AFC West: Ryan Leaf

McKenzie talks McFadden, cap

January, 17, 2013
Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie gave his end of-the-season address to media on Thursday.

There wasn’t much earth-shattering news as reported by CSNBayArea. As expected, McKenzie said he expects running back Darren McFadden to be with the team in the final year of his contract. McKenzie did say he didn’t think McFadden was best suited for the zone-blocking scheme Oakland used last season.

He also said he hopes the Oakland coaching staff is filled in the coming days and acknowledged he talked with former San Diego head coach Norv Turner about the offensive coordinator job. Turner was not interested.

McKenzie also said the Raiders’ salary-cap situation (they are currently $4.5 million over the cap for 2013) is better than last year, but the team still has work to do and he doesn’t expect any big-name free-agent additions. Still, he hopes to be able to make some additions in free agency.

Guard Mike Brisiel underwent “major” ankle surgery after the season, McKenzie reported. Even the worst ankle injuries are often healed within eight months. Barring something unusual, Brisiel should be on pace to play next season.

In other AFC West news:

Knowshon Moreno's injury from the Saturday playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens is not considered serious. Surgery will not be required and he is expected to be fine moving forward.

As expected, John Spanos has been named executive vice president of football operations with the San Diego Chargers. He will work closely with his father, owner Dean Spanos.

The sad story of former San Diego quarterback Ryan Leaf took another turn. He was dismissed from a drug treatment program and he is now in a Montana prison.

Former Indianapolis Colts general manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian explains quarterback Peyton Manning will fit with the Denver Broncos in this Insider piece. Insider

Here is a taste of Polian’s thoughts: "I'd bet that the offense will take off in the second half of the season, making the Broncos legitimate championship contenders."

I agree that there will be an adjustment period for everyone, but if Manning is healthy, the Broncos will be in good shape. Meanwhile, the Broncos reportedly began shopping quarterback Tim Tebow at the NFL Combine, well before Manning was available in free agency. It’s another sign the Broncos had no interest in continuing with Tebow as their starter.

In other AFC West news:

Former San Diego receiver/return man Bryan Walters has signed with Minnesota. The Chargers cut him earlier this month.

The sad tale of former San Diego quarterback Ryan Leaf has taken yet another turn.

Video: Ryan Leaf releases statement

March, 31, 2012

Former Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf released a statement following his arrest on charges of burglary and drug possession.

Ryan Leaf

Video: Ex-Charger Ryan Leaf arrested

March, 31, 2012

Former Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf was arrested on burglary and drug possession charges.

Ryan Leaf

Evening AFC West notes

June, 2, 2011
The Denver Post isn’t sure the Broncos will trade quarterback Kyle Orton. The Arizona Republic believes the Cardinals could make a run at Orton because they think highly of him and he may be cheaper to trade for than Philadelphia’s Kevin Kolb. If the Cardinals come up with a second-round pick, I think they should be able to secure Orton.

Oakland Raiders' players have no currents plans for another workout session. They had a four-day camp last week in Georgia. Plans can change if the lockout extends.

Former San Diego quarterback Ryan Leaf explains his battle with a tumor on his brain stem. Our best wishes go out to Leaf and his family.

Chiefs fans are not pleased with the lockout. They have company in 31 other cities.
JaMarcus RussellBrett Davis/US PresswireThings have been looking up for the Raiders since releasing JaMarcus Russell a year ago.
It was exactly one year ago that the Oakland Raiders liberated themselves from the greatest draft bust in NFL history.

Happy anniversary, Raider Nation.

On May 6, 2010, the Raiders decided it was no longer worth keeping JaMarcus Russell around their organization. Thus, just more than three years after making him the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, Oakland gave up on the talented but lackadaisical quarterback.

Russell, who was 24 at the time of his release, was 7-18 as a starter and made more than $39 million in guaranteed money. His questionable work ethic and general malaise were legendary. The only thing Russell accomplished in Oakland was taking Tony Mandarich and Ryan Leaf off the hook. Russell is the unquestioned biggest NFL draft bust ever.

