I don’t often agree with Al Davis, but I think the Raiders’ owner is taking the right position in the stalled negotiations with No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell. The NFL has created a monster with the draft.
The league and its teams love all the publicity the draft generates — and for months before with the endless speculation. But that also puts great pressure on teams to sign their picks, especially the No. 1 overall selection, which Russell is. Agents, the best of whom are smarter than your average general manager, have used their leverage to negotiate outlandish contracts for players who haven’t played a minute in the NFL.
The latest twist is with the "option bonus." Russell’s agent wants that money guaranteed. Davis wants to be able to recover at least part of that if Russell is injured or cannot play for any reason. The Ashley Lelie case, in which the current 49ers receiver won an arbitration verdict, forcing the Denver Broncos to pay the bonus, makes it imperative that any rookie contract have a provision for the club to recoup at least part of it.
Though there have been stories about problems because the Raiders have no lead negotiator, with Michael Lombardi gone, this deal would be made if Davis wanted it made. He is the one behind the decision to draw a line in the sand. Good for him. These rookie salaries have gone far too high. The big money should go to players who have already proven their value, not to untested rookies.
Davis knows one thing: He has leverage because Russell has nowhere else to go. He can’t go back to LSU because he’s been in the draft. Somehow, I don’t think he’s going to sit out a year. His agent is going to have to come to grips with that.
Russell has already lost ground because he’s missed so much practice time.
He’ll be playing catchup when he finally signs and his chances of becoming a starter even late in the season are probably nil.
Meanwhile, the Raiders’ quarterback situation is in disarray, with three candidates — Daunte Culpepper, Josh McCown and Andrew Walter — competing for the starting role. When you’re only two exhibition games away from the start of the regular season and you still have three candidates for the starting job, it’s a mess.
Coach Lane Kiffin has been rotating the quarterbacks, starting McCown the first week, Walter the second and probably Culpepper in the next game.
Predictably, in the first two games, the quarterback who looked the best was the one who played at the end, Walter in the first game, McCown in the second. Beware of any quarterback who looks good in the fourth quarter of an exhibition game because he’ll be throwing against defensive players who are unlikely to be on the regular-season roster. Neither McCown nor Walter impressed as a starter.
Culpepper will probably start when the regular season begins because he’s clearly the best physically. The Raiders’ offense will suffer until he learns the playbook, but let’s face it, this team was never going to contend for a playoff spot, whoever the quarterback.
Meanwhile, Davis has made a point: There should be at least a partial return to sanity in this process. The game and team should not revolve around one unproven player, even one with Russell’s potential.
How many games will Russell play in this season?
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