Six days before the National Football League season was to open, the Rams’ management and Eric Dickerson’s advisers still weren’t talking to each other Monday--but at least they were talking.
Owner Georgia Frontiere and vice president John Shaw, in a press conference in her office at Rams Park, broke their silence on the holdout.
Frontiere seemed to appeal to Dickerson’s sense of duty when she said: “We have a contract he’s said he’s willing to honor. I think he has to show his good faith, too. I don’t want a stalemate that continues to the detriment of Eric and the team.”
In a separate conference phone interview, Dickerson adviser Jack Rodri responded: “Anything is open for negotiations. If the Rams are willing to negotiate in good faith, the solution will be quick and easy.
“Eric can still be on the field (against the Denver Broncos at Anaheim) next Sunday. By tomorrow afternoon at 5 o’clock this whole issue can be solved, and Eric can be back Wednesday morning at 9 o’clock, if not sooner.”
Dickerson was at home in Sealy, Tex., Monday celebrating his 25th birthday.
Dickerson would not talk to reporters himself, but so far he hasn’t cared much for the Rams’ proposals, either.
On their part, the Rams really didn’t offer to alter their negotiating policies, but Rodri seemed willing to listen to alternatives, including discussions of insurance for Dickerson’s future earnings in lieu of guarantees.
The hangup has been Dickerson’s insistence on negotiating a guaranteed contract extension with two years remaining on his current agreement. The Rams’ policy has been to negotiate extensions when there is only one year left, and never to award guaranteed contracts.
Rodri’s response: “If you cannot make an exception for the best running back in football, what can I say?”
Money is almost--but not quite--secondary. Dickerson already has received an estimated $1,675,000 on his $2.2 million, four-year deal, including $800,000 in an interest-free loan and $225,000 in incentive bonuses. The loan is to be repaid from bonuses due Dickerson from 1987 through ’91, under his current agreement.
Rodri is not seeking to renegotiate the final two years but wants a three-year package starting in 1987 that would be commensurate with the $3.7 million, four-year contract Marcus Allen recently signed with the Raiders, and Rodri wants it guaranteed.
The word everyone seems to be tripping over is guaranteed . That’s why everything started to fall apart at the last meeting among the principals June 27.
Shaw said: “At the first meeting we discussed the possibility of talking about an extension of his contract. We met the second time. They made a proposal that entailed both skill and injury guarantees. We stated that it wasn’t the policy of the Rams to offer skill guarantees, and if that was an essential ingredient of their offer that we couldn’t make a counter-offer to them.
“Mr. Rodri stated that it made no sense for us to make a counter-offer unless it included a skill guarantee. I said, ‘It makes no sense to proceed,’ and they agreed, and so the meeting ended.”
Shaw explained that a skill guarantee “means you cannot cut a player and not pay him, whether he’s healthy or unhealthy. If he lost all his skill, we’d still have to pay him.”
Rodri: “He made the comment that it was a ‘fair proposal’ what we asked at the time. We did ask for these guarantees, but they were not discussed in a give-and-take situation. There was no interest on John Shaw’s part to negotiate anything at all. And that is where we are today.”
Rodri denied he cut off negotiations.
“That is not so,” Rodri said. “We wanted any kind of counter-proposal that could continue the discussions.”
Rodri also had claimed that Shaw made a “verbal commitment” to negotiate an extension.
Shaw: “Absolutely not.”
Rodri: “We had some general discussions at the luncheon at the Hyatt, and at one particular point he said that normally these contracts are negotiated with one year to go, but if we insisted on negotiating the extension at this time he was willing to do that.
“At which point we all raised the glasses and said, ‘Cheers,’ and made a date on June 27 to continue the discussions.”
Although Rodri stated repeatedly that there had been “no contact” since Dickerson announced July 29 he wasn’t reporting to training camp, Frontiere said that Shaw had talked to Rodri on the phone with a proposal a week later, offering to buy disability insurance for Dickerson “for the life of the time he intended to play for us.”