The holdout of No. 1 overall pick and quarterback JaMarcus Russell over contract talks with the Oakland Raiders figures to be a lengthy one, according to two sources with knowledge of the negotiations.
"This could go to September, easily, with the way the Raiders have approached it," a source said. "Their approach has been from the start of this that it's their way or the highway. They were told before the (NFL) draft that if that's how they wanted to do it, they shouldn't draft (Russell) … Look, this could be done in two days if they'd just realize it's not going to happen the way they think."
Moreover, the talks have grown increasingly tense after Raiders managing general partner Al Davis insinuated to the media on Thursday that part of the cause of the holdout was the inexperience of Russell's agents, Eric Metz and Ethan Lock. However, the agents have spent more than 30 years combined in the business.
Metz has been certified by the NFLPA since 1986. Lock has been certified since 1994. Together they have represented more than 25 first-round picks. By contrast, Raiders negotiator Marc Badain never had negotiated a contract for a first-round pick until this year.
Davis said a major issue is that Metz and Lock wanted a significant portion of the $29 million in guaranteed money Russell is eligible to get paid in the form of an option bonus. The Raiders are hesitant to pay an option bonus because such a bonus can't be recovered if a player retires, such as Barry Sanders, or gets in trouble, such as Michael Vick.
On Saturday, a source countered Davis' contention by saying an option bonus wasn't necessary.
"The Calvin Johnson contract is a perfect blueprint for how they can do it if they want," the source said. The Johnson contract features a combination of guaranteed base salaries and advances to Johnson. Ultimately, Johnson gets $27 million guaranteed as part of a deal that could be worth a maximum of $64 million.
The real problem, according to both sources, is Oakland has been unwilling to give a full "skill" guarantee to the $29 million. To this point, the Raiders only have guaranteed all the money in case Russell gets injured.
A skill guarantee covers a player in case he is cut because a team simply doesn't consider him good enough. Such questions of talent seem odd for the No. 1 overall pick.
"The Raiders were told that structure wasn't going to work then and it's not going to work now," a source said. "It's completely unacceptable. No No. 1 pick has ever agreed to that kind of deal in the salary cap era, and it's not going to start now."
There have been 15 players drafted No. 1 overall since 1993. According to an NFL Players Association source, none of them has received a contract that did not include the skill and injury guarantees.
In addition, both sources said Oakland has tried to push a large amount of the guaranteed money back to being paid in the fourth year of the contract.
"That's ridiculous, too, because if the kid turns out to be a great player, they're going to want to redo the deal after the third year, just like what the Bengals did with Carson Palmer and Atlanta with Michael Vick," the source said. "In that case, (Russell) is never going to see the money he was supposed to get in this contract. He's just going to have a new deal. The Raiders are trying every trick they can find to get around paying the money."