NFL: JaMarcus Russell would fall asleep in team meetings
By Sam Farmer
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — JaMarcus Russell was far from a superhero for the Oakland Raiders. But in one sense, he was nearly the Six Million Dollar Man.
He made $5.6 million per victory.
Russell, the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft, was released Thursday after three turbulent seasons during which he earned more than $100,000 per completion. He leaves as perhaps the biggest bust in NFL history, surpassing even San Diego flameout Ryan Leaf.
Russell had been paid more than $36 million through last season and the team still owes him $3 million more. By not having him on the 2010 roster, however, the Raiders will save $6.45 million.
This is the soonest a team has parted with a quarterback taken first overall who was under contract. The closest comparison was Jeff George, traded by Indianapolis four seasons after the Colts made him the top pick.
"There were a lot of things to fall in love with about JaMarcus," said NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi, formerly Oakland's top personnel executive. "Where the mistake happened was the love of the game, the passion for the game, the commitment to the game all were things that JaMarcus never took seriously."
Although Lombardi was employed by the Raiders from 1999 through May 2007 — a month after Russell was selected — he was a lame duck by the 2007 draft and wasn't allowed in the team's war room. That was a blessing for him. The way things turned out, no one rushes to take credit for the decisions made.
Russell's lack of dedication was legendary, especially galling in that he will have made $39 million for winning seven of 25 starts, with 18 touchdowns, 23 interceptions, 15 fumbles lost and a 65.2 passer rating. His weight hovered around 300 pounds, making the former Louisiana State standout look more like a 6-foot-6 offensive tackle than a quarterback. He was known to fall asleep in meetings, leave his playbook in his locker overnight — something no self-respecting quarterback would do — and blow off television production meetings.
"I think the blame falls squarely on him," Lombardi said. "Because if he would have tried, and would have not fallen asleep in meetings, and would have committed himself from the outset....
"I think the Raiders have done everything in their power to make this work. They hired (former Raiders player) Eddie Anderson to be with him. They've covered up for him. They told little white lies when they knew his weight wasn't right. They did everything in their power to help him, but he wouldn't help himself."
Of course, if the Raiders spent so much energy protecting and enabling Russell, they are as much to blame as he is. Had they not coddled him, Russell might have done a better job of growing up.
One person who could have been gloating Thursday, but wasn't, is USC Coach Lane Kiffin, who was fired by the Raiders in 2008. Team owner Al Davis famously blasted him for giving up on Russell.
"We had a difference of opinion, myself and Mr. Davis," Kiffin said Thursday. "But, you know, like I've always said, 'Everybody has a boss,' and he was the boss. I truly wish it would have worked out different for JaMarcus because he's a great kid. But this could be the best thing for him."
The beginning of the end for Russell was when the Raiders acquired quarterback Jason Campbell from Washington two weeks ago. It was mildly surprising that Russell showed up for last week's mini-camp, where he announced he'd keep coming back to work until the Raiders told him otherwise. He played a prominent role in the first of five practices, but his snaps dwindled as the weekend progressed.
There were plenty of people who thought the Raiders were making a mistake by using the top pick on the strong-armed but plodding Russell in the first place. Among those was former Raiders receiver Tim Brown, whose assessment was remarkably on target.
"I was on the sideline of the LSU game, and I saw the kid warming up," Brown told the Los Angeles Times in April 2007, referring to the Tigers' victory over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. "I don't think he's Michael Vick, for sure, and I definitely don't think he's Vince Young....
"Yeah, I think (Russell) is a big guy, and he may be able to scramble once in a while, but that's not his forte. He's not a rhythm passer. He's a guy who likes to go back, pat the ball a couple of times and then get rid of the ball. In the NFL, and especially in the West Coast offense, you have to be a rhythm passer. You have to go back, and on your fifth step that ball has to be coming out."
That said, Brown also correctly predicted the Raiders would take Russell "because they need some glamour right now. They need some hype."
Russell proved to be that. And not much more.