For Al Davis, It's So Hard to Say Goodbye
The Oakland Raiders' mandatory three-day minicamp begins Friday, and the organization is still contemplating whether to allow overpriced, overweight former No. 1 overall draft pick JaMarcus Russell anywhere near the team's practice fields in Alameda, Calif.
While there has been overriding support in the Raiders organization to release Russell and thereby absolve the franchise from $6.45 million in 2010 salary liability should the maligned former starting quarterback injure himself on their property during the minicamp, any personnel move falls under owner Al Davis' thumb. And that makes it anyone's guess.
"Things change by the minute here," one Raiders source said Wednesday when asked for the latest update on Russell's status.
"Don't know anymore," another team source said.
The Raiders acquired former Redskins starting quarterback Jason Campbell on Day 3 of last weekend's NFL Draft, giving up a 2012 fourth-round pick for a player pegged as the frontrunner to start this season. Davis reinforced that notion by immediately signing Campbell to a contract extension that reportedly will pay him $3.14 million in 2010, plus a $100,000 workout bonus, and $4.5 million in 2011.
On Tuesday, multiple Raiders and NFL sources indicated the Raiders were preparing to release Russell, primarily to prevent a costly injury settlement if he reports to minicamp.
Then there was this -- the team said it would not make Campbell available to Bay Area media until Friday, the first day of the minicamp. The delay in formally introducing Campbell, sources said, would give the Raiders time to dump Russell while allowing their new quarterback to be the focus of his news conference, rather than forcing him to submit to questions about his predecessor.
There are two scenarios emerging that will do nothing to appease long-suffering Raiders fans and Russell's fed-up teammates, many of whom openly expressed doubt late last season that he could lead them effectively.
• Russell and his agent, Ethan Lock, may agree to restructure Russell's scheduled base salary of $6.45 million. That seems unlikely, given Russell's previous statements that he would not agree to a salary reduction. Lock did not return phone calls nor e-mails seeking comment.
• Despite the financial risk, Davis, who made Russell the top pick in the 2007 draft, may not be willing to bow to public pressure and cut bait with a quarterback who has cost him $39 million in exchange for 38 turnovers (15 fumbles, 23 interceptions) and only 18 touchdowns in 25 starts.
Why wouldn't Davis concede he made a terrible mistake by drafting Russell and paying him so much for so little?
Consider Davis' now-infamous "You're Fired" letter to former coach Lane Kiffin, made public via overhead projector in September 2008. It spelled out the owner's belief in Russell's potential quite succinctly.
Here is paragraph six of the letter, dated Sept. 12, 2008, entitled, "Dear Lane":
"I do realize that you did not want us to draft JaMarcus Russell. He is a great player. Get over it and coach this team on the field, that is what you were hired to do. We can win with this team!"
With that in mind, only Davis knows whether he can fully separate himself -- and his franchise's fortune -- from that undeniable vote of confidence for Russell.