The slumping Washington Redskins have been granted permission by the Oakland Raiders to speak with Darrell Russell, ESPN.com has learned through team and league officials, but have not yet been able to initiate a dialogue with the defensive tackle, who has been reinstated by the NFL following a drug suspension.
The second overall choice in the 1997 draft, but a player who has not appeared in a game since 2001, Russell is expected to be released by the Raiders sometime early this week. ESPN's Chris Mortensen first reported Sunday that Russell, 27, was reinstated.
Russell will be subject to waivers after the Raiders release him, but no team is expected to claim him, since it would have to assume his current contract, which calls for a base salary of $10 million for 2003 and rises to $12 million in '05, the final year of the deal. Assuming that Russell clears waivers, he will become an unrestricted free agent, and able to strike an agreement with any team in the league.
That the Redskins already have permission to speak with Russell is significant, because it provides Washington a head-start in possible negotiations, and thus gives the club a small edge over other potential suitors. But as of Monday afternoon, the Redskins had not yet reached Russell, although team officials have spoken to his attorney, David Cornwell, and have conducted background checks on the player.
Russell has been represented by Leigh Steinberg since he entered the NFL but has been recently interviewing other agents and is expected to make a switch.
It is also key that the Redskins have permission from the Raiders, because it would likely be a violation of NFL anti-tampering rules for them to otherwise deal with Russell. The Redskins came under league scrutiny earlier this year for an alleged tampering violation in the case of safety Lawyer Milloy.
That investigation turned up no wrongdoing and, while the books have not been closed on it, it essentially has faded away quietly.
Russell tested positive for the designer drug Ecstasy in 2001, and he began that season serving a four-game suspension, but the sanction then was elevated to an indefinite one. While under league suspension, Russell was charged with drugging a woman with GHB, the so-called "date rape drug," and videotaping two friends allegedly raping her. But all 25 counts in that case were dropped in Sept. 2002 for lack of evidence.
Mortensen reported on Sunday that the Redskins could reach a deal with Russell by mid-week and that is certainly a possibility. But Russell has told friends that he would like to explore other options as well. At this point, though, Washington might be one of the few teams interested in Russell with sufficient cap room to sign him. The Redskins are about $1.4 million under the spending limit.
Before his suspension, the former Southern California star appeared in 75 games, starting in 65 of them, and had 229 tackles, 28 ½ sacks and five forced fumbles.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.