Eric Dickerson, the greatest rusher in Ram history and lately the unhappiest, has been traded to the Indianapolis Colts, according to both his agent and team sources.
Charles Chin, the star running back’s financial adviser, said that Dickerson will sign a four-year, $5.6-million guaranteed contract with the Colts today. A verbal agreement was reached Friday.
“It’s the highest contract for a running back in the history of the National Football League, by far,” Chin said.
Dickerson will receive $1.4 million a season, more than Curt Warner of the Seattle Seahawks, who is believed to be the league’s richest running back. Warner reportedly earns $1.12 million a season.
Chin and Dickerson boarded a late-night flight for Indianapolis and are expected to complete details of the contract today.
No other details of the transaction were revealed, though trade talks with the Colts Friday centered around unsigned rookie linebacker Cornelius Bennett.
The most often-reported trade package had Dickerson going to the Colts and Bennett to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a three-team deal.
But Tampa Bay reportedly dropped out of the picture late in the day and was replaced by the Buffalo Bills.
In return for Dickerson, the Rams will reportedly receive two first- and two second-round draft choices in 1988 (from the Colts and the Bills) plus running back Greg Bell of the Bills, according to sources close to the Rams.
Bennett, an All-American at Alabama, is considered a premier pass rusher.
Dickerson confirmed on ESPN Friday night that the deal had been made, although the Rams and the Colts were officially denying the report. He even went so far as to say he will play for the Colts Sunday against the New York Jets at East Rutherford, N.J.
“This is the best thing they could have done,” Dickerson said of the Rams on ESPN. “They had hard feelings, and I had hard feelings. It was all about money.
“It’s not that I wanted to be unfair, but I want to be compensated for the way I play. I thought (the contract dispute) could have been rectified. I thought they would let bygones be bygones. They wanted me to carry the ball 30-35 times, and I’ll do it if they pay me.”
After a lengthy closed-door meeting with the Rams’ front-office staff, Coach John Robinson said: “I have no statement for you tonight. Nothing has transpired.”
But Chin said that the deal was completed Friday afternoon.
After the meeting, Robinson left for a late dinner and could not be reached for comment.
Asked if there was any way the deal could fall through, Chin said, “No way.”
“I’m really emotional because Eric is leaving,” Chin said. “But it’s the best thing for him.”
Why would the Rams deny reports of the trade?
“That’s just the Rams,” Chin said.
Dickerson, the NFL’s leading rusher in three of his four seasons, had been embroiled in a bitter contract dispute with Ram management.
In 1985, after a 46-day holdout, he signed a three-year contract extension with the team, beginning this season and running through the 1989 season.
But Dickerson was unhappy with the extension before he took his first carry under the new agreement.
Last May, Chin said Dickerson would ask the team to renegotiate his contract before the season began.
But after several fruitless meetings with the Rams’ vice president of finance, John Shaw, Dickerson took his case to the newspapers.
On Oct. 20, he lashed out at Ram management and even took some pointed shots at Robinson, who, according to Dickerson, made more money than the star tailback.
“Let him run 47-Gap,” Dickerson said. “I’m getting sick of it. Hey, let me go. Release me. Waive me. Please release me. If I had a dog that I couldn’t stand or bit me, I’d shoot him. I’d kill him or I’d just get rid of him. I mean, get rid of me. I’d gladly leave.”
Dickerson’s hard statements greatly upset Ram management, and a trade or a suspension seemed imminent.
Last Monday night, after Dickerson sat out the entire second half of the Rams’ 30-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Rams decided to place the back on the inactive list, stating in a release that Dickerson was “physically and mentally unable to play.”
Colt General Manager Jimmy Irsay, reached late Friday night, denied that the deal had been completed. “I have no comment at this time,” Irsay told an Indianapolis reporter. “At this time, a trade has not been made. It has not taken place; I can guarantee you that.”
Irsay did say that the team would have an announcement regarding Bennett, their unsigned rookie linebacker.
“Tomorrow, we will have an announcement on the status of the Bennett situation,” Irsay said. “Whether it involves Dickerson or not, we’ll address that tomorrow.”
Dickerson leaves many memories in Anaheim, having gained 7,245 career yards in just more than four seasons.
His best season was 1984, when he broke O.J. Simpson’s single-season rushing mark with 2,105 yards in 16 games.
At 27, Dickerson this season became only the 14th runner in NFL history to rush for more than 7,000 yards. He’s only 755 yards shy of becoming the first person in NFL history to gain 8,000 yards in his first five seasons.
His career average of 111.5 yards a game is also tops in NFL history.
But ultimately, Dickerson became disenchanted with the Rams and their unwillingness to pay him what he thought he rightly deserved.
Dickerson wanted out, at all cost.
And Friday, after four years as a Ram, he got his wish.
ERIC DICKERSON’S RAM YEARS
Season Games No. Yards Avg. TD 1983 16 390 1,808 4.6 18 1984 16 379 2,105 5.6 14 1985 14 292 1,234 4.2 12 1986 16 404 1,821 4.5 11 1987 3 60 277 4.6 1