THE RAIDERS HAD a great weekend. That's right, great. As for the ensuing 17 weekends, let's not ruin the mood just yet.
Cutting Jeff Garcia was the first thing the Raiders did right, making this unquestionably JaMarcus Russell's team.
Trading for New England Patriots defensive tackle Richard Seymour was the Raiders' next shrewd move, meaning their porous defense has no more excuses.
Seymour probably doesn't think this weekend was so great. Going from the NFL's best franchise to one of its worst can spoil a Labor Day barbecue. He'll have to get over it and report to his cubicle (sidebar: there's talk he might boycott; sidebar II: his agent also represents Michael Crabtree, the 49ers' still-unsigned top draft pick).
Don't let the Seymour trade overshadow Garcia's departure and its aftershock. This season hinges on Russell's development. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing against Seymour.
Garcia never threatened Russell's role as their starting quarterback. Garcia served his purpose: To push Russell all offseason.
Boot camp is finished. The Raiders' regular season starts Monday night at home against the San Diego Chargers.
For the Raiders, this is Russell's time, and that dwarfs any desire to retain Garcia as insurance for any playoff misconceptions.
The partnership of Russell and Al Davis define the Raiders' future.
That's why we must translate how this weekend's bulletins — Garcia's exit visa, Seymour's entrance — will impact the big dude who wears jersey No. 2 but is No. 1 in our collective thoughts.
Russell had a long leash entering this season. Now, he doesn't even have a collar or a leash. (Michael Vick hasn't ruined all analogies between NFL quarterbacks and dogs, has he?)
Davis, as he should, is openly devoted to No. 2 (Russell's jersey, pay attention). Davis now must find ways to further motivate and groom The Deuce. That is what this season is about, and that is what Garcia's release clearly affirms.
You keep a proven veteran in the bullpen in case the starter goes down during a playoff run. Forget about making the playoffs this year. Just make Russell into an NFL-caliber quarterback.
Yes, have him throw deep more to use that stunning arm strength. But he also must prove smart and dump short passes to his running backs or tight end when the pocket collapses.
If he develops during an unlikely playoff run — sorry, says here they go 4-12 — that is a nice bonus. If Russell exits prematurely from his second full season as the starter and the Raiders call on a veteran, it doesn't matter if it's Garcia, Bruce Gradkowski, Charlie Frye or Jim Plunkett. This season's goal becomes moot if Russell misses snaps. The same probably holds true for 2010.
The Raiders are not a contender this year. Their roster is eerily familiar to last year's clunker. They're in a youth movement like their Coliseum co-tenant.
So why bring in Seymour, whose contract is up after this season? He seemingly is a final-piece-of-the-puzzle player, thus contradicting any "rebuilding" notion. But by having him around, the defense should improve. That puts Russell on the field more often.
Plus, as a triple champion and defensive leader, Seymour can speak up (The Say More Kid?). He can downplay Russell's importance and remind everyone that even the NFL's best quarterback, Tom Brady, needed a band of brothers with a team-first mentality.
During Davis' epic firing of Lane Kiffin last September, Russell's name got tossed into the mix. "I do realize that you did not want to draft JaMarcus Russell," Davis said in reading a letter to Kiffin. "He is a great player. Get over it and coach this team on the field. That is what you were hired to do. We can win with this team!"
Russell had his moments last season, enough to give hope that he isn't the Bay Area's second coming of Alex Smith. But Russell still is searching for his first 300-yard passing game, his first three-touchdown effort and — here's what really counts — his first winning season.
Davis digs him, though. He is the one who drafted Russell and reiterated that when he fired Kiffin, whom Davis claimed wanted to draft Brady Quinn, Calvin Johnson or trade the pick.
"He didn't want Russell," Davis said.
This season, more than any other, Russell is a wanted man.
Contact Cam Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org.