Let’s dispense with the obvious.
JaMarcus Russell bears much of the blame for his demise as an NFL quarterback. By most accounts, he didn’t work hard enough, didn’t care enough, didn’t love football, and had a schedule of extracurricular activities that would make even the young Charles Woodson envious.
He entered the realm of professionals without ever committing to be a professional.
If you want to get sanctimonious about it, Russell is what’s wrong with so many of today’s young athletes. A huge sense of entitlement. A me-first way of thinking. One wonders what he’s going to do with that diamond encrusted figurine of himself in a Raiders uniform with the words “The Chosen One.”
Change it to “The Released One,” perhaps?
Russell got $39 million from the Raiders, he doesn’t need our sympathy, nor does he deserve our scorn.
That belongs to the organization that decided to write the checks.
Let’s see if we can devise a diabolical plan to ruin the future of a No. 1 draft pick. (I choose the word diabolical because it’s an Al Davis favorite _ one he applied to the now defunct Oakland Football Marketing Association in the early days of Raiders blackouts):
— Make sure Russell holds out and misses the entire preseason, and in fact signs a contract after the regular season has already begun.
It’s an especially great idea for a guy who showed himself as a junior, had a minimal amount of college starts and really had only one lights-out game _ against Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
Davis said the reason for the holdout wasn’t his fault, and there is some reason to believe him because the Raiders seldom have holdouts. But the reason he gave was “forfeiture” and making the pick accountable.
As it turned out, the contract was supposed to have a $30 to $32 million guarantee and Russell will walk away with $39 to $40 million for three years of sub-standard play. The whole contract impasse was a waste of time.
— Have Russell walk in to a budding firefight between the owner and coach.
Davis later made it public that Lane Kiffin didn’t want Russell. Those kinds of things go on all the time behind closed doors, but eventually a unified front is presented. You think Jon Gruden loved every draft pick Davis ever made? He hated some of them, but never said it in public. And some of those he hated he learned to love. It’s part of the game.
Russell’s holdout gave Kiffin a year to keep the quarterback on the bench, breaking him in gently at the end of the season. But Davis was upset after a 4-12 year, and wanted more of Russell. The animosity between coach and owner grew, and both of them were at fault for a rift which was destructive to the entire team _ and also served to stunt the development of the supposed franchise quarterback.
— Make sure Russell has plenty of different voices in his head.
First, there was Kiffin as play-caller, with offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. When Kiffin was fired in part because he couldn’t “get over” Russell, Knapp became the play-caller. Tom Cable, with the offensive struggling, stripped Knapp of his duties and called plays himself _ with Russell leading the Raiders to a pair of wins at the end of the 2008 season.
The next season Cable again called plays, but with a new quarterbacks coach in Paul Hackett and a passing game coordinator in Ted Tollner.
Schizophrenics don’t hear as many voices as Russell did in his three years as a Raider.
— Give Russell no guidance in terms of dealing with all the outside issues that go with a being an NFL quarterback, such as dealing with the media.
Here’s how it’s done for any team with a clue in the NFL. Your quarterback stops by his locker to talk on Monday, even if he has a bad game. Especially if he has a bad game.
That way, he hashes over Sunday, takes responsibility, and the focus shifts to the following week. Instead, Russell, unlike Rich Gannon, Kerry Collins, Josh McCown and even Aaron Brooks and Andrew Walter, went into hiding.
By doing that, Russell’s teammates were asked questions about Russell. Since Russell didn’t make himself available until Thursday, much of the week was spent dealing with what was wrong with Russell _ with the quarterback finally answering questions for Friday’s papers (Thursday on the Internet) and the storyline went on all week when it could have been over on Monday.
A team with a clue about how to deal with media relations understands this. Gannon, Collins and other veteran quarterbacks knew it through previous experience. Russell needed to be told. And no one was there to tell him.
There’s every possibility that if the Raiders had provided all the support Russell needed, he still would have been a washout. That he never would have cared enough or dedicated himself enough to succeed.
Yet there are coaches in his background in high school and at LSU that suggest otherwise. They think Russell was an immature talent in need of some guidance, hit a few bumps in the road and went horribly off course.
In that scenario, it would be up to the Raiders to get their investment back on track.
It didn’t happen, and the fact that Russell was cut Thursday was evidence Davis had finally gotten over the fact that it never would.