Analysis: What's wrong with Russell?

The Vikings are reportedly one of the leading teams to sign free-agent QB JaMarcus Russell. However, there are many levels in which a move like that doesn't make much sense.

Word the Vikings and Arizona Cardinals are the most likely landing spot of disappointing former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell – at least according to an ESPN report – came as something of a surprise to many. Not so much that the Vikings might be interested in getting a workout from him – they have a history of looking at all potential options all most positions – but because the idea makes so little sense.

Russell has seemingly been doomed since being made the first overall pick by the Raiders in the 2007 draft. A quarterback coming off one big season at LSU had many of the measurables that Al Davis annually falls in love with – see running back Darren McFadden (who would have been unnecessary for the Raiders had they taken Adrian Peterson the year before) and wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bey. The two of them and a franchise QB like Russell were supposed to be the Troy Aikman-Emmitt Smith-Michael Irvin offensive trifecta of this decade. Instead, Russell is gone, McFadden is in a make-or-break year and DHB has been all but invisible.

Russell's exodus from Oakland came with a lot of money thrown to him with very little in return. His career seemed almost cursed and a fair share of that was his own doing. He was a holdout as a rookie and never got up to speed with the offense. Coaching changes, injuries and the lack of a strong work ethic saw Russell regress in his three years with Oakland and, when Donovan McNabb went to Washington, the Raiders jumped at trading for Jason Campbell. With Campbell in the fold, the Russell Experiment was over and he was released.

The last straw was when he showed up at minicamp weighing more than 300 pounds and horribly out of shape. It was clear that, despite facing a potential make-or-break season, Russell wasn't taking his job seriously. He is currently working out in Arizona to drop weight and re-commit himself. The Vikings reportedly are one of the interested teams.

But, when you look at the Vikings roster, there are too many things that don't make sense.

The problems are numerous. For starters, there is the most obvious. If Brett Favre still isn't decided about coming back, more than likely he isn't all that interested in mentoring another young quarterback. He's tried with Tarvaris Jackson and the results have been mixed at best to hear Jackson talking about it. Whether you think its blackmail or just a Hall of Fame player who has earned the right to not waste what remains of his health on summer workouts, the Vikings have gone to great lengths to accommodate Favre while he mulls over returning for another run. If the Vikings weren't interested in trading for Donovan McNabb in fear of alienating Favre, why would they go after Russell?

What about Sage Rosenfels? The rumor mill has it that the Vikings will be shopping Rosenfels if Favre returns during the preseason in hopes of getting a Day Three draft pick in return from a team without QB depth. Signing Russell would all but eliminate any trade value for Rosenfels because it would seem clear that he would be the odd-man out in a three-QB scenario. If the Vikings want to keep the trade value for Rosenfels, signing Russell would be counterproductive to that goal.

What about Jackson? While he wasn't happy about being demoted to No. 2 without the QB battle promised during the minicamps, OTAs and the first couple weeks of training camp last year, at least he was the No. 2 guy. He had to be ready at a moment's notice in case Favre went down and he did get a fair amount of mop-up duty late in games to get him in the swing of things. Signing Russell wouldn't create competition for Favre's job, but it could further damage T-Jack's psyche, which some believe still hasn't recovered from being demoted in favor of veteran Gus Frerotte and then being demoted in favor of an even older player in Favre. Jackson knows that, if he stays with the Vikings beyond 2010, he will have the chance to compete for the starting job when Favre rides off into the sunset. Having an ongoing backup battle between him and Russell would be problematic.

What about Joe Webb? He has been used at quarterback for the last six weeks and many have speculated that Rosenfels could be traded if Webb can handle the No. 3 QB responsibilities. Signing Russell would almost by force scrap that plan. Even if Rosenfels was shipped off, the Vikings would likely have to release Webb and hope to re-sign him to the practice squad. Remember Tyler Thigpen? How did that work out?

Finally is Russell himself. There have been a lot of former high QB draft choices that have flamed out in their careers. David Carr, Matt Leinart, Rex Grossman, Brady Quinn and J.P. Losman have all been recent examples of high draft picks selected as franchise QBs that never panned out. Russell had as many pure gifts or more than former Viking Daunte Culpepper, but his laziness and willingness to cash checks without actually earning the money by committing to the game has him currently unemployed. All that is needed to pick up a released player is one of 32 teams being interested. Spring has turned to summer and not one team has expressed enough interest to sign Russell.

If the Vikings do have any interest in Russell, it would seem if you weigh the pros against the cons of signing him, it simply doesn't make sense.


  • The Russell speculation may have gotten some credibility when the Vikings cut quarterback A.J. Archer, who was an undrafted free agent out of William & Mary who was signed after April's draft concluded.

  • The Vikings remain one of the teams being rumored to be interested in free-agent guard Chester Pitts, who was allowed to leave Houston because of microfracture surgery on his knee. He was expected to have a July 15 workout for teams that have been reportedly interested, including the Vikings 49ers, Lions, Eagles and Seahawks. But ESPN 1500 reports the workout hasn't been scheduled yet because Pitts hasn't recovered fully from his surgery and his timetable is being pushed back.

  • In a story on the website Fanhouse, Drew Brees added his name to the growing chorus of voices saying they believe Favre will be back. When asked if he thought Favre and he would match up again during the 2010 regular season opener, Brees said, "I don't think there's any doubt that Brett Favre is coming back and he's going to be as good as he's ever been. We're going to need our best game to beat him, I know that. They're a good team – a very good team."

  • The Ravens may have already taken a big step to winning the AFC North without taking a snap in training camp. The Steelers are going to be without Ben Roethlisberger for at least four games (and as many as six), which will cripple their efforts to get back to the postseason, and news that Cedric Benson has again been arrested for off-the-field issues is likely going to result in a suspension of his own, thus severely damaging the Bengals' chances of repeating as division champion.

    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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