The events of the past year prove Oakland made the right decision. The Raiders are an improved, refreshed team without Russell, while he has made no positive strides toward resuming his NFL career. There have been significant developments that indicate Russell may never play in the NFL again.

“I don’t see it happening,” Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. said of a Russell comeback. “The guy has never shown he wants to work for it.”

Russell was unavailable for comment.

Admitting the mistake allowed Oakland owner Al Davis and the rest of the organization to move on. No one in Oakland had to watch Russell slump around the facility and answer questions about his never-to-come development. In January, Davis acknowledged the pain of the Russell experience but said he was happy the team was moving forward.

[+] EnlargeJaMarcus Russell
John David Mercer/US PRESSWIREJaMarcus Russell was arrested for possesion of codeine syrup without a prescription but was not indicted. Still, no team has picked him up since his Raiders release.
“[Russell's] a good person but he's got personal problems, and I decided that it was time that we were not going to fight it anymore,” Davis said. “I wasn't going to. I wasn't going to ask the coaching staff to do it, and I had already traded for Jason and had that in the back of my mind. ... It hurt us a great deal. But you have to go on. ... JaMarcus hurt. Anytime you lose a first-round draft choice it hurts. But it's over. It's been a long time and we'll overcome it."

The recovery period began the day Russell was cut.

After winning a total of 14 games in the three seasons Russell was in Oakland, the Raiders went 8-8 last season. Veteran quarterback Jason Campbell, who was acquired less than two weeks before Russell was chopped, started 12 games and gave the Raiders’ offense professionalism, preparation and leadership that was lacking under Russell.

“I think the simple fact that Russell was cut helped the Raiders improve,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. “It had to send a message to the team that the Raiders weren’t going to keep dead weight around just because he was a high draft pick. It showed the team that the Raiders were serious about winning and that they weren’t going to keep a liability around. … It had to fire up that team and helped make them improve in 2010.”

Although Oakland has improved without Russell, the player has been unable to recover his career. Shortly before training camp, the New York Jets showed interest in Russell. Days later, Russell was arrested at his Mobile, Ala., home on charges of possession of codeine syrup without a valid prescription. In October, a grand jury declined to indict Russell.

In November, Russell worked out for Washington and Miami. He was out of shape and unimpressive in both workouts. Russell weighed 282 pounds when Oakland cut him. He weighed significantly more during those workouts.

Russell has not had an NFL workout since. Don't expect teams to flock to him once the lockout is over. Russell is not even attracting interest from the minor league United Football League.

Last year, former Denver general manager and Omaha Nighthawks personnel man Ted Sundquist reached out to Russell as the team put him on its protected list. Sundquist said the word from Russell's camp was that he wanted to pursue an NFL career. This year, no UFL team put Russell on its protected list, and he went undrafted by the five-team league Monday, while 2002 Kansas City first-round pick Ryan Sims was a high draft pick.

In April, former NBA player and coach John Lucas reportedly parted ways with Russell after serving as a “life coach.” Lucas was reportedly frustrated with Russell’s work ethic. There hasn’t been any indication that Russell is working out and/or that he is preparing for a comeback. Despite earning $39 million in Oakland, Russell reportedly faced foreclosure on his Bay Area mansion.

“I just don’t see it in the kid,” Horton said. “... I don’t think he is throwing, and he is not doing the right things to give himself a chance to get back. I don’t think anyone will give him a chance.”

That’s what separates Russell from other recent quarterback busts such as Leaf, Akili Smith, Tim Couch, Cade McNown and Joey Harrington. At least one other organization acquired these players after they were cut by the teams that drafted them. They weren’t considered untouchable, as Russell has become in the past 365 days.
Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley & Patrick PetersonGetty ImagesMarcell Dareus, Nick Fairley and Patrick Peterson are all options for Denver at No. 2.
There wasn't a debate in the Carolina Panthers’ draft room in 2002.

The Panthers’ brain trust was certain it had identified the player who best fit their needs. All they had to do was wait to see what direction the one team in front of them would take.

“It was stressful because we knew what we wanted, but we still had to wait,” former Panthers executive Tony Softli said. “At No. 2, you can almost control what you want to do, but not totally.”

