Jamarcus Russell: Poster Child For a Rookie Salary Cap

Steely Devil HabContributor IApril 7, 2010

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 28:  Quarterback of the Oakland Raider JaMarcus Russell looks on during the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors NBA game at Oracle Arena on December 28, 2009 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

This is a repost of an excellent article by Chris Harris

JaMarcus Russell Weighs on Rookie Wage Scale Discussion

At the NFL meetings two weeks ago, Oakland coach Tom Cable praised third-year pro JaMarcus Russellfor showing up to the team's offseason program, getting to work and readying himself to compete for the starting quarterback spot.

Cable was then asked how much Russell, given the player's well-chronicled battle of the bulge, was tipping the scales these days.

"I haven't weighed him yet," Cable said.

Excuse me?

Does anyone believe that? And given the answer, does anyone doubt reports claiming his new-found commitment to Raidersexcellence has Russell looking these days like he ate Kenny Stabler? Some say JaMarshmellow is as trim as 271; others that he's ballooned to 291. And that was after Raiders officials announced Russell would show up this spring in the best shape of his life.

With each passing day Russell edges dangerously closer to supplanting maybe the most infamous name in NFL draft history.

At least Ryan Leaf was the second pick in the draft.

Whether Russell is the biggest bust of all-time is a matter of debate. That he's the poster child for a rookie salary cap is not.

Future NFL stars will always have a special place in their hearts for tubby No. 2.

Assuming the St. Louis Ramstake Sam Bradford with the first pick in the April 22 draft, the former Oklahoma star and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback is almost certain to sign a record rookie deal of more than $75-80 million. The players that follow Bradford to the podium -- Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Russell Okung, Eric Berry, etc. -- will get dinosaur-sized deals the likes of which all will be extinct when the next NFL draft rolls around. Whenever that might be.

Once the collective bargaining agreement expires next March, league owners and the players' union eventually will have to sit down -- amid a lockout, with sabers rattling on both sides -- and hammer out an agreement. It will be frustrating for the fans and contentious between the two sides, but it also will ultimately get done.

And it will include a rookie wage scale. It has to.

For a perspective check, let's go to another sport:

• LeBron James was the first pick of the NBA draft in 2003. By virtue of its league rookie scale, the Cleveland Cavaliers signed him to a three-year, $12.96 million deal within two weeks. In the fourth year, he signed an $60 million extension. Fair enough.

• Russell was the NFL's No. 1 pick in 2007. He missed all of training camp, all of the preseason and a couple regular-season games in a contract holdout, eventually signing a six-year, $61 million deal that included $32 million guaranteed. Before so much as ducking his head in a NFL huddle (much less taking a snap and reading a coverage), Russell was in the financial stratosphere of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

Not even three years later, Russell is the worst quarterback in the league -- his stats bear that out -- and has a work ethic to match. Some time this offseason he'll bank the final $3 million of his guaranteed cash, with his 2010 salary of $6.5 million due to kick in if he's on the roster to start the regular season. The Raiders should keep him around until the last minute, cut him (and their losses) and send a message to their clubhouse.

Russell isn't the only epic bust, of course, just the latest (and, by far, the laziest). In the previous decade, Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, David Carr, Joey Harrington and Charles Rodgers all stole money, but the out-of-control system let them do it. That system must change.

Last year, the NFL Players Association proposed in preliminary labor discussions with owners what it called a "Proven Performance Plan" that capped rookie salaries (assuring they're not overpaid), kept rookie contracts to three years (allowing productive players to reach free agency sooner and non-productive ones to be cleared from payroll), and provided incentive for salaries to be spent on veterans (with additional incentives for small-market franchises).

The owners shot the proposal down, but it will come up again, if the two sides ever decide to sit down (no negotiations have taken place; none are scheduled). The union understands that fans paying $250 for a club seat are unsympathetic to 22-year-old multi-millionaires that can't play. And the owners, who need games, will have to come up with a salary structure that rewards good players and tenured veterans while also finding revenue to fund benefits for retirees.

Money should be earned before it's blown on (apparently frequent) trips to In-N-Out Burger.

Unless he plans on eating Bruce Gradkowski too, Russell's track record suggests he'll be a fat and happy $9.5 million backup quarterback (at best) in Oakland this year. As dysfunctional as the Raiders have become (29-83 the last seven seasons), not even they deserve that.

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