Sports

First pick, final arrival

ALAMEDA -- The hardest day for JaMarcus Russell during his 48-day contract dispute with the Raiders was the first, when his teammates reported to training camp and he stayed home.

Russell then watched all the other first-round rookies sign their multimillion-dollar deals, figuring his payday was coming soon. But Russell could only work out on his own in Atlanta as his teammates went through training camp, four exhibition games and the season opener without him.

Russell finally joined them Wednesday after signing a record contract for rookies and ending the longest holdout by the No. 1 pick in more than two decades.

"I know there's a business side of it, but I didn't know the business side was going to happen to me that fast," Russell said.

In the end, Russell was guaranteed a record $29 million in his six-year, $61 million deal, according to two people familiar with the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity because the terms weren't released. He'll earn an additional $3 million if he reaches minimal playing time incentives.

The previous record deal for a rookie was when the Detroit Lions gave No. 2 pick Calvin Johnson $27.2 million in guarantees this year. Top pick Mario Williams received $26.5 million in guaranteed money a year ago from Houston.

"Once I signed the contract, I did drop a few tears just to know that I'm a blessed person," Russell said. "Very blessed to be in the place I am today ... and I can't wait to go out there and work even harder."

While working out on his own, Russell was in regular contact with quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and occasionally heard from his teammates. He also heard suggestions from the fans in Atlanta, who wanted him to engineer a trade to the Falcons to replace Michael Vick.

Russell participated in two minicamps and other offseason workouts with the Raiders and said he knew the offense well enough to recognize some of the plays while watching the team's opener Sunday against Detroit. There also were many changes in his time away, and he admitted it felt awkward to be back after so much time away.

He said he's ready to do what his coaches ask of him, whether it's "to be the biggest cheerleader or be that biggest playmaker." The competitive side of him wants to play now, but he knows reality probably will be different.

"I feel like I'm a ways away," he said. "I have the whole year and the rest of my life -- that's what it seems like -- to get used to everything."

One interested observer joked that the Raiders should try to capitalize on their investment immediately and start him against Denver on Sunday.

"I personally think they should start him this week," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said in a conference call. "If they're paying him that kind of money, they should throw him into the fire and put him in against the Broncos."

Fat chance that will happen, as the Raiders will wait two weeks until they even place Russell on the roster.

Russell mostly took part in individual drills Wednesday but also ran plays for the scout team. Coach Lane Kiffin said he looked in good shape and wasn't rusty but said he'll 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 became the top pick after going 25-4 as LSU's starting quarterback. He finished his career with the Tigers by throwing the second-most touchdown passes (52) and having the second-highest completion percentage (61.9 percent) in school history.

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