JaMarcus Russell gets his first crack at a second lease on an NFL career today when he works out for the Bears along side fellow journeymen/retreads Jordan Palmer and Trent Edwards.
Russell is currently considered one of the biggest draft busts of all time, right up there with Ryan Leaf. In his disastrous time in Oakland he made around $39 million, completed 52.1 percent of his passes, threw 18 touchdowns to 23 interceptions, had a 65.2 passer rating and had a 7-18 record as a starter.
He also had trouble maintaining his weight and shortly after his time with the Raiders came to an end he had his infamous Purple Drank arrest. His maturity and work ethic were all continuously questioned and it seemed he was destined to go down as another big bust.
However, early this year Russell has rededicated himself to clearing his name of the "bust" label and has worked hard to drop upwards of 50 pounds and try to set himself up for another shot at the NFL.
I say, good on him. Every athlete has to have some level of pride and I imagine it is difficult to accept failure, especially at a level that he or she has worked to get to their whole life and is so public. Russell may not have had the work ethic to succeed, but that can still be separate from personal pride and maturation.
Russell worked with former NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia to get back into the league. Here is what he said on WMVP-AM 1000 the other day,
"I believe that he's come a long way," Garcia said. "Even though we're looking at a short period of time, he definitely pushed his body to the limit. He went into a situation where he had to physically and mentally challenge himself to get into a better place in his own life for his own happiness. He definitely has done that over the past 4 ½, 5 months. I would hope that he will demonstrate and continue to have what we would like to say (is) creating better habits, creating better daily habits. I think when he looks back at what he did or didn't do when he was with the Raiders for those three seasons, he's got to understand what he could have done better, what he wasn't doing at that time, what he needs to do today as a person, as a player, if given an opportunity. Hopefully he realizes that, understands that.
So perhaps Russell has matured and decided that he has what it takes and, perhaps more importantly, he knows what he needs to do what it takes, to make it in the NFL. That alone makes it worth an NFL team kicking his tires and seeing what he's got.
Which leads to the larger point: Russell could be good for the Bears.
Right now the team is relatively thing at QB. Jay Cutler is entrenched as the starter and that's fine. He's good and everyone is anxious to see how he fares with new coach Marc Trestman's offense. However, Cutler doesn't have a contract beyond this year. Behind Cutler on the depth chart are 33-year-old Josh McCown and second-year undrafted Matt Blanchard.
The team knows what it has in McCown: a veteran journeyman who is a valuable veteran for what he can give a team in game preparation; breaking down film and helping on game day by breaking down defenses on the sidelines. If needed he can come in and be a game manager-type QB who can play not to lose. The best evidence of that is from back in December of 2011 when he replaced the ineffective Caleb Hanie and started the last two games of the season against Green Bay and Minnesota. He went 1-1, throwing 2 TDs, 3 INTs and completed over 60% of his passes. Solid, if unspectacular.
Blanchard is the unknown. He played D-III football and has a decent arm, but who knows if or when he would be ready to contribute on the NFL level? He is a promising prospect but there isn't a lot of evidence to say he could step in and be the guy for years at a time if Cutler is gone after this year.
So why not kick the tires on Russell and the others? First of all, the team has all but said that this isn't an audition for a roster spot, it's more of a Rolodex-building exercise. If one of the Bears' QBs gets hurt, who are they going to call? This is about Emery and Trestman doing their due dilligence and exploring all options to make sure they have the best possible roster heading into training camp, plus a couple of plan D, E, and F guys if injuries pile up down the road.
If Russell is better than McCown and comes at the same price, why not sign him? Trestman is a supposed QB-guru, so if he sees something in Russell, then great, let him sit behind Cutler and get some more molding into an NFL player and then if called upon step in. At worst, he ends up being the same as McCown at the same price. At best, he might be a player to compete with whomever if Cutler isn't here next year.
And if he's worse than McCown? Then the team doesn't sign him and knows who not to call if an injury bug bites.
The regime is merely doing what they should do in June; explore all options to make the team better. Russell might be bad, but it's worth finding out.