Many have chimed in on the JaMarcus Russell release yesterday, I almost didn’t want to add to the plethora of stories of angst and finger pointing. But what compelled me to write something was some other media talking heads saying that half the problem, a problem that I refer to as “Russell-Gate”, was Al Davis and the Raider organization. Even many Raider fans were even saying that the team should have done more for Russell and that their ineptitude contributed to this catastrophe. Well, I beg to differ.
As dysfunctional as the Raiders are perceived to be, it all ultimately comes down to individual accountability on behalf of the player. As a man, one has to say, ‘Sure…I’m in a sh—y situation and am being made to eat a sh-t sandwich, but I’m going to take a big bite and turn sh-t into chicken salad!’ (Sorry about the ‘colorful metaphors’. 8 years in the Marine Corps never wears off. Fortunately and unfortunately, colorful metaphors are a part of daily life for me)
It’s engrained into the psyche of every living breathing member of the greatest American Fraternity ever created; The United States Marine Corps. You may not have state of the art equipment, you may not have enough of the tools you need to do the job, or you may not even have enough bodies to aid you in your mission, but one thing is clear and unchanging…YOU ADAPT AND OVERCOME! YOU MAKE DO WITH WHAT YOU HAVE AND YOU GET THE JOB DONE! This is something that has been lost in all of the Al-Davis-Russell-Gate blame game. There have been quarterbacks that have donned the Silver and Black that have had highly forgettable careers in Oakland and then there were those who thrived and had Hall of Fame careers here. The glue that connects all of the past Raider quarterbacks (both good and bad), is that each one of them were professional enough to do what they could physically to win a game. Some may have sucked at winning games (**cough…Marc Wilson…cough**) while some over-achieved and won divisional titles, conference titles and even two Super Bowls (Rich Gannon and Jim Plunkett). Each quarterback of the Silver and Black spectrum had done all they could and left everything out on the field.
Russell on the other hand gave neither his best in practice nor while in game. Instead, Russell excelled at completing more trips to Las Vegas than he had NFL football wins. Personal responsibility!
Why should it be Al Davis’ or anyone else from the organization’s responsibility to make sure Russell does the most fundamental of things required for a “grown ass man” to function in a society that is dependent on teamwork? As a grown ass man, no one should have to be told do your best, to make team meetings on time, to be at team meetings instead of Las Vegas, (as the starting QB) to be the first one in the building and be the last one out, to not throw ones teammates under the bus for ones own shortcomings, to take pride in ones work. No…the onus of this disaster falls squarely o the shoulders of JaMarcus Russell. Russell is a “grown ass man” and he and he alone is solely responsible for having any sense of professionalism, or lack thereof.
In a strange way, the drama that has unfolded here in Oakland is both a microcosm and a macrocosm collective of a more systemic problem in the NFL; the need for a rookie salary cap. Toss out the football stats, numbers, and projections out of the window. Instead look at it from a holistic point of view. Regardless of how potentially successful a rookie is thought to be, the fact that one is getting paid guaranteed money up front for services that are anything but guaranteed is ludicrous; borderline bankrupt thinking. It feeds into a sense of entitlement. Rookie hold-outs for mega millions before playing a down feeds egos and has the potentiality to erode team chemistry. Animosity can fester and even spawn jealousy and resentment. Instead, give the rookies a guaranteed MINNIMUM and then offer them performance-based incentives. THEN let that player negotiate for a bigger payday, but ONLY AFTER the first year or two. As a result, it gives more value to veteran players and limits the “entitlement” behavior exhibited by draftees. Also while we’re at it, could the NFL Commissioner put an end to the “Red Carpet” treatment for some draftees on draft day? Once again, that is rewarding a player before even proving his worth.
Which brings me back to Russell. It was not only the Raiders who learned a hard $39 million dollar lesson; the entire league will be left with the sting of this cautionary tale as team owners head back to the negotiation table with the Players Association. Are teams going to want to push for a rookie cap and is the NFLPA going to acquiesce? I say yes and yes and future NFL hopefuls (as well as 99.99% of NFL fans, casual fans, veteran players, and team executives) will have JaMarcus Russell to thank, but perhaps for different reasons.