Deal exceeds Russell's financial goals, but holdout hinders playing time

Updated: September 13, 2007, 12:29 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

The devil, they say, is in the details. And the early details on the six-year contract that JaMarcus Russell officially signed Wednesday seem to indicate the former LSU quarterback and first overall pick in the 2007 draft landed a devil of a deal.

One that even his mother acknowledged was worth the prolonged negotiations and the loss of all of training camp in Russell's rookie season.

"Oh, it was worth the wait," said Zina Russell-Anderson, who accompanied her son to the Bay Area, referring to a holdout that had dragged on for more than six weeks. "It was well worth the wait. It's a great contract."

At least financially, that appears to be the case for Russell, who Wednesday afternoon took part in his first practice.

Negotiated by agents Eric Metz, Ethan Lock and Vance Malinovic, the contract carries a maximum value of $68 million, a league rookie record. There are $31.5 million in guarantees and an additional $3 million in 2010, provided Russell simply reaches minimum playing time benchmarks.

But the real strength of the contract, hammered out in four days of marathon face-to-face negotiations, lies in its attractive payout schedule.

Russell, 22, can earn $34.5 million over the first three seasons of the contract, an increase of about 65 percent over the $20.95 million Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams, the top overall selection in the 2006 draft, figures to bank in the first three years of his deal.

In the first four years of the contract, Russell can make $44 million.

When the negotiations began, Russell's representation team set a maximum cash-flow goal of $30 million for the first three years and $40 million for the first four seasons. The final deal, which required at least seven drafts, 30-plus pages and hours of tediously poring over contract language on Monday night and Tuesday morning, exceed those targets.

The downside, of course, is that Russell missed important practice time, and likely forfeited any chance to win the starting job.

Russell mostly took part in individual drills Wednesday, but also ran some plays for the scout team. Coach Lane Kiffin said he looked in good shape and was not rusty, but said he will have to figure out how to make up for the lost time with extra practices that don't limit the time of the starting quarterback.

"He's at a definite disadvantage," Kiffin said. "You're talking about hundreds and hundreds of reps in preseason and being in games. We can't simulate what he missed. That's put him in a tough situation."

Russell 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 Auburn tailback Bo Jackson declined to sign altogether with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1986.

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.

Adjusting to the NFL is has not been easy of late for quarterbacks. The three quarterbacks taken in the first round a year ago all started games last season. But they all were in training camp and played in the exhibition season. Denver quarterback Jay Cutler, who started the final five games as a rookie last season, said he doesn't believe he ever would have gotten in if he hadn't participated in training camp.

"He's an exceptional athlete, exceptional quarterback but it's a position where if you rush somebody in there bad things can happen," Cutler said. "He's going to come along fine but it's going to take a little bit."

For now, the Raiders are just happy to have their quarterback of the future under contract. His teammates said his late arrival wasn't much of a distraction because they didn't expect him to play much early in the season anyway.

"Coming in we kind of already knew that whether he was here or not, he probably wasn't going to be the starter for the first game, so we just moved on," receiver Ronald Curry said.

Information from ESPN.com senior NFL writer Len Pasquarelli and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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