Commentary

Jason Campbell goes under the big top

The newest Raiders QB just finished the first of what will be many strange weekends

Originally Published: May 3, 2010
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

The great thing about the Raiders is that they can still surprise you. Well, not you. But they can still surprise someone.

"Someone," for purposes of today's discussion, would be erstwhile Redskins passer Jason Campbell, who got off the phone with Raiders officials a couple of weeks ago feeling quite certain that they were trading for him in order to make him their starting quarterback. That may yet happen. It certainly should happen.

But if Campbell expects a smooth transition from the JaMarcus Russell "era" to whatever comes next, he reveals himself as a person who -- and I'm strictly guessing here -- has never read, heard or discussed one thing about the Raiders in the modern history of the franchise.

[+] EnlargeCampbell/Russell
AP Photo/Ben MargotIf Al Davis can't choose between JaMarcus Russell (No. 2) and Jason Campbell (No. 8), maybe he'll make them co-starters.

In other words: Sure, it's a circus. You saw the big top as you approached the grounds, right?

Nobody does distraction like the Raiders. It is a calling card. They're incredibly good at it. When the trade for Campbell went through, the immediate assumption was that Russell's career in Oakland was over -- and that was just a daffy assumption on every count. Again, you've got to know your Raiders history.

One: Al Davis still owns the team.

Two: Davis has uttered virtually no words critical of Russell, whom he made the No. 1 overall pick in 2007.

Three: Davis publicly backed Russell over Lane Kiffin in 2008, famously intoning, "He is a great player. Get over it and coach this team on the field."

And four: Al Davis still owns the team. We did mention that, didn't we?

Cutting Russell, who has a $6.45 million payday coming if he stays on the Oakland roster, makes too much sense for it to actually happen in what football people might consider a timely manner. Memo to Jason Campbell: You're on Raiders Standard Time now. Things happen when they happen, or they don't happen at all, or -- well, use your imagination. Take your top pizza dream, amplify it a dozen times or so, and you're still scratching the surface of the essential strangeness that is Davis' organization right this very moment.

When Tom Cable answered a question at the end of last season by making it clear he thought the Raiders were a playoff team if only he hadn't been saddled with Russell at quarterback, it was widely assumed that he'd get whacked. Nope.

[+] EnlargeAl Davis
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesNothing is ever as it seems when Davis is calling the shots, so maybe Campbell shouldn't have been surprised last weekend.

When Cable subsequently survived weeks of speculation with his job intact, it was widely assumed that he had won the JaMarcus argument with Davis, or at least won over Davis to his way of thinking. But there was Russell at minicamp last weekend, ostensibly competing for the starting job. And Cable was the one who had to stand there and say so.

It was amazing burlesque, the whole thing. Russell, rumored to be tipping the scales at close to 300 pounds during the offseason, showed up looking close to his normal weight of 260 or 265. He had a good enough first day to stir a little buzz among the cognoscenti, but those who stayed for the rest of the OTA slowly began to recognize the Russell they knew, saying he regressed a bit with each practice session.

And the Raiders managed to make the situation 20 times more bizarre than it needed to be, because that's what they do. They assigned Eddie Anderson, a former safety and current assistant, basically to bodyguard Russell from the media, with Anderson swatting down almost every relevant question that came Russell's way.

It was a surreal scene, with Russell beginning to answer questions only to have Anderson jump in and cut off the conversation. When a reporter asked about the possibility that Russell would agree to restructure his huge contract, Anderson quickly replied, "We're not discussing that, either." But Russell tried to answer anyway, saying, "No" loudly over Anderson's protesting voice. When a question turned to Russell's weight, Anderson simply ended the interview.

Where it goes from here is unclear, although the educated guess is that Oakland will eventually make the call to cut Russell and save the cash. But don't bank on that. Al Davis runs this show, and he is contrarian to the core.

P.S. This is your team, Jason Campbell. Don't waste a minute. Start getting used to the strangeness now.

Mark Kreidler is a longtime contributor to ESPN.com. His most recent book, "Six Good Innings," was named one of the Top 10 Sports Books of 2009 by Booklist. Reach him at mark@markkreidler.com.

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