Al Davis' grievance against JaMarcus Russell, in which he seeks to reclaim $9.55 million paid the quarterback during his time with the Raiders, is a fascinating study. While the grievance is based on the team's assertion that the money was an advance against future salary, it seems safe to assume it was inspired by Russell's woeful play.
So while the upcoming hearing is ostensibly about contractual clauses and guaranteed money, it's not difficult to imagine the proceedings degenerating into ritual finger-pointing. It's easier still when you have First Court of Surreal at your disposal.
As the proceedings begin, an arbiter is taking his seat behind a large oak desk. Davis, resplendent in a white-on-black ensemble, is seated at a table to his right. Russell, wearing a large raccoon coat, is seated to his left.
Arbiter: We are on the record in the case of Davis v. Russell, albeit after a 15-minute delay.
Russell (attaching a large diamond stud to his left earlobe): Sorry. I had a little trouble getting through the metal detector.
Arbiter: Do you think you should have left earlier to make sure you were on time?
Russell: Personally, I don't think so. Do you?
Davis: I'm going to dominate this hearing.
Arbiter: Quiet, please. Mr. Davis, please tell us why you have requested remuneration for $9.55 million of the money you paid Mr. Russell.
Davis: We signed him to a six-year contract worth $68 million, $32 million guaranteed. We paid him $39 million — $9.55 million of which was against future nonguaranteed salary.
Arbiter: Why did you do that?
Davis: He said he needed the money for QVC's annual Jewelry Jamboree.
Arbiter: Mr. Russell?
Russell: He wrote me the checks, I cashed them. That's how the NFL works.
Davis: What do you know about work?
Arbiter: OK, let's calm down. Mr. Davis, I understand the contractual technicalities involved here, but isn't there also some underlying anger on your part?
Davis: You'd be angry too, if you took a quarterback with the first pick in the draft, gave him the biggest rookie contract in league history, then got a 65.2 passer rating in return. JaMarcus simply didn't have the dedication of the great ones — Lamonica, Upshaw, Plunkett ...
Arbiter: Thank you, Mr. Davis.
Davis: I wasn't finished — Otto, Hendricks, Brown.
Arbiter: We get the point, Mr. Davis. What type of behavior did you observe that led you to feel this way?
Davis: JaMarcus spent his first training camp as a holdout. When he finally signed, he didn't study the playbook like he should. He fell asleep in meetings. He became overweight.
Arbiter: Mr. Russell, let's hear your side of the story. Mr. Russell? Bailiff, is he asleep?
Russell: Mmnff ... hrmph ... What?
Arbiter: Your turn, Mr. Russell.
Russell: They stuck me with coaches who couldn't coach, receivers who couldn't catch, linemen who couldn't block. Then Coach Cable started pulling me from games, like it was all my fault. Nobody could win with that team.
Arbiter: Mr. Davis, your response?
Davis: We fired Lane Kiffin to make things easier for JaMarcus. We brought in Paul Hackett to work with him. We took Darrius Heyward-Bey with the seventh pick in the draft.
Russell: Yeah, thanks for that.
Davis: The bottom line is it's hard to support someone who's never around. JaMarcus missed meetings and workouts. You never saw him in the facility after hours or on Tuesdays.
Arbiter: Isn't Tuesday the players' day off?
Davis: It is, but that never stopped, uh ... No. 12.
Arbiter: I'm sorry, who?
Davis: He Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned In My Presence.
Arbiter: Again, Mr. Davis, I don't follow ... Excuse me. Bailiff? Please give Mr. Russell a shake. He seems to have fallen asleep again.
Russell: Ffnph ... Wha ...? Right here, coach.
Arbiter: Mr. Russell, Mr. Davis asserts that you didn't put in the requisite effort implied by your contract.
Russell: Hey, the only overtime I know of in the NFL is when you're tied after four quarters on Sunday.
Davis: Why, if I was 20 years younger ...
Arbiter: OK, settle down. I think we've heard enough testimony. And while I understand this grievance is rooted in legalities, it would be a mistake to overlook the emotions involved. With that in mind, I have arrived at what I believe is a fair and just decision.
Davis and Russell: Yes?
Arbiter: I'm awarding the $9.55 million to Raiders season ticket holders. They deserve it more than either one of you.
Contact Gary Peterson at email@example.com.