Arizona Cardinals Should Take the JaMarcus Russell Plunge
Anyone who has kept close tabs on NFL football since the end of last season has heard one of the more interesting stories flying under the radar. Former Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell, after famously wrecking his career following his first overall selection in the 2007 draft, declared his intention to return. A lot of people, famous and otherwise, just about hit the floor laughing. How could a man who earned a reputation for laziness and lack of interest in the game possibly draw the interest of teams who left him for dead years ago? Recent developments suggest he’s more serious than initially thought.
Russell cleared first hurdle of NFL comeback
When the former LSU star made his bold promise to come back, his doubters instantly pointed out his fatal flaw. Russell weighed over 310 pounds, the same as an offensive lineman. They said unless he somehow got that down back to where it was when the Raiders drafted him, there was no hope. Luckily the 27-year old convinced some highly respected coaches and former players to help him. Among them was Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, who stated when he talked to JaMarcus he could tell the kid was "dead serious” about his mission. So the seven-time Pro Bowler took time from his busy schedule to assist in the training.
Fast forward a few months and the doubters got their first answer. A recent report from the TEST Academy out of California is that Russell dropped 50 pounds during his furious workouts there. His current weight sits at 265, exactly where it was when he first drew the eyes of scouts during pre-draft workouts. At age 27 and boasting a big 6’6” frame, it hasn’t taken long for teams start regaining interest. Sources from NFL.com say more than one have kept a close eye on his progress. The weight drop is by far the most promising sign yet. Russell furthered that by saying in a much humbler tone that his goal for the moment is to join a team where he can sit on the bench and learn behind a proven starter. That is far away from how he spoke and acted in Oakland. If his improvement continues it may be just a matter of time before a team takes a chance on him.
Results under Arians
Peyton Manning: Two Pro Bowls, 26 or more TD passes in three-straight seasons
Ben Roethlisberger: Two Pro Bowls, two Super Bowl berths, one Super Bowl title
Andrew Luck: One Pro Bowl, rookie record 4,374 yards passing
Cardinals have rare opportunity with Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer
While there is no shortage of teams that would like a physical specimen like Russell to groom, the team that can and should make the move are the Arizona Cardinals. The long-time hard luck franchise has endured woeful quarterback problems since Kurt Warner retired. They failed to land a project in the April draft, which means their hopes are pinned on what head coach Bruce Arians can do with veteran Carson Palmer. Coincidentally, it is exactly this tandem that can get Russell over the biggest hurdle to completing his comeback.
The first key is the Cardinals franchise itself. By its history and positioning on the NFL map, it is not a large media hub. That means if Russell goes there he wouldn’t have to worry about much attention from national news outlets. Another aspect is their proven track record of building offense. Arizona still has star receiver Larry Fitzgerald and has since added some excellent pieces in Michael Floyd, Jonathan Cooper and Ryan Swope. That offers a chance of sustained success down the road.
Next is Palmer. At age 34 his time in the league isn’t long. Still, he is an accomplished veteran with loads of experience on what it takes to play at a high level. He threw for over 4,000 yards last season and went to a Pro Bowl in 2005 and 2006. His knowledge is invaluable to a guy like Russell, who is far more athletically gifted.
However the critical man in the equation is Arians. The 60-year old coach has had success for years as an offensive coordinator. Among his most storied accomplishments is what he has done with quarterbacks. Since entering the league in 1998, he has coached Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck into Pro Bowl players. His two Super Bowl rings in Pittsburgh are a testament to that success. Who better to rescue a lost soul like Russell; a player that features very similar physical attributes to Roethlisberger?
Where does JaMarcus Russell fit best?
Time (and the CFL) will tell
Put in simpler terms, Arizona needs a young understudy for Arians. Since they won’t find any with much promise in free agency, Russell is the perfect low risk/high reward gamble. They can sign him to a cheap, one-year deal. If he does his job and blossoms, they score a huge victory. If not, they cut him loose and move on. There is a lot to like about what JaMarcus is doing. He isn’t just trying to play football again. He’s trying to prove there is more to him than physical talent and a ten-cent brain. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, or even if he has to head north to the CFL first. The comeback continues. Arizona should be watching.