Softli and the rest of the Carolina brass were overjoyed when the Houston Texans used the No. 1 pick to take quarterback David Carr. That left the Panthers to take their top choice, and they grabbed defensive end Julius Peppers. They survived their short wait.

That was John Fox’s first year as the Panthers’ coach. That experience of having the No. 2 pick ended happily for Fox. Will it happen again? In his first season as the Denver Broncos’ coach, Fox also has the No. 2 pick.

“Knowing John, he’ll want defense,” Softli said. “We’ll see what happens with picking at No. 2 again.”

The Broncos have been busy this offseason studying players at several positions in their attempt to get it right at No. 2. The only team in Denver’s way is Carolina, which has the No. 1 pick. No matter what the Panthers do with the No. 1 pick, the Broncos know they must get this pick right. The Broncos were 4-12 in 2010 and haven’t made the playoffs since 2005. They need an infusion of talent.

[+] EnlargeJohn Fox and Julius Peppers
AP Photo/Rick HavnerJohn Fox found success the last time he had the No. 2 pick in the draft -- in 2002 when he and the Carolina Panthers took Julius Peppers.
“We know that the key thing is -- and we have talked about the fact that we have to be good in the draft -- we cannot miss in the draft, especially with where we are,” said John Elway, the Broncos' new vice president of football operations. “We have to be dead on. … We cannot miss in the draft. We have to be good there.”

Added Fox: "There'll be a player there who's worth that pick in this draft. Some years you don't want to be there, but there's a lot of players there in this draft.”

Softli knows plenty about picking at No. 2. In addition to being in Carolina in 2002, Softli was an executive with the St. Louis Rams in 2008 and 2009 when they had the No. 2 pick.

“Picking No. 2 is a great place to be if there are multiple players to pick from at the spot,” Softli said. “This is a good year to be at No. 2. There are a number of high-quality players. Denver can’t go wrong.”

Softli said it will help the Broncos that there is a chance the Panthers will take a quarterback at No. 1. The Panthers have been linked to Auburn’s Cam Newton and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert.

The Broncos finished last in the NFL in total defense and points allowed. The draft is stacked with top defensive prospects. If the Panthers take a quarterback, Denver would have its pick of any defensive player on the board.

“I think a great spot to be in is No. 2 and not need a quarterback if there is a top quarterback available,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “The stud quarterback is going No. 1. If you pick No. 2 and you really need a quarterback, you probably aren’t going to get him. But otherwise, it’s a solid place to be.”

There haven’t been many quarterbacks taken at No. 2 in recent history. Since 1990, only three quarterbacks have been taken with the No. 2 pick. Each time, a quarterback was taken No. 1. The last time it has happened was 1999, when Philadelphia took Donovan McNabb at No. 2 after Cleveland took Tim Couch No. 1. In the same time span, a quarterback has been picked at No. 1 12 times.

“Usually, there aren’t two quarterbacks worthy of the first two picks,” Softli said. “So, the presence of a quarterback can really make a difference between one and two. If you pick No. 1 and you need a quarterback, you usually take one. That can help the team picking No. 2.”

While the failures of the team picking No. 1 are most remembered, success at No. 2 has been far from guaranteed. There have been epic failures at No. 2 in the past 20 years. Ryan Leaf, taken by the Chargers in 1998, is considered one of the greatest draft busts in NFL history. The Colts took Peyton Manning at No. 1 that year. Other major busts since 1990 at No. 2 include Jets running back Blair Thomas (1990), Seattle quarterback Rick Mirer (1993, taken after New England drafted Drew Bledsoe) and Detroit receiver Charles Rogers (2003).

There have been plenty of draft hits at No. 2 in the time span. Some of the solid picks in that spot include running back Marshall Faulk (Colts, 1994), McNabb, Peppers, receiver Calvin Johnson (Lions, 2007) and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (Lions, 2010).

Softli was with the Rams last year when they picked No. 1. Softli said he feels there is nearly as much pressure drafting No. 2 as there is at No. 1.

