Quarterback JaMarcus Russell was nowhere in sight as the Oakland Raiders offseason began Monday. Please, keep it that way, into the 2010 season and beyond.
Russell skipped the final team meeting Monday morning. Coach Tom Cable didn’t miss it — yes, he’s still employed, but check back next week — and he “excused” Russell’s absence for “personal issues.”
No player should take this past season more personally than Russell.
He validated everyone’s fears about his career. He became an outcast, to the withering fan base and stunningly throughout his own locker room.
Despite their 5-11 record, the Raiders definitely accomplished this season’s true goal: Finding out about Russell.
The Raiders should harbor no more illusions about him. He wasn’t worth the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft. He isn’t worth keeping around for 2010, especially at a base salary of $9.45 million that he’s already balked at reducing.
No gray area should exist about Russell’s future in the Silver and Black. He’s the scapegoat for why the Raiders drew their fewest fans since 1967. One female fan called into Sunday’s postgame radio show and virtually spoke for the Raider Nation: She won’t renew her season tickets if Russell remains on the roster.
Raiders patriarch Al Davis must act on his 50 years of pro football insight and cast aside Russell, an albatross who might go down as the NFL’s biggest draft bust ever.
Giving Russell another chance under a different Raiders coach (see: Mike Leach or Kevin Gilbride) won’t remedy this situation. Russell’s confidants — at least on the sideline during games — have dwindled to a scant few, most noticeably veteran defensive tackle Gerard Warren and rookie receiver Louis Murphy.
Regardless of any improved work ethic or weight loss, the only way Russell will win back anyone’s trust is by winning games — for a franchise that hasn’t won more than five games in any season since 2002.
Sunday’s season finale offered up a definitive closing argument in Russell’s case.
He inherited a tight contest with the playoff-hungry Baltimore Ravens when he entered after halftime to relieve a battered Charlie Frye (memo to Al: revamp O-line). Russell lived up to the boos, committing two all-too-familiar turnovers that sealed a 21-13 defeat.
Russell termed his season “shaky.” Yeah, on the San Andreas scale.
He said he learned to “keep fighting” and what life is like “behind the 8-ball a lot.”
He ended last season encouragingly strong, this season devastatingly weak.
If the inconceivable happens—and, mind you, it often does with this team—Russell could return in 2010 as an underdog to Bruce Gradkowski for the starting job.
Gradkowski is a restricted free agent who sincerely pines to return. As he packed up his locker Monday, he said “the worst case scenario would be competing for the starting job.”
Asked what kind of interaction he’s had with Davis, Gradkowski said: “None. You should know that.”
Yes, Davis isn’t as visible as he once was. He is wallowing in a seven-season skid. Russell was supposed to bail him out of it.
A slew of roster moves are needed by the Raiders. Start by ditching the quarterbust.