Those Plan B wallflowers, the Rams, dived into the free-agent market Friday and came up with Curt Warner, a former marquee player whose recent statistics suggest that a few bulbs need replacing.
Warner is the third Plan B player signed by the Rams this off-season, but only the first anyone would recognize. He brings to the Rams a lengthy and impressive resume, but he also bloats the roster at a position that seemingly didn’t need help.
Coach John Robinson now finds himself with a backfield that includes Greg Bell, Robert Delpino, Buford McGee, Cleveland Gary, Warner and the long lost Gaston Green, who is looking more like trade bait every day. The possibilities are interesting: Is Warner a backup? A replacement for Bell? A slotback to be?
Robinson didn’t know for sure, but he did say that the Rams will soon reassess their backfield.
“I think he’s a great back, and I think he can be again,” Robinson said. “In terms of production, he’s a championship type of player both as a runner and a receiver. I think he can make a big difference for us.
“It’s a great opportunity for us. When you begin to evaluate teams that get world championships, they make those kinds of moves, be it the Lakers, San Francisco 49ers--it’s a dynamic type of move. This may be the single biggest move in Plan B.”
Warner wasn’t available for comment Friday, but his agent, Marvin Demoff, said his client has been assured that a starting position was possible.
“I think Curt has total confidence,” Demoff said.
Warner, 29, who holds every Seattle Seahawk rushing record, became expendable after a 1989 season during which he gained 631 yards, averaged 3.3 yards a carry and scored only three touchdowns rushing--all career lows. In fact, it marked the fourth consecutive year that Warner’s rushing average had declined.
Not surprisingly, the Seahawks didn’t include Warner on their list of 37 protected players. If anything, say those familiar with the Seahawks, Seattle Coach Chuck Knox might have stuck with Warner, 29, a year too long. Seahawk followers were eager to see more of rookie Derrick Fenner in the lineup and less of Warner. Nor did it help Warner’s situation when the team recorded its lowest rushing average in franchise history.
So when the Rams came calling with an undisclosed offer, Warner couldn’t sign fast enough.
“We had talked to some other teams, but Curt had a distinct priority where he wanted to play,” Demoff said. “He had a very short list. The Rams were always his first choice.”
According to Demoff, Warner had hoped the Rams would choose him, not Eric Dickerson, in the 1983 draft. "(Warner) always wanted to play there,” Demoff said.
Negotiations began shortly after the Plan B list of unconditional free agents was released. Apparently, a recent meeting between Warner and Robinson sealed the deal.
“It was really a fit for the two of them,” Demoff said. "(Robinson) didn’t have to sell (Warner). It became apparent to both of them.”
Until Friday, the timid Rams had signed only Joe Milinichik, an offensive guard previously with the Detroit Lions, and Hank Ilesic, a punter made available by the San Diego Chargers.
Then came news of Warner’s signing, a deal so secret that not even Jack Faulkner, the Rams’ administrator of football operations and person in charge of coordinating such Plan B moves, was aware of the agreement.
“He’s an outstanding football player, no question about that,” Faulkner said.
Warner has rushed for 1,000 yards in four of his six full seasons and led the AFC in rushing in 1983 and 1986. As recently as 1988, he gained 1,025 yards. He also is considered a dependable pass receiver.
But there is some question about his outside speed and ability to turn the corner. However, Warner still is known to run hard inside, which is compatible with the type of running Robinson likes admires in his offense.
Said Robinson of Warner: “I looked at him on film a lot. I feel very confident that this skills are intact.”
"(Warner) is excited to leave at this point,” Demoff said. “He sees the Rams as a team that played in a championship game and Seattle as a team that is struggling right now. It’s something he absolutely wants to do.”
Ram kicker Mike Lansford, who was left unprotected under Plan B, has ended talks with Phoenix and San Diego and has decided to remain with the Rams.
Lansford, the Rams’ all-time leading scorer, recently built a home in Anaheim Hills.
“Mike had planned to live in Orange County the rest of his life,” Agent Leigh Steinberg said. “But when Plan B came up, he decided to take a look. After considering all factors, he decided this is where he wanted to stay.”
Barring any last-minute developments, Rams cornerback LeRoy Irvin said Friday night he will retire from football at the conclusion of Sunday’s Plan B free-agent signing period.
Irvin, 32, was left unprotected by the Rams in February but hasn’t been satisfied with offers from other NFL teams.
The Miami Dolphins and Green Bay Packers have expressed some interest, but Irvin said the money he’s being offered is not good enough to make him move across country for one more season.
“The way it looks now, I won’t get the offer I’m looking for,” Irvin said. “There’s only a 20% chance I’ll play again. I had a great time. I have nothing bad to say about the Rams. God gave me 10 years, and that’s all I asked Him for.”
Irvin, a third-round draft choice from Kansas in 1980, played his entire career with the Rams and was named twice to the Pro Bowl.
“It’s going to be a tough transition,” Irvin said of retirement. “I want to thank all the fans of Anaheim, and I hope I made the game worthwhile while I was playing. I’ll miss them.”
Staff writer Chris Dufresne contributed to this story.
* MIKE PENNER: Curt Warner’s arrival means that sooner or later someone will have to leave the Rams’ crowded backfield. C3
CURT WARNER’S CAREER STATISTICS
RUSHING RECEIVING Year Team G Att Yards Avg LG TD Rec Yards Avg 1983 Seattle 16 335 1,449 4.3 60 13 42 325 7.7 1984 Seattle 1 10 40 4.0 9 0 1 19 19.0 1985 Seattle 16 291 1,094 3.8 38 8 47 307 6.5 1986 Seattle 16 319 1,481 4.6 60 13 41 342 8.3 1987 Seattle 12 234 985 4.2 57 8 17 167 9.8 1988 Seattle 16 266 1,025 3.9 29 10 21 154 7.0 1989 Seattle 16 194 631 3.3 34 3 23 153 6.7 Totals 93 1,649 6,705 4.1 60 55 192 1,467 7.6 30
Year LG TD 1983 28 1 1984 19 0 1985 27 1 1986 26 0 1987 30 2 1988 17 2 1989 24 1 Totals 7