbell is more than willing to guide.
“That’s part of my job every year if you’re a veteran quarterback. If they bring in a young quarterback, of course you’re going to do everything you can to mentor them and help them,” Campbell said. “At the end of the day, we’re still teammates. We’re all competing for the same jobs, but you’re also helping your teammates.”
The Browns also have two other quarterbacks on the roster — Brandon Weeden, 30, and Alex Tanney, 26. Weeden’s days with the franchise are numbered after he floundered as a starter this season. Tanney is a project the Browns could keep and try to develop after signing him off the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad Nov. 26.
As for Campbell, his teammates hope he sticks around for another season.
“It would be great,” tight end Jordan Cameron said. “He’s a good guy on and off the field. He lives right next to me. We go to dinner a lot. He’s a good guy to have in the locker room. He brings a lot of leadership and lot of wisdom, and you always need guys like that around a locker room.”
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Campbell spent last season with the Bears serving as Jay Cutler’s backup.
“It just made me hungry,” said Campbell, whose career record as a starter is 32-44. “At the same time, it taught me a lot about patience, having to sit back and watch.”
Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall insisted he hasn’t been caught off guard by how well Campbell has played this season when healthy.
“He was a great teammate, great guy,” Marshall said during a conference call. “Really enjoyed playing with him. We still talk. I believe he’ll be a guy that I stay in contact with the rest of my life. I’m not surprised at all. Jason Campbell is a starting quarterback in the NFL.”
Campbell had a chance to re-sign with the Bears. Instead, he opted to join the Browns because he believed he would have a better chance to play extensively for the first time since he went 3-2 as a starter for the Oakland Raiders before he suffered a season-ending broken collarbone against the Browns in 2011.
“[The Bears] offered me to come back,” Campbell said. “I put myself in a position where I had a chance to play. Jay Cutler being there at the time, he’s their franchise quarterback. The chances of playing there, outside of injury, were very, very slim. So I wanted to have the opportunity to go somewhere where I could get back on the field and see where I’m at.
“Coming here, my whole job was to help Brandon [Weeden] at first, help him as much as possible. And then if the opportunity presented itself for me to play, then I would play and do the best that I could. Can I say it all worked out? I didn’t plan it any way. Things just happened.”
Campbell ultimately received an opportunity to test himself, so how much longer does he want to play?
“I don’t know,” Campbell said. “I just want to continue to take it one year, two years at a time and see where it goes. I feel like I’ve done enough. I want to make sure I leave the game putting my all into it and at the same time being healthy. I feel like I still have some go in me.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.