So, this is what it’s come down to. The number one overall selection in the 2007 NFL draft has been benched in favor of 194th overall selection in the 2006 draft.
How Bruce Gradkowski’s career QB rating of 58.6 has become favored over JaMarcus Russell’s 65.5 is a quandary that now reflects the sad state of the Oakland Raiders.
While the decision to bench Russell was long overdue, the fallout from it could be the pebble that ultimately creates enough ripples to turn the tide. At least that is what Tom Cable is praying for.
Drafting Russell was a gamble. When Al Davis phoned in the pick, most football minds knew it was going to take time for the young 21-year-old thrower to develop. Blessed with an arm the likes of which had never been seen before, it was a given that Davis would tap JaMarcus to help revive the vertical game.
Today, that vertical game has been grounded before this franchise takes a complete nose dive.
Gradkowski doesn’t have the cannon of Russell. Well, comparatively, Gradkowski has a Super Soaker to Russell’s WMD, but that hardly matters. The quarterback position is about making good decisions, correct reads and accurate throws. JaMarcus is capable of doing all of the aforementioned, he just doesn’t seem to be able to do them all in succession.
While Russell’s performance is his cross to bear, he alone does not shoulder the blame.
Starting your career with a holdout is no way to indicate the desire to lead. This is a business and these things do happen. Still, one can’t help but wonder what damage was done by missing the first training camp of his career.
Flash forward to his second lap around the NFL and Russell had to endure a coaching change, three different play callers and an ever rotating carousel of wide receivers. Hardly the type of situation a young quarterback thrives in. None the less, by season’s end Russell was playing the best football of his pro career.
In his crucial third season, Cable opened the doors to young JaMarcus in the form of a QB school that offered an offseason session. Russell was there often, even going as far as to eventually hold his own private workouts with wide receivers he flew to Alabama on his dime.
Of course, there were also two new voices in Russell’s ear as well. Ted Tollner was hired by Coach Cable to “coordinate the passing game” and Paul Hackett appeared on the payroll as Russell’s personal tutor.
Despite the steps taken, Russell still showed up to camp overweight and was never pushed by the veteran Jeff Garcia who hardly took a snap due to lingering injuries.
Garcia’s presence was intended to be a measuring stick for Russell. Instead, all that came of the situation was the whining of an aging vet who eventually was shown the exit.
To add injury to insult, Russell lost the lone wide receiver he had any chemistry with as Chaz Schilens suffered a freak injury in training camp. The result would be two rookies being forced into the starting lineup while veteran Javon Walker has seen no action of any significance this season.
Louis Murphy has shown promise but has also shown plenty of rookie miscues half way through the season. Darrius Heyward-Bey looks to be a bigger project than Russell.
With the playoffs out of sight and another 11-loss season in range, now would appear the perfect time to let Russell prove his worth. Unfortunately, Cable’s job is in the balance and Russell has been given ample opportunities to earn his keep.
Let the Big Gradkowski era begin!
Even if the change helps to get the NFL’s most pathetic offense up to par, it still does not help to clarify where the future of this franchise lies.
Cable can’t win for losing.
If this is the moment that finally ignites the faint ember beneath Russell’s 270 pound frame, then it will be wondered why the measure was not taken earlier.
If Gradkowski steps up to the challenge and plays brilliantly, then Russell’s contract will become dead weight, killing the salary cap for years to come.
If nothing changes and this team is still as hapless as ever, then the pirate vessel led by Al Davis will appear to be dead in the water with no land in sight.
No matter the outcome, the path that has led the Raiders to this point is seemingly a dead end. A bumpy road littered with disappointment, underachievement, poor personnel decisions, horrible coaching hires and one 6 foot, 6 inch quarterback with a contract worth $60-million who has now officially become the sad face of a once proud franchise.
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