Former Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell at a Crossroads

It is either time to work or assume his spot next to Ryan Leaf as the NFL Draft’s “Biggest Bust Ever” for former Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell

After the Oakland Raiders’ Draft Day trade for former Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell, it was only a matter of time before “Too Much, Too Soon” poster player JaMarcus Russell was going to be cut. 

The inevitable finally came last week as the Raiders — only scored 197 points (31st in NFL) and 17 touchdowns (tied for 32nd) in 2009 — decided to part ways with Russell.  Parting seemed to be mutual, but the worst part for the Raiders of getting rid of their former franchise quarterback was that the team had paid the kingly ransom of $39 Million Dollars over three inglorious years to Russell — roughly $100,000 per completion or $5.6 million per win. 

Hard to believe, Russell in only 3 years in the NFL sank quickly from a Pro Day performance that many called the best ever to “Ryan Leaf” comparisons.  Back at his Pro Day, former Oakland Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin — who some say Russell got fired – was smitten with his future first rounder. 

The one-year Raiders’ coach said, “Obviously, I’m very impressed. We were very impressed. He had a great day. He seems very first class, very easy to get along with. No doubt he was a great leader here. That’s why everybody wants him now.”  The Raiders drafted Russell with the first pick of the 2007 NFL Draft and then signed their perceived future star to a six-year contract worth up to $68 million which included $31.5 million guaranteed at the time.

However as great of a fall that Russell has had in his short time in the NFL, I am not ready to brand him the “Biggest Draft Bust Ever” and say he has no chance.  “Not So Fast My Friends”…as the NFL, especially at the quarterback position, is all about second and sometimes third chances. There are numerous examples of former one-time flameout quarterbacks that became Super Bowl champions later in their careers — Trent Dilfer (Ravens), Kurt Warner (Rams), Jim Plunkett (Raiders), Brad Johnson (Bucs), and Doug Williams (Redskins). 

Astonishingly, even arguably the greatest quarterback ever, Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas, was once left on the NFL’s scrap heap by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955.  The Steelers cut their former 9th-round draft pick, leaving him to play sandlot football, before he later found greatness with the Baltimore Colts, starting in 1956.

In each and every case,  every single one of the quarterbacks received a second opportunity to show the world that they still had what it took to succeed in the National Football League. I am not saying that Russell – 2009 numbers of 120-246, 48.8%, 1287 yards, 3 TDs, and 11 INTs in 9 games started (2-7 record) —  is the next Unitas , Williams, or even David Carr (still earning a check with the Niners), but he does deserve is another chance away from Al Davis. 

There is a fork in the road and Russell, who some Raiders’ fans have derisively called “Fat Albert” (300-pound QB), can either take the money and run (Leaf) or write a few more successful chapters in his NFL career (Warner), but it is all up to him. The former first overall pick has been blessed with all of the talent in the world, including a rifle of a right arm and there is no denying that Russell — career starting record of 7-18 with numbers 354-680, 52.1%, 4083 yards, 18 TDs, and 23 INTs – has “potential” but that can be a dirty word in NFL circles and it can only take you so far. 

There are apparently more than five NFL teams contemplating signing Russell to a training camp “Make Good” contract.  Some of the teams rumored to have interest in the former Alabama native are the Washington Redskins, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals – Ochocinco already Tweeting about it – and surprisingly the Indianapolis Colts.  

No matter which team signs Russell, it is now time for the hefty thrower to go to work.  In the past, he has been his own biggest obstacle. As he was notably many times the first Raiders’ player leave practice and film study after many time being the last one in the door.  The former LSU star needs to show the NFL that he is not indifferent or the lazy “Fat Cat” that some have labeled him after his much-publicized underachievement. 

Plain and simple, if he doesn’t want to be the star of the NFL Network’s “Top 10 Draft Busts Ever” show, Russell has to now look in the mirror and commit himself to bouncing back.  He has to get in shape and commit to being an NFL quarterback or he will be out of the league quicker than you can say, “Cade McNown”.

Russell’s “Redemption Road” is a long one, but there are plenty of examples to show him how to pick himself up and succeed.  If I were Russell’s agent, I would work hard to place him with the Colts or Redskins as working with Peyton Manning or Donovan McNabb maybe the best motivator to save the former high draft pick from a regretful path headed for Arena Football or worse yet the local Arby’s. 


Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)