April 28, 2010
Right now, the only thing currently standing between JaMarcus Russell and unemployment is Al Davis.
The Raiders are preparing to release Russell (though I don't know what a team would need to do to prepare for such a thing -- I'm not expecting a major fan backlash on this one), according to ESPN's John Clayton.
Russell is guaranteed $3 million this season, if he's released or not. If he stays with the Raiders, though, he'll make $9.45 million, so the Raiders can save $6.45 million by cutting him while not having to worry about a cap hit, either, given the current collective bargaining situation.
The Raiders have a minicamp coming up Friday, and if Russell were to suffer an injury in that minicamp, the Raiders would be shafted. Teams can't cut injured players, and you'd forgive the Raiders if they didn't want to take that chance.
In this particular case, though, it probably isn't any more painful to pay $9.45 million to an injured Russell than it is to pay a healthy Russell. I don't know. Neither scenario is attractive.
If they do end up cutting him, where does that leave Russell, historically? Can he make a claim to the title of biggest draft bust of all-time? Is Ryan Leaf's place in history in jeopardy?
Now's a fairly convenient time to compare, since Leaf appeared in 25 games in his career in his first three years (there were technically four years, but he missed one entire year with an injury) and Russell in 31. So at the moment, they've got a comparable level of experience. Let's look at the numbers. The following are career stats.
The numbers tell the story. Russell was better at nearly everything, except yards-per-attempt. I attribute that to the Raiders being better at knowing JaMarcus's limitations -- a broad subject, to be sure. The Chargers, for way too long, held on to the dream that Ryan Leaf was a real quarterback, and they let him throw actual, downfield, big-boy passes. It rarely ended well.
Also working in favor of Russell are the following:
• Leaf's teammates outwardly loathed him, while I don't believe there's any such massive contempt for Russell.
• Leaf also had the series of terribly embarrassing media outbursts. Perhaps you remember this one.
• Russell's Raiders would've probably been bad teams no matter who was quarterback. Leaf's Chargers, though, actually had some very good defenses. Leaf held his organization back way more than Russell.
• Leaf has to live with the Peyton Manning comparisons. The 2007 rookie quarterback class is positively grim.
• The Chargers actually traded up to get Leaf, giving up two first-rounders, a second-rounder and two players.
• Russell still has a chance to make a decent quarterback of himself somewhere else. Leaf had the same chance after the Chargers let him go, but he never got better. Russell's still got a chance to defy all the odds and become mediocre.
This one is Russell in a walk.
But I still think it was a worthwhile exercise because every now and then it's good to get a reminder of just how atrocious Ryan Leaf was. Look at the big picture here. JaMarcus Russell, universally considered a huge bust, can't even come close to Leaf. Not unless he manages to keep getting worse. And now that I mention it ...
That is a possibility. Leaf, as bad as he was, at least managed to get better each year. Russell, after three years in the league, is actually trending downwards. Here that is, represented in handy graph form. Leaf is in blue, Russell is in gray. The lighter lines are QB rating over three years, and the darker lines are completion percentage.
That those lines keep plummeting downward is your best hope, Ryan Leaf.
Don't let yourself get there, JaMarcus. Right now, you can look at anyone and proudly say, "At least I'm not Ryan Leaf." Don't let anyone take that away from you.
(Photos, Getty Images)
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