NFL Nation: Cade McNown

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 of all time.

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 on this story.

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 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.
“(He'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. 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 himself has been unable to recover his career. Shortly before training camp, the New York Jets showed interest in Russell. Days later, however, 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 both 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 Russell went undrafted by the five-team league Monday while a player like 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.
Jay Cutler and Julius PeppersUS PresswireThe Bears gave up two first-round draft picks and a third-rounder for Jay Cutler. Is he the reason Chicago is on the brink of the Super Bowl? Or does the credit go to Julius Peppers and the defense?
Let's play a game of addition.

  1. The starting quarterback is the most important player on any football team.
  2. The Chicago Bears finished the regular season 11-5, won the NFC North division title and will host the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Soldier Field.
  3. Jay Cutler is the biggest reason why.

So, in this case, does 1+2=3? Did the Bears need Cutler as their quarterback to advance this far? Was he the key to their resurgence this season? Or could they have followed the same path without making the 2009 blockbuster trade that cost them three high draft choices? In today's Double Coverage, ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson and ESPN.com NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert discuss that very question.

Kevin Seifert: Jeff, you've been covering the Bears for years. You saw them go to Super Bowl XLI with Rex Grossman as their quarterback. You've lived through Kordell Stewart, Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson, Brian Griese and Kyle Orton. You've seen a team win in spite of its quarterback, and you've seen quarterbacks single-handedly lose games. Let's start it off this way: How much credit do you think Cutler should get for the Bears sitting one step from the Super Bowl?

[+] EnlargeChicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) talks with offensive coordinator Mike Martz, right, and coach Lovie Smith
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhBears quarterback Jay Cutler has thrived in Mike Martz's offense.
Jeff Dickerson: Cutler deserves plenty of credit, Kevin. As much as we want to hammer Cutler for his mistakes -- more on that later, I'm sure -- you can't overlook the fact his quarterback rating was above 100 six times in the regular season. And you guessed it: the Bears won all six of those games.

So if the most important player on the field was arguably the best player on the field nearly half the time, I find it impossible to minimize the positive impact Cutler had on the Bears' playoff run. Is he going to run for public office after he's finished playing football? No. Does he care that we're talking about him today, either good or bad? No. But to sit back and say Cutler was simply along for the ride wouldn't be doing his contributions much justice.

And by the way, thanks for bringing up Chad Hutchinson. I was trying to suppress that memory. What's next? Are we going to break down the NFL career of Jonathan Quinn? I could talk bad Bears quarterbacks all day.

KS: Any time. How about this: Cade McNown, Henry Burris, Shane Matthews and Steve Stenstrom. That pretty much covers it for our generation, I think.

Anyway, I agree it would be wrong to overlook some of Cutler's individual performances this season. He bounced back from some early hits in Week 2 to throw three touchdown passes against the Dallas Cowboys in a 27-20 victory. He forgot about the early interception against the New York Jets and went on to throw for another three touchdowns in a 38-34 victory. His performance against the Philadelphia Eagles -- four touchdown passes, 146.2 passer rating -- was superb. And don't forget his late-game drive against the Detroit Lions in Week 13, the one that locked up the division title.

But I think the question at hand is whether the Bears would have won 11 games with, say, Orton at quarterback. To me, Cutler was not among the top two reasons for the Bears' success this season.

More important was the defense, which limited opponents to 17.9 points per game, and the best special teams in the NFL. As a result of those two factors, Cutler and the rest of the Bears' offense had the best head start in the NFL. No offense had a better average start of its drive (33.7-yard line) than the Bears'.

Do you think the Bears win those games with Orton?

JD: I must first admit to being a card-carrying member of the Kyle Orton fan club. Is there a more underappreciated quarterback in the NFL? That being said, I think you could make the playoffs with a guy like Orton, but the Bears are in a better position to potentially win a Super Bowl with a guy like Cutler.

Let me explain.

I firmly believe if Orton quarterbacked the Bears in 2009 they probably would have won three more regular-season games (against the Packers, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers). They would have finished 10-6 and perhaps earned an NFC wild-card playoff berth. Cutler cost the Bears those games because of a barrage of turnovers and terrible decisions. But that's where the ride would've ended with Orton, in my opinion.

Could Orton have beaten the Cowboys, Eagles or Jets in 2010? Maybe. But with apologies to Jim Mora, we're talking playoffs, Kevin, playoffs!

