Walker Leaves as USFL Releases Players
The United States Football League announced Thursday night that all of its players will be given an immediate opportunity to pursue professional football careers elsewhere.
After 12 hours of talks between league officials and the players’ union, it was determined that even those players with guaranteed contracts will be given immediate permission to seek employment in either the National Football League or the Canadian Football League.
NFL teams own draft rights to nearly 50 players under contract with USFL clubs, including running backs Herschel Walker (Dallas Cowboys) and Kelvin Bryant (Washington Redskins) and quarterback Jim Kelly (Buffalo Bills).
Walker, the USFL’s most-heralded player, announced Thursday that he had decided to move to the NFL. His agent, Peter Johnson, said that he’d probably open contract talks next week with the Dallas Cowboys, who took pro football’s all-time single-season rushing leader in the 1985 NFL draft.
Kelly’s rights belong to the Buffalo Bills.
Doug Allen, executive director of the USFL Players Assn., said the players will be allowed to keep all money they collected while inactive in the 1986 season.
“We’re alive and viable,” Allen said.
The USFL stated that all of its clubs will maintain, through re-signings, a nucleus roster of no fewer than 10 players for the 1987 season.
In addition to this minimum roster, USFL players with guaranteed contracts will have the option to elect to remain with their current clubs. It is expected that all player resignings will be completed by Sept. 15.
Allen said all USFL clubs will retain rights to players currently under contract with those teams, adding that approximately 30 of the league’s 530 players currently own guaranteed contracts and are welcome to continue to receive salaries if they forgo the option of playing in either the NFL or the CFL.
New Jersey quarterback Doug Flutie said that before he signs with an NFL team, he wants to make sure he wouldn’t take a major financial loss.
He said of his contract with New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump: “It’s a personal-services contract, but there’s an obligation on my behalf to him and his behalf to me. We’d like to see the interest in Doug Flutie from the NFL, that’d be great. But we’d have to come to an agreement among Mr. Trump and myself on my contract’s standing.”
The Rams own the NFL rights to Flutie.
Walker, the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner, brought the USFL instant recognition when he signed with the Generals following his junior year at Georgia. In 1985, his third season with the team, he rushed for an all-time professional record of 2,411 yards.
Other USFL players were also ready to go.
The Baltimore Stars, for example, gave offensive tackle Irv Eatman permission to talk to the NFL Kansas City Chiefs, and the Washington Redskins were reportedly interested in four USFL players. Prime among them was Eatman’s teammate, Bryant, along with former NFL quarterback Doug Williams and wide receivers Clarence Verdin and Derek Holloway.
All that movement made Walker’s decision to jump to the NFL inevitable, although Walker had suggested he might go into the real estate business with Trump, with whom he holds a personal-services contract.
“I love to play football,” Walker said. “God has given me the ability to play football and I want to play with the very best.”
“His agreement with Mr. Trump is to play football, not to be an elevator operator in Trump Tower,” said Johnson.
In Thousand Oaks, Calif., where his team is training, Tex Schramm, the Cowboys’ president, said he would like negotiations to start as soon as possible.
“This afternoon’s OK with me,” Schramm said. “Time is one of the essentials now, both for the Cowboys and for Herschel. It’s one thing to just be out jogging, but there’s a difference in football conditioning, particularly for a running back. You have to be out and take the hits.”
Schramm said he doubted Walker would be ready to play when the Cowboys open their season Monday night, Sept. 8, at home against the New York Giants, who are favored to dethrone them in the NFC East. But Walker said he is in good shape and could get ready quickly.
Coach Tom Landry has said he sees no problems in pairing Walker with Tony Dorsett, who has been Dallas’ premier ballcarrier for a decade.
Walker and Dorsett agreed.
“I’ve learned to do a lot of things--block, catch passes,” Walker said. “I’ll do whatever they ask me to do.”
“The more you think about this becoming a reality, it could be a pretty awesome backfield,” Dorsett said. “I can appreciate the man’s talents.”