If there was any doubt surrounding Jamarcus Russell’s status within the Oakland Raiders organization, it was answered this week. The first vote of no-confidence came when J.P. Losman was brought into the organization in an emergency quarterback role, despite no real opportunity to learn the offense in the highly limited time remaining.
The signing is most likely geared toward 2010, as the Raiders will have the first crack at negotiations to keep Losman on the team in the future, otherwise a practice squad promotion would have served for the three remaining games. Losman treads somewhere between savvy vet (42 games played) and youthful potential (only 28 without a lot of wear and tear). His career quarterback rating of 75.6 rates five to 10 points above any other contracted Raider at this point.
He is, however, a five-year veteran who failed to secure a full-time starting role on a mediocre Bills team, playing more than nine games in a year only once (2006-2007 when he started all 16 and even managed a respectable 84.9 rating). He regressed the following two years dropping to ratings of 76.9 (in eight games) and then 62.3 (in a mere five games played).
His signing of its own was not a death knell for Russell. He is at best an individual who can compete for the starting role for a year or two while the position is solidified, give a battle-proven backup, and give cheap insurance. He is likely to be in a Raiders uniform in 2010 but unlikely to rise above No. 2 on the depth chart.
The announcement that Charlie Frye will start against Denver is far more telling. The Raiders, at 4-9, have no real aspirations for the final three games (beyond perhaps passing the five-win mark for the first time in seven years). With nothing to gain and their spark plug quarterback Bruce Gradkowski injured, it would be logical to start Russell if they had any intention of giving him an opportunity in 2010.
Logic would dictate that a final chance to show some improvement and prove the games on the bench gave him a Vince Young-esque change of perspective would be given. The team instead has chosen to show third-stringer Charlie Frye the field (essentially demoting Russell to third string by proxy) and see what they have in a guy with 33 pass attempts the last three years.
This serves as a bit of a test bed for Frye. With Gradkowski earning a shot at the role in 2010 and Losman being primed to spend time somewhere on the depth chart in 2010, his place within the overall scope of the Raiders' future plans needs to be addressed.
If he can come in and perform well, the team will likely attempt to keep him at least through training camp (likely battling Losman over which is cut). If he flops, the team at least knows he shouldn’t be figured into their plans for the future.
The other big indication this announcement serves as is a statement to and about Jamarcus Russell. The time of giving blind chances to the struggling quarterback is over. He may or may not be cut in the offseason (the lead weight that is his guaranteed contract makes it difficult to arbitrarily let him go), but he will never again be given "free" opportunity. Should he be retained next year, the only way Russell works his way back onto the field is by earning it.
The Oakland Raiders' management has given Russell an extended period of time to develop. If he does not take another snap this year, he will end the year with a 47.7 quarterback rating. With nine starts and 10 total games played, that is unacceptable.
The team proved that it can be successful under different leadership (Gradkowski’s 2-1 record while defeating the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers), which only helps to highlight Russell’s poor performance.
The on-field results may have given him some excusing if he had shown a commitment to improvement and a fire to fulfill his potential. He instead underwhelmed off the field, continually making comments to the effect that he did not find that much fault in his performance. Claiming the Oakland receivers were suddenly playing much better under Gradkowski was the final straw.
It isn’t a matter of whether they are or not—that is a debate for a whole different article (though an inter-squad conspiracy to play worse for Russell seems unlikely). If he really wanted to prove he could be "the guy," he would take it all on himself publicly, whether he truly believed it or not.
Trying to dilute blame just proves he has failed to grasp the lessons that were attempted in benching him. Until he does, and works his keyster off to give coaches no other choice but to put him on the field, Russell will never again see the field in a regular season game.
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