[+] EnlargeChicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireThe Bears' defense, led by Julius Peppers, gave the offense a head start on most drives.
Believe me, I know Cutler's only career postseason victory came against Seattle this past weekend, and he could easily go out Sunday and throw five interceptions against the Packers. But he could just as easily throw five touchdowns.

That's why the Bears are better off with Cutler -- because Orton hit his glass ceiling as an NFL quarterback. Cutler has not. Look at how Cutler tore up the Jets. The defense struggled, and it needed a lift from the quarterback position to beat a tough opponent. Cutler delivered. I'm not saying Orton is incapable of leading a team to victory over playoff-quality teams, but the chances Cutler can do it are greater.

Sorry, Kyle. I loved your neck beard. But I have to go with Cutler on this one.

KS: It's all fantasy talk, of course. We'll never know if Orton would have played well enough last year to compel the Bears to keep offensive coordinator Ron Turner this season. We also don't know if Mike Martz would have wanted Orton this season.

But the Bears gave up two first-round draft picks and a third-rounder for Cutler. Has he provided them enough value for those picks? Or could they have used those draft picks to improve themselves in other areas?

It would be wrong to say that Cutler hasn't had a positive impact on the Bears this season, but I'm not willing to say he was the key to the Bears' division title, either. But if the Bears go to the Super Bowl, no one is going to care about that distinction.

JD: And you know Cutler is happiest when nobody cares!

I guess it's possible Jerry Angelo would have turned those two first-round selections into starting-caliber players. But I've seen the Bears use high draft choices on the likes of Michael Haynes, Roosevelt Williams, Mark Bradley, Dusty Dvoracek, Dan Bazuin, Michael Okwo, Jarron Gilbert and Juaquin Iglesias. So to assume Angelo would've waved his magic draft wand and taken the right guys? Well, that would be misguided, to say the least. Despite all the warts, I'm happy with Cutler and feel the Bears are now in a better position to win their first Super Bowl since the 1985 season because of him.

I could talk bad Bears draft picks all day.

KS: Spoken like a longtime Bears follower. Basically what you're saying is that while Cutler has demonstrated some flaws, his acquisition nevertheless prevented the Bears from making another series of draft mistakes! Perfect. I love it.

On that note, Jeff, this has been fun. I think we can agree Cutler has made a positive impact on the Bears' run to the NFC Championship Game. Could they have done it without him? That's up for debate.

'Mortgage the ranch' for top pick?

April, 16, 2010
4/16/10
4:01
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Ricky Williams and Desmond Clark are the only active players remaining from the 1999 blockbuster trade that featured Mike Ditka trading the Saints' entire draft, plus two high future choices, for one pick.

The trade came to mind after suggestions that Cleveland could have interest in acquiring the first overall pick from the Rams. I'd be surprised if the Browns gave up what it would take to land the top pick. Their entire draft is worth 2,692 points on the draft value chart. The chart probably overvalues the top choice by assigning a 3,000-point value, but even if the top pick were discounted to 2,000 points, the Browns would be giving up the seventh and 38th overall picks.

The Saints gave up 1,575 points worth of 1999 picks, plus first- and third-round choices in 2000, to get the fifth overall choice in the 1999 draft from the Bears. The chart values the fifth choice at 1,700 points.

The deal drew initial criticism, but the players drafted with the Saints' old picks -- Clark, LaVar Arrington, D'Wayne Bates, Cade McNown, Khari Samuel, Lloyd Harrison, Billy Miller, Nate Stimson -- didn't meet expectations in most cases.

Browns president Mike Holmgren on moving up to draft quarterback Sam Bradford: "'Look it, he's a coveted young man. To be able to go up and change somebody's mind ahead of us, you'd have to mortgage the ranch. You remember when coach Ditka did that with his picks and then he went and played golf.' Absolutely, we love the player, as do a lot of people. But in the real world, we're probably going to go in a different direction there.''
 
  Allsport and Getty Images
  According to a formula measuring college performance, Matthew Stafford, right, scored between NFL first-round busts Akili Smith and Cade McNown.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

The experts are hedging. The fans are sweating. The team is making clear it is considering all of its options.

There are 47 days remaining until the 2009 NFL draft, giving the Detroit Lions some 1,125 hours before they are required to make the No. 1 overall pick. The Lions might need every minute of that span, especially if their internal discussion at all reflects the raging public debate on Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford.

