Sources: No. 1 pick Russell, Raiders set to start talking again

Updated: September 7, 2007, 7:10 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

In an effort to further close the gap in negotiations, and perhaps hammer out a contract for top overall draft pick JaMarcus Russell before the start of the season, the representatives for the former LSU quarterback are set to meet Friday with Oakland Raiders officials, according to sources.

The scheduled talks, at an undisclosed location, will be the first face-to-face negotiations in about two weeks. The two sides previously met in Los Angeles, and were believed to have opened a solid and ongoing dialogue, but progress has been incremental since then.

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Russell's uncle, Ray Russell, who serves as a counselor of sorts to the quarterback, told USAToday earlier this week that he felt the two sides were close to a deal. But first-year coach Lane Kiffin debunked that notion and sources told ESPN.com that a contract accord was not yet imminent.

That could change, of course, with the parties eyeballing each other from their respective sides of the bargaining table. Over the past two weeks, the sides have exchanged not only contract figures but also structures and philosophies via phone and fax. But dealing with each other in person at least holds some potential for the kind of breakthrough it might require to finally get a deal done.

Russell, 22, has now staged one of the longest holdouts by a rookie in recent history. In 2002, offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, the first-round choice of the Minnesota Vikings that year, missed the first eight games of the regular season. In terms of top overall picks, no one has held out longer than Russell since tailback Bo Jackson declined to sign with Tampa Bay altogether in 1986.

Neither the Raiders nor agent Eric Metz has publicly commented on negotiations, or on the differences that have kept a deal from being completed. It is believed, though, that one key sticking point is over the amount of guaranteed money in the deal.

Sources told ESPN.com that, relatively early in the talks, the Raiders made two six-year proposals, both with a maximum value in the $60 million range. One proposal called for $31 million in total bonuses, and the other included $30 million in bonus money. Sources said that, for cash-flow purposes, the offer with $30 million in bonuses was probably the superior proposal of the two.

It is believed that Russell's representatives, who disagree with the amount the Raiders claim would be guaranteed in their proposals, are seeking $35 million in bonuses. The second overall choice in the draft, former Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, signed a six-year contract with the Detroit Lions that guaranteed him $27.1 million.

It is unlikely that Russell could be of much help to the Raiders until later in the season and, even if he signed before Sunday's regular-season opener against Detroit, the Raiders might seek a two-week exemption from the league so that the quarterback would not immediately count against their roster. Still, several people close to the negotiations said the talks have taken more of a sense of urgency in recent days.

During his three seasons as the LSU starter, Russell completed 493 of 797 passes for 6,625 yards, with 52 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.