Former Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell’s career burned out just as fast as he shot up the NFL combine ladder to become the number one overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft. Russell’s junior season at LSU was his springboard into the national spotlight as he led the Tigers to a 10-2 record and a Sugar Bowl victory over Notre Dame, Russell would finish as a first team All-SEC player and the winner of the 2006 Manning award as well as a Davey O’Brien finalist.
Even with the late season accolades,x Russell was considered a late round selection until his arm strength impressed several owners at the NFL combine, including the Oakland Raiders who traditionally rely on the big plays courtesy of a big-armed signal caller. The late Al Davis decided to go after the 6’5” 265-pounder who ESPN Draft expert John Clayton declared “hard to pass up at #1.” The Raiders made Russell the #1 overall selection, becoming the first of four LSU players taken in the first round.
After negotiations carried well past training camp and into the regular season, Russell finally signed a 6-year deal worth $68 million, with $31.5 million guaranteed. Missing his first training camp and poor grooming were contributing factors in the fall of JaMarcus Russell.
When Russell played well his numbers gave a clear indicator of what he could be if he focused on football. But more often than not Russell seemed unfocused — even lost at times. Despite benchings and the acquisition of veterans to push and encourage him, the Raiders ran out of options and released Russell in May of 2010.
If someone had told me that JaMarcus Russell was the sole reason that a rookie wage scale exists in the NFL today I wouldn’t be surprised at all. This wage scale eliminates negotiations, protecting the owners financially by allowing the player to participate in off-season camps to better prepare himself for the start of his career.
Anyone that watched Russell’s career in Oakland can honestly say that he capitalized on a great performance at the NFL combine and cashed in — not completely his fault, but he and the Oakland Raiders did very little in between.
After drawing very little interest in the free-agent market, Russell began to get into trouble with the law as he was arrested for possession of codeine syrup without a prescription, Russell was never indicted, but the arrest severely hindered his chances of landing another NFL job.
The startlingly rapid fall of JaMarcus Russell can be attributed to his refusal to develop any dedication or work ethic to prolong his career, or even give anyone interested the idea that he even remotely belonged in the league.
The Raiders are just as culpable as Russell. Was anyone ever assigned to groom and mentor the future of this franchise on and off the field? Remember, this is a $68 million investment. Russell never learned the nuances of the quarterback position. Owner Al Davis’ poor health was a contributor, as he refused to relinquish any executive duties, thus making questionable personnel decisions that hindered the franchise.
Russell has become the new Ryan Leaf — only richer and just as unmotivated. That is one assessment that is clear and accurate.