A classically built, strong-armed quarterback, Stafford has not yet caught on as the consensus No. 1 pick. ESPN.com draft analyst Todd McShay, for example, said recently the Lions face a "nightmare" decision because Stafford is "not mentally ready" to take on the pressures of being the No. 1 overall pick. McShay said that scouts from at least 10 teams agreed with that assessment and added: "I just don't feel great about building my organization around him."

  2009 Combine: QB standouts
  NFL.com Video
  Find out which QBs impressed scouts with their performance at the combine.

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock told a Detroit radio station that "there are some things about him that bother me," and even Stafford's biggest supporter advocates with a negative argument. Yes, Mel Kiper Jr. said the Lions should select Stafford primarily because "there is nobody else to take."

Even fans are getting into the act. On the day the Lions announced they were playing host to Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith, Jim of Cincinnati wrote:

Matthew Stafford? Why are people thinking he is a good fit for an 0-16 team? I have seen Stafford play. He gets rattled easily. His arm is ok but his leadership skills lack. Next year they can get a much better QB. This year they need to fill in the holes on defense and on the line.

Why all of this generalist hate against Stafford, who by all accounts offers fine character as well as the draft's strongest arm?

Our friends at ESPN Research have developed a method for fleshing out the debate with statistical analysis. Using time-honored performance standards to predict future success for "blue-chip" quarterbacks, the formula placed Stafford between Akili Smith and Cade McNown in a category reserved for busts.

Does this mean Stafford is guaranteed to crash and burn? Of course not. But this evaluation documents in specific fashion the previously ill-defined criticisms of Stafford, helping to explain why there is so much disagreement about him with the draft little more than six weeks away.

The formula takes into account three statistics: Career starts, completion percentage and touchdown-interception ratio. The theory is that experience, accuracy and production versus mistakes can provide substantive indicators for college quarterbacks.

Formula Explanation
ESPN Research developed this formula to measure quarterbacks relative to a baseline completion percentage of 60 and a touchdown-interception ratio of 2.25. The multipliers allow each figure to have equal weight with career starts, which provides an important measure of experience.

The total score is the sum of the three adjusted figures.

The separate parameters for BCS and non-BCS quarterbacks help level the statistical playing field. They are based on the assumption that NFL-caliber quarterbacks playing against non-BCS opponents are going to have inflated numbers.

For those mathematically inclined -- it took me 10 readings to get it after having nightmare flashbacks to eighth-grade algebra -- below is the formula itself. (Note: This is the updated, corrected version of the original post.)

For BCS quarterbacks
(Career Starts x 0.5) + [(Career completion pct. - 60)x5] +[(Career touchdown-INT ratio - 2.25)x10]

For non-BCS quarterbacks
(Career Starts x 0.5) + [(Career completion pct. - 60)x2.5] + [(Career touchdown-INT Ratio - 2.25)x5]

(For a complete explanation of the formula, see the text box on your right.)

To test the formula, ESPN Research plugged in the 31 quarterbacks taken in the first round over the past 12 drafts, dating back to 1997. The results are below.

You'll see the quarterbacks broken into three categories. If their college statistics translated into a value of 20 or more, there was a strong likelihood for success. (Alex Smith and Tim Couch notwithstanding.) A value between 1 and 19 essentially meant "iffy."

But the most revealing category were those quarterbacks who finished with a value of 0 or less. Every one of them failed as NFL quarterbacks. Take a look:

Scores of First-Round Quarterbacks, 1997-2008
Group I: Strong likelihood of success
Player School Draft year Score
Matt Leinart USC 2006 64.04
Philip Rivers NC State 2004 48.44
Tim Couch Kentucky 1999 47.64
Alex Smith Utah 2005 44.88
Aaron Rodgers California 2005 40.58
Peyton Manning Tennessee 1998 39.47
Jason Campbell Auburn 2005 38.75
Byron Leftwich Marshall 2003 36.39
Ben Roethlisberger Miami (Ohio) 2004 33.85
Chad Pennington Marshall 2000 33.53
Daunte Culpepper Central Florida 1999 30.00
David Carr Fresno State 2002 23.97
Joe Flacco Delaware 2008 23.92
Eli Manning Ole Miss 2004 23.14
Donovan McNabb Syracuse 1999 21.62
Group II: Hit-or-Miss
Player School Draft year Score
Brady Quinn Notre Dame 2007 18.93
JaMarcus Russell LSU 2007 18.64
Rex Grossman Florida 2003 18.39
Vince Young Texas 2006 18.21
Carson Palmer USC 2003 16.35
Matt Ryan Boston College 2008 9.14
Patrick Ramsey Tulane 2002 9.06
J.P. Losman Tulane 2004 7.86
Jay Cutler Vanderbilt 2006 2.39
Group III: Busts
Player School Draft year Score
Akili Smith Oregon 1999 0.00
Cade McNown UCLA 1999 -6.41
Joey Harrington Oregon 2002 -6.85
Michael Vick Virginia Tech 2001 -11.32
Ryan Leaf Washington St. 1998 -16.92
Jim Druckenmiller Virginia Tech 1997 -20.25
Kyle Boller California 2003 -50.67

