Favre, Vick Sagas Emphasize JaMarcus Russell's Importance to Raiders

Ray YockeContributor IAugust 20, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 28:  JaMarcus Russell poses with his Oakland Raiders jersey after being chosen first overall by the Oakland Raiders at the 2007 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall April 28, 2007 in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The media circus surrounding the recent signings of Brett Favre and Michael Vick serves as a reminder that the Oakland Raiders have reached a stress-free level unknown to them in recent years.

Thanks to newfound stability at Oakland-Sports-Examiner%7Ey2009m6d18-Raiders-surprisingly-calm-amid-AFC-West-storm" target="_blank">head coach and quarterback, the Raiders are finally starting to shed the controversies that had become commonplace for them.

A team’s most important player is its starting quarterback, and it sends a bad message to the fans and players in Minnesota and Philadelphia when their teams are seen scrambling to land long shots at that position.

Bringing in a player off the street who threatens the current starter in the middle of preseason is bound to rattle a team. After all, you don’t see passengers being called up to the cockpit as a plane takes off.

How much confidence can a team have if they know their quarterback isn’t good enough to definitively hold off someone who wasn’t even in the league a week ago?

The Eagles are sticking to their stance that Vick is nothing more than a backup/wildcat option, but even if Vick never starts a single game for them, Philadelphia will eventually have a very public quarterback controversy on their hands.

The first time Donovan McNabb struggles, his status will be questioned and all eyes will turn to Vick. That’s what bringing in a talented, big-name backup does for your team.

When Oakland drafted JaMarcus Russell first overall in 2007, they did so in the hopes that he would solidify the quarterback position for the next decade, allowing them to observe such signings with nothing more than casual amusement.

And sure enough, after running through Aaron Brooks, Kerry Collins, Marques Tuiasosopo, Andrew Walter, and Josh McCown in the post-Gannon era, the Raiders finally have an established plan under center. It’s no surprise that this newfound stability at quarterback coincides with the most stable team Oakland has fielded since their 2002 Super Bowl run.

Of course, seeing as this is still a team with swords, a pirate, and an eyepatch in their logo, not everything's sunshine and baby kittens. The good news is that the coaches are at least fighting each other now, rather than going after the owner. There's a sense of hierarchy now, which is a positive sign.

The Dallas Cowboys aside, winning teams tend to be steady year-to-year, which is why it’s significant that the Raiders have finally found a reassuring presence in Russell. No longer are there questions in Oakland about how long their quarterback will hold out or whether he’s able to start at the professional level. Instead, Russell’s aim is simply to be better in 2009 than he was in 2008.

And while Oakland’s running game figures to do most of the heavy lifting this season, Russell will be counted on to make up for a receiving corps that grows thinner by the day.

Of course, when you draft a player first overall, you expect him to make up for some of the team’s shortcomings. You expect a leader, a superstar who will help carry the franchise. In short, he’s expected to be The Man.

Young passers are under pressure to develop quicker than ever before, and the immediate success of Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco as rookies has only shortened the timetable of expectancy even further. As the Eagles have demonstrated with McNabb, teams won’t hesitate to line up replacement quarterbacks well before one is necessary.

JaMarcus Russell’s status in Oakland may never be more secure than it is right now, and now is the time for him to capitalize on it. It’s up to him to keep the Raiders out of the free agent fray and away from the NFL's traveling media circus.

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