Time Is Running Out for Russell and Raiders

Going into his fourth year in the NFL, JaMarcus Russell has accomplished very little for the Raiders. Not much has been done to reverse his downward spiral, and unless he undergoes some drastic changes this upcoming season, his future in Oakland looks bleak.

Be forewarned: this is going to read like an obituary.

It's time to put the JaMarcus Russell experiment to an end.

Last season was a make or break year for Russell and he failed in resounding fashion.

True, he's still young at 24-years of age and as difficult as it is to admit, there's still a chance, however slight it may be, that Russell can salvage for himself a respectable career in the NFL.

But again, the likelihood of such a feat is slim to none, and Russell has done very little to silence such speak. In fact, Russell has done so much more to hurt his cause that you have to wonder if he will make it in this league for another two to three years.

You wouldn't be off base to feel a little sympathy for Al Davis—Russell's size and arm strength made him far more than Davis could resist. When Russell announced in 2007 that he'd be forgoing his senior year at LSU to enter the NFL Draft, Davis did not stand a chance.

It was love at first sight but more likely zealous infatuation after the first 70-yard bomb Russell probably threw in some draft workout.

When Russell entered the league in 2007, he had two things going for him: raw talent and a high ceiling, but after three years, all that's left is an inaccurate and erratic cannon mounted to a 6'6" mound of sloth and apathy.

As harsh as those words may sound, it's the sobering reality of the situation. If Russell had shown some semblance of improvement last season, we might be writing differently today. However, Russell is going into his fourth year as a pro with the same negative issues that plagued him as a rookie and it's not far-fetched to say he's also regressed considerably.

If it was simply an issue of a young quarterback being surrounded by poor talent, Russell might not be criticized as much, but the heart of the problem is Russell's wretchedly poor work ethic and nearly non-existent desire to succeed.

Sprinkled among all the negative headlines and press have been a few encouraging observations: last offseason, Russell flew his receivers into Alabama on his own dime to get in some extra work during the offseason and was steady, albeit underwhelming, in his play during the preseason.

But the good news is too far and few between and with Russell, it's always one small step forward and two giant steps back.

This offseason is yet another tiresome example of that.

After being a no-show for the first day of training camp, early reports were that Russell looked like he was in far better shape. However, immediately thereafter, the San Jose Mercury News' Tim Kawakami reported that Russell weighed in at 271 pounds—11 more than his listed weight last season.

Russell's weight has been an issue since his rookie season but what's worse is that it's a clear indicator of his laziness and unwillingness to succeed.

So often when the talking heads discuss the Peyton Manning's of today's NFL, much of the praise involves the strict offseason regimens and the diligent pregame preparations. That's what separates the good ones from the mediocre and the great ones from simply the good.

Right now, Russell is not in any of those categories and as such, the 2010-2011 season just might be his swan song in Silver and Black.

Publicly, and perhaps sincerely, the Raiders are holding on to some hope that Russell can develop into the quarterback they envisioned back in 2007. He is heading into the fourth year of a six-year contract with the final year (2012) being voidable. So much is invested in Russell ($32 million guaranteed) that the Raiders might ride out the contract and try to get the most out of him as possible, but considering the Raiders' willingness to admit defeat and release pricey players (like Javon Walker), if Russell winds up being nothing more than an expensive backup this season, it's entirely within the realm of possibility that the team would bite the bullet and let him go next offseason.

Outside of injury or Al Davis asserting his force, Russell needs to completely reverse his course to have a chance at truly asserting himself as the starter. Despite what the team is saying publicly about an open competition, Bruce Gradkowski is the Raiders' best option as the starter and Russell is essentially being given one last shot to climb to the top of the depth chart.

It's safe to say that Raider Nation is divided between those who are cautiously optimistic of Russell and those who have completely abandoned any notion of him as the future of the franchise. The common ground, however, is that Gradkowski should be the starter.

Gradkowski's career resembles the story of "the little engine that could." While his physical attributes are unimpressive, Gradkowski's mental toughness quickly made him a fan favorite. Gradkowski came up big last year and led the Raiders to impressive wins against the Bengals and the Steelers, and with him under center, the offense was far more productive and the team had a legitimate shot to win.

Of late, there have been rumors that the Raiders are interested in signing restricted free agent quarterback Troy Smith. If the Raiders were to sign Smith, they would be giving up a fifth round pick to the Baltimore Ravens and for that price, it wouldn't be a bad pickup. While Smith isn't a long term solution, he would be a nice addition to the depth chart and could realistically challenge Russell and Charlie Frye for the backup spot.

Again, if last season was Russell's make or break year, then this season will be the epilogue to a disappointing and expensive story. Ideally, you'd like to see Russell make some significant strides as a quarterback and as a team leader, but there hasn't been much to indicate that it will happen. Realistically, the Raiders are looking at a scenario where Gradkowski is at the top of the depth chart while Russell gets some occasional playing time and a rare start under extreme circumstances (i.e., injury).

It's a sad turn of events, Russell's career, and as tough as his first three seasons have been (what with the coaching changes and lack of surrounding talent), the fault is Russell's and his alone. Again, there exists a sliver of cautious optimism in Raider Nation, but when it is all said and done, Russell might very well go down as a bigger NFL draft bust than Ryan Leaf.

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