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Rams Trade Flutie’s Rights to Bears but Leave Ellard in Limbo

Times Staff Writer

The Rams, masters of the squeeze when it comes to player negotiations, were at their dramatic best Tuesday, dealing quarterback Doug Flutie’s rights to the Chicago Bears just minutes before the NFL’s trading deadline.

The Rams traded the rights and next year’s fourth-round pick to the Bears in exchange for Chicago’s third- and sixth-round choices in 1987.

But although Flutie celebrated his freedom, Ram receiver Henry Ellard spent another day in frustration.

Ellard, holding out in a contract dispute, was hoping the Rams would trade him to the Indianapolis Colts.

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But the deadline came and went for Ellard, meaning that he must either sign with the Rams or sit out the season. Further trading between NFL teams is prohibited until Feb. 2, 1987.

Ellard had tentatively agreed to terms with the Colts for the amount the Rams have steadfastly refused to pay him, $1.39 million over three years.

The Colts had the contract papers waiting and were prepared to fly someone to Los Angeles to complete the deal.

The Rams had given Ellard permission to negotiate with the Colts weeks ago. According to sources in Indianapolis, the Colts were prepared to trade second- and third-round picks for the rights to Ellard, the Rams’ leading receiver and punt returner last season.

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John Shaw, the Ram vice president who handles player negotiations for the team, does not speak to the press.

But Ellard’s agent, Mike Blatt, has said all along that the Rams wanted the Colts’ first-round pick in 1987 for Ellard. Apparently, it was too much to ask.

Jimmy Irsay, the Colts’ general manager, repeatedly said last week that their No. 1 pick was “off limits.”

Tuesday, Blatt left his Stockton office at noon and did not return messages.

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So now, Ellard sits, his options reduced to sitting out the season or signing for the Rams’ long-standing offer of $1.2 million for four years, a figure far less than what top NFL receivers are making.

Last year, while drawing a salary of $145,000, Ellard led the team with 54 catches, the most by a Ram receiver in 20 years. Ellard also led the NFC in punt returns and is, at least statistically, the top punt returner in NFL history with an average of 13.5 yards a return.

The Rams have lost two of their last three games and their starting wide receivers, Bobby Duckworth and Ron Brown, have been unproductive.

In Sunday’s 26-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Brown had only one reception for five yards, and Duckworth did not catch a pass.

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As far as Flutie is concerned, the Rams seemingly made out well. The team had no intention of signing the former Boston College and United States Football League star.

The Rams selected Flutie in the 11th round in 1985, even though the quarterback already had agreed to play for the USFL’s New Jersey Generals.

But the USFL suspended play this season after being awarded only $3 in damages in its suit against the NFL.

The Rams were left with Flutie’s rights but had no real desire to sign him, especially after signing former Purdue quarterback Jim Everett.

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Flutie, recently released from his personal services contract with General owner Donald Trump, was permited by the Rams to negotiate with other NFL clubs.

But the Rams made Flutie sweat out the final day, trading his rights to Chicago only six minutes before the deadline.

The deal was made at the NFL’s owners’ meeting in Chicago. Bear General Manager Jerry Vainisi sprinted out of the meeting and up escalators just in time to report the trade to a temporary NFL office in the hotel.

“Everything went down to the wire,” said Bob Woolf, Flutie’s agent. “But we are absolutely delighted with the results.”

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Flutie and Woolf were at Fenway Park Tuesday night, watching the Red Sox and Angels.

Flutie said he believes he will be eased into the Bears’ offensive system rather than tested immediately. That is no surprise, since the Bears already have three quarterbacks in Jim McMahon, Mike Tomczak and Steve Fuller.

“Look at John Elway,” Flutie said. “He had a terrible first year (with the Denver Broncos). If Flutie’d had that kind of year, people would have said, ‘I told you so. He’s too short.’ ”

Woolf said that Vainisi called with the news five minutes after the trading deadline. Woolf and Flutie celebrated. “We jumped for joy as if (Flutie) were the No. 1 draft,” Woolf said.

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“There are three places where the opportunities for Doug were interchangeable: Los Angeles, New York and Chicago,” he said. “Places like Cleveland and Detroit are interchangeable for their non-opportunities.”

Woolf said that within an hour of the news from Vainisi, Flutie had one Chicago commercial offer and a radio show proposal.


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