- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
“[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.