Bills Make Kelly NFL’s Highest-Paid Player
Jim Kelly, record-setting passer in the United States Football League, became the highest-paid player in the National Football League Monday.
The Buffalo Bills signed Kelly to a five-year contract that, according to Kelly’s agents, is worth between $7.5 million and $8 million. The salary, about $1.5 million a year, is at least $200,000 more than quarterback Joe Montana’s annual pay with the San Francisco 49ers.
The Bills are hoping to receive instant credibility with fans after winning just 4 of their last 32 games and selling fewer than 20,000 season tickets for the second straight season.
Concurrent with Kelly’s signing, the Bills announced that they had waived Art Schlichter, former Ohio State and Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback.
Kelly, who worked with a run-and-shoot offense in the USFL, said he has been practicing the dropback style of passing the Bills use and hopes to be ready to play in about two weeks.
“I’m an athlete, I’m a competitor; whatever the situation is, I’m going to give 100%,” Kelly said. “I can’t promise you a Super Bowl because you’re only as good as the people they put around you. If I get some help, I definitely think we can take this team to a championship.”
Kelly dismissed his past statements about whether he wanted to play in Buffalo or elsewhere, saying, “Right now I’m playing for the Buffalo Bills.”
Said Buffalo Coach Hank Bullough: “Kelly’s our future, because he’s given us something to build on. We have that one big block to build on.
“He’s going to be a great impact player, as much an impact as any player can be. But there’s never been the player who’s turned everything around in the National Football League.”
Ralph Wilson, the Bills’ owner, challenged Kelly to have a career with Buffalo that would merit his placement on the Bills’ “Wall of Fame,” which includes O.J. Simpson, Rep. Jack F. Kemp and long-time team executive Patrick J. McGroder Jr.
At the Buffalo airport, after a flight from Houston, Kelly stepped off a private plane with Wilson. He posed with a football and a No. 12 jersey before heading downtown in a police-escorted limousine for a news conference.
At the podium, where he was joined by his parents, Kelly was flanked by team and city officials before being introduced by Wilson.
The Bills have been 2-14 in each of the last two seasons, and their season ticket sales are the lowest in the league. Last season, Buffalo sold just 14,500 season tickets.
“Mr. Wilson alluded to the fact that he’s sometimes called cheap and he’s sometimes castigated for not doing what he can to build a championship team,” General Manager Bill Polian said. “The fact that Jim is sitting here to my left is an enduring monument to Ralph Wilson’s commitment to building a winner for the city of Buffalo.”
After news of the signing was made public Monday, lines formed at the box office at 80,290-seat Rich Stadium in suburban Orchard Park. Sales for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener against the New York Jets had reached the 30,000 mark by the end of the day, a team spokesman said.
The USFL suspended play two weeks ago after being awarded just $3 in damages in its antitrust suit against the NFL. The New Jersey Generals, who Kelly had joined in a merger with his team, the Houston Gamblers, gave him permission to negotiate elsewhere.
Last Tuesday, the Bills announced they would begin negotiations with Kelly, whose rights they held after drafting him out of the University of Miami as their second choice in the first round of the 1983 NFL draft.
The pick with which Kelly was chosen was obtained when the Bills traded their rights to Ohio State linebacker Tom Cousineau to the Cleveland Browns in April 1982, a deal that was much-criticized in Buffalo.
HIGHEST PAID FOOTBALL PLAYERS*
Player Pos. Team Salary Jim Kelly QB Buffalo $1.5 million Joe Montana QB San Francisco 1.3 million Warren Moon QB Houston 1.1 million Herschel Walker RB Dallas 1 million Bernie Kosar QB Cleveland 1 million John Elway QB Denver 1 million Marc Wilson QB L.A. Raiders 900,000 Steve Young QB Tampa Bay 900,000 Marcus Allen RB L.A. Raiders 875,000 Lawrence Taylor LB N.Y. Giants 850,000
*All figures are approximate. They show probable income based on yearly salary averages in long-term contracts. Incentive bonus plans and heavy deferment plans can make major differences in 1986 dollars in these and all other NFL contracts.