The hardest day for JaMarcus Russell during his 48-day contract dispute with the Oakland 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 pay day 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 got the chance to join them in person Wednesday after signing a record contract for rookies and ending the longest holdout by the No. 1 overall 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.
Russell has no hard feelings toward the Raiders because of the contract dispute, saying he left the business issues up to his agents. 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 were not released. He would get 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 got $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,'' he said. ``Very blessed to be in the place I am today and worked hard for it and I can't wait to go out there and work even harder and just to get it.''
While working out on his own, Russell was in regular contact with quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and also heard occasionally from his teammates. He also got some suggestions from the fans in Atlanta, who wanted him to engineer a trade to the Falcons to replace Michael Vick.
Russell did participate 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. But 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 whatever 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 will probably be very 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,'' Denver coach Mike Shanahan said in a conference call with Bay Area writers. ``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 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 earned the spot as 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.
But adjusting to the NFL is not easy. 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.