Sunday, September 9, 2007
Sticking points remain in contract talks between Russell, Raiders
By Len Pasquarelli ESPN.com
Two days of marathon negotiations failed to produce an accord between the Oakland Raiders and quarterback JaMarcus Russell, and barring an early Sunday breakthrough in the high-stakes bargaining, the team will officially commence its season later in the afternoon without the top pick in the 2007 draft under contract.
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The parties met for much of the day Friday at an undisclosed Bay Area site, resumed discussions on Saturday, then adjourned for a few hours before reconvening in the evening. But when the two parties broke late Saturday night after several more hours of exchanging proposals and crunching numbers, they did so without having consummated a deal.
It is unclear if the talks, which alternated between heated and conciliatory over the past two days, will resume on Sunday.
Oakland opens its 2007 season at home against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, and the focus of Raiders management could well be on that game rather than on the gamesmanship which has been a part of the contract talks. Even if an agreement was struck, the former LSU star can't help the Raiders against the Lions, and so further talks could be delayed until later in the week.
The weekend negotiations represented the first face-to-face bargaining since the parties met in Los Angeles on Aug. 20 and there has been a ramped-up sense of urgency.
At least one of Russell's representatives had booked tentative arrangements to return home to Arizona on an early Sunday flight. Those plans could change, of course, with one phone call and any kind of perceived movement on the few critical remaining issues that have kept the two sides from arriving at an agreement.
Considerable progress was made over the weekend, with one source close to the discussions acknowledging Oakland has included "some pretty good stuff" in the latest round of talks. In a negotiation that seems to have been measured in degrees of closeness, the sides continued to bridge their differences in many crucial areas the past two days.
But there remain sticking points, some of them cosmetic and others more considerable, that obviously need to be addressed.
Primary among them, in what figures to be a six-year contract with a maximum value of about $61 million, are the total bonuses and guarantees. It is believed that Russell's camp is seeking guarantees equivalent to the value of the first three years of the contract.
Of ancillary importance is that Russell, because of the position he plays and his likely role as the face of the franchise for possibly the next 10 years or more, is perceived by teammates as not having acquiesced in the showdown with Raiders' management.
Russell, 22, has now staged one of the longest holdouts by a rookie in recent history. In 2002, offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, the first-round choice of the Minnesota Vikings that year, missed the first eight games of the regular season. In terms of top overall picks, no one has held out longer than Russell since tailback Bo Jackson declined to sign with Tampa Bay altogether in 1986.
During his three seasons as the LSU starter, Russell completed 493 of 797 passes for 6,625 yards, with 52 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.