JaMarcus Russell's recent sighting at the Palms casino in Las Vegas brings with it a stench most foul. That he had been excused from the final team meeting for “personal reasons” only to turn up in Sin City is an indictment of his commitment to the team. It also fails the overall smell test for a number of reasons, and frankly it validates nearly everything that has been said about him.
Russell's lackluster performance and leadership were crucial aspects of the Raiders ending the season with yet another year of double digit losses. Upon his benching following a week nine loss to Kansas City, the offense came alive. It could not be planned any better if it was a laboratory controlled experiment. There was a one game difference in the lengths of the Russell-led era and the post Russell era, so it becomes a fair comparison. The difference between the first nine games and last seven games was night and day.
The evidence against Russell the player came when he took over at halftime in two of the games where he entered the game following the halftime intermission. Those games resulted in two of the losses of the post-benching era. In those two games, the offense instantly regressed once Russell took the field. In those four quarters the Raiders managed only one Sebastian Janikowski field goal, and had multiple opportunities derailed by Russell's mistakes. To be fair, he did enter in relief during week fifteen in the fourth quarter and an abysmal start, he was able to lead a game winning drive.
The lack of faith in the young signal caller as a player and as a leader could not have been any more stark than head coach Tom Cable's decision to keep him on the bench to start out the season finale. In the process of announcing that decision, Cable was asked if Russell could be great and he bluntly put the ball in Russell's court, “I think that every human being has choices to make and the choices you make dictate who you are and what you become.” He followed up, “I think that its pretty clear what he has to do. He has to learn how to take care of business on a daily basis consistently and prepare himself and take care of his development as a quarterback. We would be here forever to discuss all those things. There is a lot of them.”
Russell played a half in week 17 and was far from impressive. He assessed his performance over the year as “shaky” and “like a roller coaster.” He also conceded that he had to “work on everything.”
However, talk is cheap. Starting the offseason by missing the final team meeting so he can fly to Sin City adds to the stench surrounding his career to this point.
It has to be wondered what he was thinking. As a starting quarterback in the NFL he is going to be recognized. Even more so, the name JaMarcus Russell is definitely going to be recognized, especially considering that Vegas is home to a large population of Raider fans. He should know that as a top pick, especially one who has struggled that every move he makes will be put under the microscope, not only by the Raider Nation, but also by those in the media.
Running off to a gambling mecca immediately following a disappointing season where his mistakes had direct outcomes in games is going to raise questions regarding his judgment, at best. At the worst it could create the perception that would ultimately become a death sentence for him to have any hope of a career, in that his integrity was compromised. The fact of the matter is that perceptions can easily obscure the reality, and what happens in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas. As a public figure, Russell has to understand that anything that becomes a perception will be thought of as a fact by many.
This incident just further illustrates Coach Cable's assertion that Russell needs to make the right decisions. It is hard to imagine one of the elite quarterbacks getting out of a final team meeting to go to Vegas. He extended his middle finger to his fans, teammates, coaches, and the man who signs his contract, Al Davis.