The Rams decided Tuesday they could wait no longer for tight end Tony Hunter to be physically fit to play and announced that the former Notre Dame All-American had been waived.
Thus ends a Ram career that never quite developed the way Coach John Robinson would have liked. In two seasons, there were only flashes of the offensive skills that made Hunter the 12th player chosen in the 1983 draft.
Hunter and linebacker Steve Busick, who both failed club physicals, were the notable names on the list of 10 players released Tuesday. Busick's name on that list was not entirely unexpected. The former Denver Bronco underwent major surgery after suffering torn cartilage in his right knee last October against Philadelphia, and is still in rehabilitation.
But Hunter's release was a bit of a surprise. He had arthroscopic knee surgery in the off-season but had been expected to contribute to the Rams' new and presumably improved passing game this fall.
Robinson had hoped that the Rams had acquired a tight end in the mold of San Diego's Kellen Winslow when they got Hunter from the Buffalo Bills for quarterback Vince Ferragamo in July of 1985.
Instead, Hunter gave the Rams a solid season in 1985--50 receptions, 562 yards, 4 touchdowns--followed by an injury-plagued year in '86. He suffered a shin injury the seventh week, and missed the rest of the regular season and the NFC wild-card game. His recovery from off-season knee surgery was taking longer than expected.
"The progress isn't there," Robinson said. "It just looks like it's going to be awhile. I told him (of the release) today and I think he agreed that the leg is not ready to perform at this time."
Busick, whom the Rams acquired shortly before last season for an 11th-round draft choice in 1987 and a seventh-round pick in '88, started 44 consecutive games for Denver but was hurt in his fourth game as a Ram.
The injury was serious enough to require reconstructive surgery. Busick had been in training camp this summer trying to rehabilitate the knee, but Robinson said he is still a month or two away from being able to play.
Robinson said that he waited as long as he could before cutting Hunter and Busick. "It was just time to bite the bullet, make a decision," he said.
That decision was not entirely a medical one. By releasing Hunter and Busick now rather than putting them on injured-reserve, the Rams aren't obligated to pay their salaries, since neither player's injury occured in 1987. Hunter was to have earned $300,000, Busick $280,000.
"I certainly think that's one of your decisions," Robinson said. "If you put them on injured-reserve this year, you're not only liable for their salaries this year, but you're also liable for them next year."
Tight end Darren Long, who played four games after replacing injured Mike Guman on the active roster last season, was among those cut. Long, who formerly played for the Los Angeles Express and Cal State Long Beach, spent the first 12 weeks of last season on the injured-reserve list. His departure, coupled with Hunter's, could mean better opportunities for playing time for second-year man Damone Johnson and rookie Jon Embree , who are trying to earn spots on the roster at tight end. . . . Also released Tuesday were free agents Rick DiBernardo, a linebacker from Notre Dame and Huntington Beach Edison High School; Tommy Haynes, a safety from USC; Ed Zeman, a safety from Fort Lewis; Loren Richey, wide receiver from Utah; Duke Schamel, linebacker from South Dakota; Stacey Mobley, wide receiver from Jackson State, and running back Alonzo Williams, a 10th-round draft choice from Mesa College in Colorado.