“It’s almost as hard,” Softli said. “I know everyone concentrates on the No. 1 pick, but an owner will look at you funny if you mess up the No. 2 pick, too.”
Mel Kiper Jr. looked at 13 biggest quarterback draft busts Insider since 1979.

Yes, there’s an AFC West presence in the piece.

Arguably, the AFC West has produced the two biggest drafts busts of all-time: Oakland’s JaMarcus Russell and San Diego’s Ryan Leaf. There has been a lot to be proud about in the AFC West over the years. These two disasters in cleats are not on that list.

Here is what Kiper had to say about each player:
Ryan Leaf, No. 2 overall to San Diego, 1998

You'll never find a better case of a guy who really needed to be held back and allowed to develop by the franchise that drafted him as a young man (he came out after his junior year). But Leaf was put in command of a terrible team and fell apart quickly when asked to lead the team and deal with the consequences of losing. Compared to some earlier names on the list, Leaf's weak career numbers don't even look as terrible, but the sound bites and the cameras and the money all added to the effect.

JaMarcus Russell, No. 1 overall to Oakland, 2007

Normally it should be impossible to use the word "bust" when talking about a guy drafted so recently. Guys such as Philip Rivers didn't even start games for a couple years. But Russell has been the epitome of a bust. We questioned his passion for the game during the draft process, and those questions seem to have been answered in the worst ways. He has a ton of natural talent, but nothing else has worked.

When Russell was cut last May, I wrote that I thought Russell was a bigger draft bust than Leaf or any other draft prospect. I have maintained that Russell is a bigger bust than Leaf because he was a No.1 overall pick and he was more expensive than Leaf.

What are your thoughts? Fill up the comment section below.
One of the more pressing questions in the AFC West is what will the Denver Broncos will do with the No. 2 overall pick?

The Broncos will likely consider trading the pick to get more draft picks to help rebuild the team. Denver only has six picks. The problem is that it is very difficult to get out of the No. 2 spot.

I just didn’t realize how difficult it has been. I asked the fine folks at ESPN Stats & Information to check on the trade history of the No. 2 pick. The results were eye opening.

The No.2 pick hasn’t been moved in 11 years. So, the odds are very high that the Broncos will keep the pick and look at players such as Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers or LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson in an attempt to fix the NFL’s worst-ranked defense.

The No. 2 pick has moved 13 times since 1967. It was traded three times in the 1990s, but 2000 was the last time it was moved. Below is a look at the trade history of the No. 2 and many thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for the help.

You are off the hook, Ryan Leaf.

Now that he has been cut by Oakland, quarterback JaMarcus Russell has to be considered the biggest all-time NFL draft bust. Here is my list of the five greatest busts in draft history:

1. JaMarcus Russell: He is 7-18 as an NFL starter, which is the worst record by a quarterback who was a No. 1 overall pick. He is the fastest quarterback who was a top pick to be released by his drafting team. Russell, 24, lasted three years in Oakland. He cost the Raiders $39 million.

2. Ryan Leaf: Leaf was the No. 2 pick in 1998, being taken one pick after the great Peyton Manning. Leaf was a disaster on and off the field in San Diego. He lasted three injury- and controversy-plagued seasons with the Chargers. He won four games with the Chargers. Still, Russell is a bigger bust because he was a top pick and he was much more expensive than Leaf.

3. Charles Rogers: The Lions took Rogers with the No. 2 pick, one slot ahead of when Houston took Andre Johnson. Rogers lasted three seasons in Detroit. His stay there was marred by injuries and off-field issues.

4. Tim Couch: Cleveland picked him with the first pick in 1999 over No. 2 pick Donovan McNabb. Couch lasted five horrible seasons in Cleveland.

5. Tony Mandarich: The Packers took the tackle No. 2 in 1989, ahead of the likes of Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders. He lasted three years in Green Bay and never made an impact.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Insider currently has the Oakland Raiders taking Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen at No.8. It would be a major move for an organization that just three years ago drafted JaMarcus Russell with the No. 1 overall pick.

