Ten lingering issues: Russell’s future uncertain
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Perhaps it’s fitting that after all the NFL draft hyperbole of the last week, one of the league’s pressing issues in the spring and summer of 2010 will be the bitter departure of a player once thought to be a franchise-changing quarterback.
Russell’s existence on the Oakland Raiders roster should be coming to a turning point in the coming days. And whatever happens, it will be a prime example of the ulcer-inducing realities of failed No. 1 picks. But Russell’s fate in Oakland will hardly be the only pressing business. From Terrell Owens(notes) to Brett Favre(notes) and Shawne Merriman(notes), lingering offseason question marks hang over many NFL stars. Their futures will all be hashed out in the coming months, as the league moves to answer all of the remaining post-draft questions.
Starting with …
1. Is JaMarcus Russell’s career over in Oakland?
It looks that way. With the Raiders having added Jason Campbell(notes) and Kyle Boller(notes) to the mix of Russell and Bruce Gradkowski(notes), someone will be the odd man out. And guess who’s the biggest financial drag? That would be Russell, whose release would actually save the team $6.45 million. There’s almost no way Russell wins the starting job back, particularly with Campbell on the roster, so there is no sense in paying him to do little more than be a reminder of a Ryan Leaf-like draft failure. Especially when it looks like he has once again lost his motivation to improve himself, with reports suggesting he’s back in the neighborhood of 300 pounds If Russell renegotiates his contract, he could have a shot to stay. But the only thing fatter than that chance might be Russell.
2. Where will Terrell Owens sign?
Every day, a new team seems to throw cold water on the possibility that they would be interested in Owens. First it was the Washington Redskins, and then more recently, it was the Chicago Bears. Make no mistake, Owens will play in the NFL in 2010, but this one will fluctuate depending on two factors: asking price and need. There are teams out there that could use some depth at wideout, but not at Owens’ $5 million price tag. When that gets more manageable (around $2 million-$3 million), it is believed that the Raiders, Bears, Redskins and possibly even the Cincinnati Bengals will take a second look.
3. Where will the other remaining quality free agents land?
Handicapping the situations, I’d say defensive tackle John Henderson(notes) lands either with the Kansas City Chiefs or New York Giants; linebacker Adalius Thomas(notes) ends up with the New York Jets or Chiefs; and Flozell Adams(notes) suits up for the Redskins. Brian Westbrook(notes) will likely let some time play out into May as he weighs his dwindling options. Indeed, he might not get another offer beyond the St. Louis Rams.
4. Will Shawne Merriman get traded?
It’s looking like it could still happen. Multiple reports indicate Merriman was shopped during the draft, but his demands in terms of a contract extension scuttled any deal. That doesn’t mean he’s a lock to go back to the San Diego Chargers. The reality is Merriman wants a lucrative long-term deal, but San Diego isn’t even close to being interested in giving him serious money. And with the possibility that he’ll be eligible for unrestricted free agency after 2010, the time to move Merriman is at hand. If he eases up on his demand for an extension, look for him to be playing elsewhere in 2010.
5. What is going on with Brett Favre?
He’ll be back. You can go ahead and book it. A Vikings source told Yahoo! Sports the coaching staff is going about its business and operating “100 percent” as if Favre will be back in 2010. The source also said Favre’s recent gift of new Wrangler jeans to his teammates was a sign of “playful offseason bonding” and taken as a sign that Favre has enjoyed his time with the franchise and will be coming back. And while we never seem to know for sure with Favre, there is one reality that everyone seems to ignore – despite all the offseason drama, he always shows up for the start of the regular season.
6. Who will start in Pittsburgh?
Now we know Ben Roethlisberger(notes) will miss at least four games – and some observers believe he’ll serve the full six-game suspension. So who will hold the fort at quarterback until he returns? The franchise really likes the potential of Dennis Dixon(notes), but trading for Byron Leftwich(notes) was a fairly unmistakable sign that this has yet to be sorted out. You’ve got to believe this will be a good, old-fashioned quarterback derby right up to the last week of the preseason. For now, the edge has to go to Leftwich, because he has all of the starting experience under his belt. But Dixon will get his chance to take the job.
7. Who is the odd quarterback out in Denver?
In the perfect world, Tim Tebow(notes) would be on the roster to sit and learn and develop with nonstop NFL coaching. But he has to get some snaps, too, and the No. 3 quarterback rarely ever sees those. So you can bet that Tebow is going to get an opportunity to show he can be the backup with the Denver Broncos this season. And frankly, it’s not out of the realm of possibility he could swipe the starting job. It’s unlikely, but you can’t rule it out. The one guy who seems to suddenly be on the outside looking in is Brady Quinn(notes). He was acquired for a low price – running back Peyton Hillis(notes) and fairly meaningless late-round picks in 2011 and 2012 – and has very little starting experience. So if you are going to deprive someone of practice reps, who are you going to pick? Your veteran starter Kyle Orton(notes), your first-round pick in Tebow, or a guy who cost you almost nothing in Quinn? Seems like an easy answer.
8. What will happen with the disgruntled players?
We’re talking, of course, about the Redskins’ Albert Haynesworth(notes) and Buffalo Bills’ Marshawn Lynch(notes). For now, it looks like both teams are standing their ground and fully expect Haynesworth and Lynch to show up for mandatory minicamps in June. And that will likely happen, as postdraft trade percentages have dropped significantly on both. But don’t count out an unexpected training camp deal with either player. Should a starting running back go down, or a team suffers a rash of injuries at defensive tackle (these things do happen), there could be a spike in value for Haynesworth and Lynch. That said, expect to see them both stay put now that they’ve lasted through the draft.
9. Will there be any surprise holdouts?
Keep an eye on Vincent Jackson(notes). The Chargers still don’t seem inclined to pay him top wideout money, despite Jackson putting up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and maturing into one of the best at his position. The key here is Jackson’s representation. He has the same set of agents – Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod – who held Roddy White(notes) out of the Atlanta Falcons’ training camp until he got a new deal last year. The situations are very similar when you get down to what Jackson has accomplished and how his agents reacted when the Falcons were dragging their feet on a new deal. Don’t be surprised if Jackson takes a stand to get his contract extension.
10. Will Chris Johnson’s contract quest get ugly?
It might. The Tennessee Titans running back has already missed offseason workouts and has made it no secret he wants to be paid big money after rushing for 2,006 yards last season. But the Titans are in a tough spot. Because of CBA rules in an uncapped season, Johnson would be limited to a 30 percent renegotiation increase of his base salary. And because Johnson’s base salaries ($385,000 in ’09; $560,000 in ’10) are fairly low, there is no way to sign him to a mega contract without putting the bulk of the money in guaranteed bonuses. That means essentially giving him a minimum of around $40 million up front if the Titans are to pay him top running back money. The team would rather wait a year for a new collective bargaining agreement to sign a normal deal, and that isn’t going over well with Johnson. The relationship could get a little icier as the offseason gets into the summer months.