Lyght Now Ready to Play for His Pay : Rams: After long holdout, top draft pick's cash flow problems are solved with $5.55-million deal. But he won't just walk into the starting cornerback job.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Todd Lyght signed a five-year, $5.55-million deal with the Rams Friday morning, ending his 30 days of L.A. sand and sightseeing and presumably solving his cash machine woes forever.

"I knew I definitely had to sign when I was at the Versateller last night, and I only had $6 in my account," Lyght said Friday after being introduced by Ram owner Georgia Frontiere at the Boys and Girls Club luncheon at the Bonaventure Hotel.

Lyght's attorney, Bob Woolf, completed the deal late Thursday night with Ram vice president Jay Zygmunt, and the signing came Friday morning. The contract made Lyght the Rams' second-highest paid player and created speculation as to when Lyght might break into the starting lineup.

The deal, which averages $1.1 million a season, includes a signing bonus of more than $2.5 million that is not deferred.

Lyght, who missed all of training camp, will not play in the team's third exhibition game--the Times/Rams Charity Game at 7 o'clock tonight in Anaheim Stadium against the Seattle Seahawks.

But the team's No. 1 pick definitely will play Thursday in Memphis when the Rams close out their exhibition season against the Houston Oilers.

Even though Coach John Robinson cautioned that Lyght must compete with Darryl Henley, Ram coaches were suggesting he would be physically prepared to contribute significantly on passing downs by the regular-season opener and possibly win the starting right cornerback job by the second or third week of the season.

When Woolf and Zygmunt sat down Thursday morning for their first face-to-face meetings of the month-long holdout, Lyght said he was worried he might not join the Rams for a long time.

"I was thinking to myself, man, I don't want it to drag on that long because I wanted to play some football, most definitely," Lyght said. "I was running out of things to do. I've been to Magic Mountain, and I've been everywhere else. Now I was thinking I've got to play some football.

"I was very scared, I thought it was going to drag on. But Bob said he was going to come into town, said he was going to meet and get it done.

"I thought at the latest it would be last week, but I'm very happy they got it done so I could participate in one preseason game."

Lyght, who was in Los Angeles for most of the holdout as his teammates struggled through two-a-days at UC Irvine, said he whiled away the time going to the beaches and experiencing the night life.

He visited the Ram practice site several times, once wading into some brush to try to remain as inconspicuous as possible.

"We were kidding him because he was out there with binoculars," secondary coach Tom Bettis said. "Somebody thought he was some spy or something."

Robinson, while extolling Lyght's potential to be an "elite" NFL cornerback, made sure to refrain from handing Lyght a starting job at the expense of Henley, who has been playing well in Lyght's absence.

Robinson said it would probably be three weeks before Lyght was ready to mount a serious challenge for the spot, and even then, it most definitely would be a challenge, not a pre-planned walkover.

"He won't play until he is the best corner," Robinson said.

After tonight's game, Lyght will be given a crash course in being an NFL cornerback, spending extra time with Bettis before and every practice.

"We've got the long span (nine days) between the Houston game and the regular-season opener, so it gives Todd a lot of time to get into the groove," Bettis said. "We'll work him into it."

The last time Lyght, an All-American at Notre Dame, played contact football was in January in the Hula Bowl, and new NFL regulations severely limited the time he could spend with the Rams in the off-season. Lyght skipped the team's July voluntary camp because of the slow pace of negotiations.

"A lot of buddies of mine have been giving me a hard time: You playing tomorrow? You playing tomorrow?" Lyght said. "And I say, 'Naaww, I haven't practiced yet.' I've got to go ahead and break my equipment in a little bit, then run out there against (Houston)."

Said Robinson: "His life changes now. It's just him and us. He's on the team, he has to earn his keep. Got a pretty good keep. But that's the reality of it, and he knows that."

Lyght sounds as if he knows that, with $2.5 million suddenly thrust into his pocket, life is different. He said he was going to use the cash to pay for his brother's schooling and pay off his father's house.

He also said he can handle walking into the Ram locker room never having played an NFL down yet being paid more than anybody else on the team except for quarterback Jim Everett and more than many of his heroes ever could.

"It's reality," Lyght said. "I know five years down the line some snot-nosed college kid is going to come in making more money than me. That's just the way it goes. I'm happy to be a part of it, what can I say?

"This is just the way the NFL works. I don't think it's right for young players such as myself to make so much money, but I'm glad I'm making it.

"Just seems weird than I'm making as much money as Marcus Allen. He's one of my idols, and I'll be making as money as him. That blows my mind."

It took a dramatic day of talks, however, to get Lyght this package, the most the Rams have ever paid a defensive player. The two sides were at a standstill Thursday, $500,000-a-year apart, until they met in Woolf's Beverly Hills office.

The Rams moved up from $900,000 a year to $1.05 million, and eventually, the deal was done. Woolf last week finished a $1.31 million-a-season deal with Denver for linebacker Mike Croel, taken one pick before Lyght, and wanted a comparable package from the Rams.

"If somebody had told me yesterday morning that I would be here this afternoon with a signed contract with Todd Lyght, I would've said, 'You're crazy,' " Woolf said. "Because I really thought it was going to be an ordeal. And it turned out to be exactly the opposite."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
65°