I took a look at teams that pulled the plug on first-round failures and drafted his replacement with a first-round pick within five years. Only a few of these second attempts worked out for the organization. Here are some of the quarterback exchanges:

Baltimore took Kyle Boller with the No. 19 pick in 2003 and then took Joe Flacco at No.18 in 2008.

Washington took Patrick Ramsey at No. 32 in 2002 and Jason Campbell at No. 25 in 2005.

Cincinnati took Akili Smith at No. 3 in 1999 and Carson Palmer No. 1 in 2003.

Chicago took Cade McNown at No. 12 in 1999 and Rex Grossman at No. 22 in 2003.

San Diego took Ryan Leaf at No. 2 in 1998 and Eli Manning at No. 1 in 2004. The Chargers traded Manning in a deal for Philip Rivers, who was taken at No. 4 by the Giants.

Seattle took Dan McGwire at No. 16 in 1991 and Rick Mirer at No. 2 in 1993.

Detroit took Chuck Long at No. 12 in 1986 and Andre Ware at No. 7 in 1990.

Kansas City took Steve Fuller at No. 23 in 1979 and Todd Blackledge at No. 7 in 1983.

Russell is regressing terribly

October, 2, 2009
AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell just hasn’t progressed enough for the Raiders.

Posted by’s Bill Williamson

There is no more pressing on-field issue in the AFC West than what is happening in Oakland. Actually, it’s all about what’s not happening in Oakland.

JaMarcus Russell is not getting better. That’s a big problem for the Raiders.

“Really, he’s getting worse,” Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson said.

In a pivotal season, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft is struggling mightily. The Raiders hoped and expected Russell would make week-by-week improvement, but the opposite is happening.

In the opener against San Diego, he threw for 208 yards. In Week 2 at Kansas City, he passed for 109 yards and then he bottomed out at 61 yards against Denver as Oakland fell to 1-2. Russell’s passer rating is 39.8 -- the worst in the NFL.

But Russell's numbers aren’t just bad. They’re historically bad. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, Russell’s passer rating is the second lowest by a quarterback who played in his team’s first three games of a season this decade (minimum 60 attempts). The only quarterback in the past 10 years who had a lower rating through three games with at least 60 attempts was Ryan Leaf in 2000.

(Ouch. Ryan Leaf. Russell is entering the Leaf zone. The Leaf comparison is certainly not what Oakland was aiming for when this year began.)

The numbers only get worse. Russell has completed just 41.3 percent of his passes. He had 35 incompletions in the first two games of the season.

According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, Russell's completion percentage through three games is the fourth lowest by a quarterback who played in his team’s first three games of a season in the last 25 seasons (minimum 60 attempts). The only quarterbacks with at least 60 attempts who had lower completion percentages through three games over that span are John Fourcade in 1990, Akili Smith in 2000 and David Carr in 2002.

Leaf. Smith. Carr.

Get the picture? Russell is matching numbers with some of the great quarterback busts of our time. It may be premature to categorize Russell as an official bust. However, he may be wise to shop for property in Bustville. His time is running out.

What’s most bothersome about Russell is that he has failed to make virtually any improvements since he entered the NFL. The same questions remain. When he entered the league, the strong-armed, massive Russell was said to have all the measurables. Before the 2007 draft, Oakland owner Al Davis compared Russell to John Elway.

But Russell was far from a finished product. He needed to work on his accuracy, his footwork, his penchant for locking in on receivers, his vision, his work ethic and his body language.

After 35 NFL games, the same questions remain. In his second full season as a starter, Russell looks as lost as ever.

What’s the answer, though? If Oakland bails on Russell and benches him, it would be an admission the team made a huge mistake and must start over at the most important position on the field.

The team’s current backups, Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye, are not long-term answers. The Raiders could call Jeff Garcia again if they feel like they can make a playoff run without Russell. However, the Garcia scenario seems unlikely now after he ripped Russell and the team in a radio interview.

Russell probably needs more time to develop. But he is killing any chance Oakland has of being a contender this season. For now, the Raiders are standing by Russell.

“I have to have faith in the guy going out there playing quarterback for us, and I do have that faith," Raiders coach Tom Cable said Monday.