Stafford scored a -4.45, putting him in unflattering surroundings to say the least. You never want to be on a list that includes Jim Druckenmiller and Akili Smith. Stafford's career completion percentage of 57.1 percent and his touchdown-interception ratio of 1.55 were primarily responsible for his poor showing. That left him rated well below USC quarterback Mark Sanchez and slightly behind Kansas State's Josh Freeman.

Scores for 2009 Likely First-Round Quarterbacks
Player School Score
Mark Sanchez USC 32.63
Josh Freeman Kansas State 1.94
Matthew Stafford Georgia -4.55

Stafford's numbers were dragged down by a freshman season in which Stafford completed 52
.7 percent of his passes and threw 13 interceptions against seven touchdowns.

When McShay, Mayock and Jim from Cincinnati express their concerns about Stafford, it's primarily for these reasons: College quarterbacks don't typically improve their accuracy in the NFL. If his decisions were at all suspect against SEC opponents, then it's reasonable to wonder how he will react to professional defenses.

Throw in the state of the Lions, who are coming off an 0-16 season and might feel pressure to start him immediately behind an offensive line that needs help, and you understand the genesis of the Stafford debate. Where will it lead? Luckily, we have 47 days to find out.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider suggests the receivers make Kurt Warner, not the other way around. He suggests the 49ers might have been better off not signing the three-time Super Bowl quarterback. Lynch: "In Arizona, Larry Fitzgerald's and Anquan Boldin's statistics weren't that much worse when Matt Leinart, Cade McCown or Jeff Blake throwing to them."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says he's "a little surprised" the 49ers haven't sought an offensive tackle in free agency. Barrows: "Their lack of interest at the position basically tells me they are confident they can land a good one in the draft."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic quotes Bryant McFadden's agent as saying a broken forearm prevented the cornerback from commanding $8 million per season on a long-term deal. The Cardinals landed McFadden for two years and $10 million. Somers: "McFadden's first-year salary of $3.75 million is guaranteed, and he receives a $1 million roster bonus and $250,000 workout bonus. The $5 million salary for the second year is not guaranteed."

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald says the cornerback market is weak after the Cardinals signed McFadden, a player the Dolphins had pursued. Salguero: "Eric Green, who included the Dolphins among his free-agent visits that also saw him travel to Tennessee and San Francisco, is still available. Although the Dolphins didn't make Green a contract offer last week, he expected to begin fielding such offers this week and it would not surprise, considering Miami's situation at cornerback, that they make him an offer."

VanRam of Turf Show Times looks at possible landing spots for Rams receiver Torry Holt. Baltimore? Chicago? Atlanta? Dallas? Philadelphia?

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says he thinks the Rams are considering Alex Barron as a potential left tackle, but the team probably doesn't have long-range plans for him at any position. Also: "There are some at Rams Park who like Jason Smith better at this point, thinking that he's more physical than [Eugene] Monroe. There are some at Rams Park who like Eugene Monroe better at this point, thinking that he's more athletic. Monroe is probably more NFL ready. Smith is still new to the position. As for [B.J.] Raji, don't rule him out as a first-round pick for the Rams. It's not as if anyone in the building has told me the Rams are interested. But he's certainly a top 10 pick, and the Rams do need another body at DT."

William Tomisser of Seahawk Addicts links to Sam Farmer's Los Angeles Times story about how far the Seahawks went in courting free-agent receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. While free-agent visits are indeed planned in detail, the sea-plane ride that set apart this visit from some wasn't part of the itinerary, general manager Tim Ruskell said. According to Ruskell, the plane was available only by chance.

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