Why the Steelers Should Give JaMarcus Russell a Shot at a Spot on Their Bench

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVJune 3, 2013

JaMarcus Russell's improbable attempt at an NFL comeback has drawn the interest of at least a few teams; here's why the Pittsburgh Steelers should be one of them.
JaMarcus Russell's improbable attempt at an NFL comeback has drawn the interest of at least a few teams; here's why the Pittsburgh Steelers should be one of them.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers appear to have their quarterback depth chart filled out, with starter Ben Roethlisberger backed up by veteran free-agent addition Bruce Gradkowski and 2013 draft pick Landry Jones.

But perhaps they have room for one more passer on their roster—JaMarcus Russell.

Russell, the Oakland Raiders' 2007 draft pick and first overall selection, lasted in the NFL until just 2009 and is one of the most notorious busts in league history. However, he's been on the comeback trail this year, working out to slim down to his old playing weight and trying to show teams that he's a changed person—more dedicated, mature and committed to finally living up to his potential. 

This hard work—Russell is now down to 265 pounds, the weight he was at his NFL Scouting Combine appearance back in 2007—seems to be close to paying off, with NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reporting last week that "more than one team" has a lot of interest in signing Russell. According to Rapoport, Russell is looking for a situation that would allow him to ride the bench for a year or two behind an established starter and relearn the ropes with an eye for a starting shot down the line.

That's why the Steelers look like an ideal fit for Russell.

They could bring him in prior to training camp and have him compete with Gradkowski (something Russell is familiar with, as the two were together in Oakland). Should Russell impress enough, the Steelers could then opt to keep Russell on as Roethlisberger's primary backup, giving him the perfect NFL re-education in the process.

There are many situations from which Russell could benefit, such as with the New Orleans Saints behind surgical passer Drew Brees or with the New England Patriots, where Russell can be kept in a media-protected bubble thanks to the powers of control their head coach, Bill Belichick, is so adept at wielding. However, if Russell wants to reacclimate himself, nothing will help him more than sitting behind Roethlisberger.

The fact that both Russell and Roethlisberger are big—Russell is 6'6" and, as reported, 265 pounds, while Roethlisberger is 6'5" and 241 pounds—means that Russell can study behind someone who plays the game carrying a similar frame. Watching and learning from Roethlisberger will allow Russell to see how he can use his size to an advantage—such as when to elude and when to take hits—as well as how to balance his large size with an equally large throwing arm. 

The presence of Roethlisberger would also mean that Russell can step into a situation under very little pressure.

By joining the Steelers, Russell will know that there's little chance of him being a starter in Pittsburgh—instead, his time there would be more like a stepping stone, a training ground that will allow him time to prove he's worthy of some other team's starting attention after making the most of his chances in the black and gold. He can focus with few distractions while also being in a situation where he himself won't become a distraction either.

Should the Steelers make a run at Russell, they would be taking only the most minor of risks. They'll have themselves a bona fide former No. 1 overall draft pick for what's likely to be a very small sum. Though there's no guarantee that he'd perform well enough in training camp to unseat Gradkowski on the depth chart, if he doesn't, the Steelers won't look foolish for giving him a shot.

The best-case scenario—that Russell's improvement is steady and impressive and he sticks on the roster for a year or two—would then afford the Steelers the opportunity to benefit from a trade of Russell to a quarterback-needy team who has been adequately convinced of Russell's abilities. With salary-cap woes likely to continue in Pittsburgh for a few more seasons, having a player who commands a hefty trade value could be quite useful. 

Russell's presence in Pittsburgh would be of no threat to Roethlisberger's starting job—he'd be merely passing through, hoping to leave the team better than when he arrived to it—while also allowing the Steelers to have the right backup in place for their starter. Their investment into Russell's improvement would then turn into an investment into their own roster, granted they are able to transform him into a starting-caliber player and flip him in a trade. 

Though there's been no indication that the Steelers are one of the teams with serious interest in Russell's services, the potential for him to be a good fit in Pittsburgh is certainly there. There may be no better quarterback from whom Russell can learn during his transition back into the NFL than Roethlisberger, and there may be no team better suited to take Russell on, no matter how strange the idea initially seems.