Williamson said he believes Russell is one of the more physically gifted quarterbacks in the NFL.

“I put him right up there with Jay Cutler and Joe Flacco as far as gifts go. I can see why he was the top pick in the draft,” Williamson said. “But he’s atrocious. He really is. He needs a lot of work, and I don’t know if he’ll ever get there. Right now he looks like an incredible bust.”

KC Joyner, the Football Scientist, went out on a limb in the preseason and stumped for Russell. Joyner liked the way Russell finished last season. In the final six games of the 2008 season, Joyner found that Russell had a better passer rating than Matt Ryan and Flacco.

Joyner figured Russell would continue to improve. So, after Russell’s first three games of 2009, is Joyner still a Russell believer?

“No,” Joyner said. “I was on the bandwagon, but he is not doing anything well right now. He has completely regressed.”

That’s the problem with Russell. There are no signs that he’s getting better. All of the signs are pointing in the wrong direction.

Evening news and notes

June, 17, 2009

Posted by's Bill Williamson

Former Denver quarterback Jay Cutler chimed in on the Brandon Marshall situation. Cutler called Marshall a "great player" and said he expected Marshall to be upset that he didn't get a new contract. Cutler said he has not talked to the Bears about pursuing Marshall.

New defensive end Greg Ellis is already working in Derrick Burgess' starting spot after two days in Oakland. The writing is on the wall for Burgess.

Meanwhile, Raiders coach Tom Cable is excited that quarterback JaMarcus Russell plans to work with his receivers in the next several weeks prior to training camp to maintain their timing. It's a sign of the leadership Cable has locked for from Russell.

The Chiefs are closing in on signing their final draft pick.

Former San Diego quarterback Ryan Leaf is in custody.

Around the AFC West

June, 11, 2009

Posted by's Bill Williamson


The Denver Post expects Brandon Marshall to show up for the Broncos' mandatory minicamp Friday.

My take: Marshall needs to show up. He won't be able to practice because of a March hip surgery that will keep him out until training camp. Marshall has been rehabilitating on his own partly because he wants a pay raise. If he doesn't come back during this minicamp, it will send a bad message, whether he can practice or not.

Kansas City

With Mark Sanchez signed, when will Tyson Jackson ink his deal?

My take: The No. 2 through No. 4 picks -- St. Louis' Jason Smith, Jackson and Seattle's Aaron Curry -- will all look at Sanchez's huge deal. He received $28 million guaranteed. The deal could reach $60 million. Sanchez was the No. 5 pick. Jackson, a defensive end, could be looking for a bigger contract than the player taken two picks lower. But the Chiefs will likely argue that Sanchez is a special case because he is a quarterback. I'm not saying the Jackson talks are going to be difficult, but the early Sanchez signing does introduce a potential wrinkle into the talks.


JaMarcus Russell had a nice OTA day Wednesday.

My take: Good for Russell. Just like when he struggled earlier in organized training activities, we shouldn't go wild about this. But it is a good sign. Russell has to make strides and he is showing he can. That's important.

San Diego

Former quarterback Ryan Leaf is in legal trouble.

My take: Leaf was a bust in the NFL, but he still has a long life to live. He needs to take care of his legal issues and try to move forward.

Posted by's Bill Williamson

So there's a movie chronicling the Ryan Leaf era in San Diego.

In Southern California, the film is probably going to be listed as a horror movie. Nightmare on Leaf Street, for sure.

This isn't exactly a great time for a movie on the Chargers' colossal draft mistake of 10 years ago to be shown in San Diego. It's not like Chargers fans can go see the film, relive the Leaf disaster and then take comfort in the team's current state.

The 2008 Chargers could provide sequel material to the Leaf opus. The Chargers are 4-8 and are on the brink of seeing Denver win the AFC West.

Coach Norv Turner is reviled in San Diego these days by many Chargers' fans and he could end up being the biggest NFL villain in the fans eyes in San Diego since Leaf.

So revisiting the Leaf days may not be the best medicine for the pained Chargers fans these days.