When the Oakland Raiders drafted JaMarcus Russell with the first overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, they envisioned this huge young man to be taking snaps for them for at least the next decade.
He may have taken his last snap with them in 2009.
The Raiders just acquired veteran starter Jason Campbell from the Washington Redskins in a trade, and Campbell has a very good chance at being named the starter for the 2010 season. He is coming off his best season as a pro, despite playing behind a horrible offensive line. The Raiders also have a below average offensive line, so Campbell should adjust nicely.
Russell will make over $9 million if the Raiders decide to keep him, and this is not a fiscally sound move. Oakland is expected to ask Russell to take a pay cut, and many think that he will decline the request. If he does, Oakland will be almost forced to release him.
He hasn't helped himself any in the weeks leading up to the draft. Russell showed up late to scheduled workout sessions, and weighed near 300 lbs upon arrival. Not a good sign from a guy expected to lead the offense. He also has caught the ire of many teammates, who see him as lazy, selfish, and immature.
Campbell now enters his his sixth different offensive system in the last eight years he has played football, an unheard of journey. He has shown an innate ability to learn quickly, so Oakland can almost rely on him to understand their scheme when training camp starts. He also works hard, something the team needs from their quarterbacks.
With journeyman Bruce Gradkowski having endeared himself to Raiders Nation in 2009 with his grit, Russell may have suddenly found himself a third string player on the depth chart. Most NFL teams these days carry just two quarterbacks through an entire season.
While Russell may have the strongest arm in the league, he has not shown the same strength in his will and determination. He has shown little interest in learning the system or his teammates. Considering he was guaranteed $31.5 million in a six year contract that could be worth $68 million, this is not what anyone associated with the Raiders expected.
There is a story floating around Alameda, California that may be most telling on his work ethic. After a loss, a Raiders coach handed Russell a DVD that was full of plays to break down and learn from. When Russell showed up at the Raiders headquarters the next day, the coach asked Russell what he thought of the DVD. The answers were the "right answers", in that Russell said he learned a lot. Yet there was a problem.
The DVD was blank. It was a trap set up to expose the work ethic of their boated quarterback, and it worked. At least it did if this story is true.
Many like to say the NFL stands for "Not For Long", and this may be the case of Russell. His journey with the Raiders may have ended in the 2010 draft. If he is released, another team will take a flier on him. It just wont be a $68 million flier.
Teams like the Buffalo Bills, and possibly the New Orleans Saints might look at him if the Raiders waive him in the next week. Russell is a legend at LSU, and the Saints have just the inexperienced Chase Daniel as a backup. A homecoming of sorts could be a good fit.
This day was not a day the Raiders foresaw when they tabbed Russell in 2007, and proceeded to drown him in cash. His care is proof positive why the NFL needs a salary cap on rookies, because Oakland poured millions into a kid who gave little back in return. He still is guaranteed over $3 million this season.
How will Russell respond to the acquisition of Campbell? Will he hit the film room finally? Will it matter how hard he works? Will he accept a pay cut? Even if he does, will the Raiders choose Gradkowski over him? Is his draft selection now labeled the biggest bust of the past decade?
With his NFL future now in flux, it now may be time for Raiders Nation to give JaMarcus Russell a "Commitment to Excellence" salute as he heads out of town.