The Raiders have put themselves in the running for the team with the least cost-effective player in the history of football. The end seems near for JaMarcus Russell, the top pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, with the announcement that the Raiders have decided to keep him on the bench as a healthy backup quarterback and allow journeyman Charlie Frye to start on Sunday.
If he hadn’t already, Russell now moves to the head of the conversation -- along with Ryan Leaf and Tony Mandarich – as the biggest draft mistakes in NFL history. Although those players qualify based on when they were picked and their on-field performances – or lack of – Russell makes even a stronger case because of the immense financial ramifications of his selection.
Russell has become the poster child for the problem with the rookie compensation system, rewarding a few players who have never played with more than most Pro Bowlers receive. With that in mind, let’s look at the deal, where it has been and where it might go.
The Raiders -- enamored with Russell’s remarkable arm strength and decent Wonderlic score of 24 – chose him over other top prospects that year, including Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Darrelle Revis and quarterback Brady Quinn (a story for another day).
The selection of Russell brought a massive financial obligation, enhanced by the acknowledged “quarterback premium.” Possessing one of the top picks in the draft has become a financial albatross, a punishment for on-field transgressions the previous season. This might be remedied in collective bargaining, but for now, picking at the top has become a millstone around the necks of NFL teams.
2007: the $3-million rookie season
Russell missed training camp – contributing to the waste of his rookie season (four games, two touchdowns, four interceptions) -- before signing on Sept. 11, 2007. With a record-setting contract, however, the holdout didn’t disturb him financially.
The way rookie deals are structured, with low first-year cap and cash to fit into the snug rookie pool, Russell’s actual 2007 cash payout was all Paragraph 5 (salary) in the amount of $2.976 million.
2008: the $20M second season
Due to the structure of top rookie contracts mentioned above, this is where Russell hit the jackpot.
Russell received a salary advance – similar to a second-year signing bonus -- of $19.9 million. Combined with his salary that year of $370,000, he earned $20.27M in 2008.
2009: the $13M third season
As with the Jake Delhomme contract discussed last week, Russell’s contract allowed the Raiders to – at a significant cost – supersede the existing contract, which they did in February. Although the structure changed a bit, the total amounts of the contract were the same.
Following the supersede, Russell earned a second signing bonus – as if the $20M from 2008 weren’t enough – of $3.44M.
Russell also earned a $1.865M roster bonus in March as part of the superseded contract. That money was similar to the salary advance structure above, and reduced future salary numbers in 2010-2012.
Further, Russell’s Paragraph 5 (salary) amount for this season has been a fully guaranteed $7.8M, approximately $460,000 every week.
In total, Russell will make $13.105M for this season.
2010: the $3M fourth season
Russell’s Paragraph 5 amount for 2010 is $9.45M, a number he has said he will not reduce. Uh, OK. More on that in a bit.
The key number for 2010 is the amount of that salary that’s guaranteed, which is $3M, fully guaranteed for skill and injury. In other words, that’s what the Raiders are on the hook for next season, even if they cut bait with Russell.
2011, 2012: the fifth and sixth seasons
In the category of “for what it’s worth” – since he’s unlikely to see any of this -- Russell has the following nonguaranteed salaries, which were escalated simply by being on the roster:
And the following upside in his contract:
Honors Incentives (Pro Bowl, All-NFL, etc.): up to $4M
Top 5 NFL in TDs, Passer Rating, Passing Yards: up to $600,000 per year
As for these numbers, that’s all they are. Numbers. Russell probably has as much chance making these salaries and incentives as you or I.
Total cash committed
At the end this relationship, which probably can’t come soon enough for the Raiders, they will have paid Russell the following:
*Guaranteed, even if released.
Grand total: $39.4 million!
What did almost $40M buy the Raiders?
So far, Russell has appeared in 29 games, has been sacked 67 times for 444 yards, has an average yards per attempt of 6.0 and a passer rating of 65.0 -- all statistics that would put him near the bottom of the league in any year.
The cash and cap hit
If (when) Russell has played his last game as a Raider in a couple of weeks, let’s look at the ramifications.
In terms of cash, the only remaining obligation is the $3M guarantee for 2010.
As far as the salary cap, the Raiders would accelerate $12M into 2010 from the unamortized portion of the salary advance, the roster bonus, the signing bonus and the future guarantee. That acceleration would be in addition to the $5.8M of proration already on the books for 2010, making a cap charge of almost $18M for Russell in the event he is not on the 2010 roster.
With the increasing likelihood of no cap in 2010, the Raiders can theoretically absorb this charge. However, league sources tell me there will be some accounting regulations put in place to deal with cap-dumping in the uncapped year. What those rules will be remains unclear.
The bottom line
There you have it: $39.4M in cash committed with a potential $18M cap hit for a player it appears the Raiders can’t purge soon enough.
It’s hard to believe there’s ever been so much paid for so little.
Russell should be financially secure for life as well as his family. But he may soon have to declare bankruptcy on his career.
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