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Rams Make a Bid for Jets’ Eatman : Pro football: Ex-UCLA lineman is sought in wake of Gerald Perry’s departure for the Raiders.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Rams, desperate for a starting tackle after Gerald Perry’s defection to the Raiders, have made a strong pitch for the New York Jets’ Irv Eatman.

Eatman, who played four years at UCLA before moving on to the USFL and NFL, toured Rams Park on Thursday and underwent a physical examination.

“It would be poetic justice,” Eatman said, “to come back where it really all began.”

The Rams contacted Eatman’s agent Tuesday when it became apparent that Perry was going elsewhere. Eatman was already on his way to Los Angeles to visit the Raiders.

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“We are negotiating with his agent,” said Jay Zygmunt, the Rams’ senior vice president. “We’re certainly interested in him. We’d like to get it done, but he’s also talking to other teams.”

Eatman, 32, drew a base salary of $555,000 last season as the Jets’ starting right tackle. The Jets have indicated a strong desire to re-sign Eatman, but also have the luxury of replacing him with highly regarded Siupeli Malamala should Eatman leave.

“I’m not interested in taking a world tour of the NFL; I have a concise idea of what I’m looking for,” Eatman said. “No matter who I sign with, I’m talking only days before I have a deal done. If somebody wants to posturize and play around, they will be left out in the cold.

“I’m not interested in talking into April and May. That’s ridiculous. I want to know where I’m going to be playing next season, and I want to get myself ready.”

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The Rams also are in no position to wait. They officially lost Perry to the Raiders on Thursday, then learned that their attempt to contact Houston starting left tackle Don Maggs had come too late. On Thursday, Maggs agreed to a three-year contract with an option with Denver.

Philadelphia’s Ron Heller remains the only other starting left tackle among unrestricted free agents, and Coach Chuck Knox dispatched Heller to Philadelphia in 1988 after being unimpressed with him in Seattle.

Knox met Eatman on Thursday, and then recalled his coaching days in Seattle when Eatman played for the Chiefs and was matched against Seahawk linebacker Rufus Porter.

“He did a job on Rufus; he’s a good one,” Knox said. “I’ve seen him play left tackle and he did a good job. He can play there. (Offensive line coach) Jim Erkenbeck worked with him in Kansas City and when he was in the USFL with Philadelphia, and he likes him, too.

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“If we could get him, I wouldn’t feel so badly after losing Perry.”

Eatman said his experience in New York has been a positive one, and for him to move, he said, he will have to be assured that he will be playing for a team with a chance to win and for an organization that takes care of its players.

He said the Rams fulfill those qualifications.

“Anytime you got Chuck Knox as a coach, you got a chance to win,” Eatman said. “I played against his Seattle teams for five years, and I didn’t think there was that much talent there, and yet I was amazed what he would get out of them.

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“I’ve always been impressed with both organizations in the L.A. area. The thing is, I’m not just interested in playing to get paid. I want to play for a winner and these two teams (Rams and Raiders) have a lot to offer.”

Eatman played defensive end for the Bruins before switching his senior season to offensive tackle. He became one of the USFL’s most dominant performers (1983-1985) and then joined the Chiefs as their starting left tackle.

He shifted between left and right tackle the next few years, and fell out of favor with the Chiefs’ front office. The Chiefs traded him to the Jets in 1991 for defensive lineman Ron Stallworth, who was cut before playing a down in Kansas City.

“We’re trying very hard to keep him,” Jets general manager Dick Steinberg said. “We’ve had serious talks recently.”

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After meeting with the Raiders on Wednesday, Eatman was scheduled to return home to Atlanta on Thursday morning.

“The call from the Rams surprised me,” he said. “I guess the Rams weren’t interested before the Perry thing. But certainly their agenda has changed, to say the least.”

The Raiders announced the signing of Perry on Thursday, and at the same time the NFL said it would investigate allegations by the Rams that the Raiders jumped the March 1 deadline to open talks with Perry.

“Our office has been contacted by the Rams regarding the status of Gerald Perry,” said Greg Aiello, the NFL’s director of communications. “We will review the matter under our tampering provisions and will contact the Rams and Raiders if additional information is required.”

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The NFL receives several tampering complaints each year, Aiello said, but the last time such a charge resulted in a penalty was in 1985, when the Raiders received a fifth-round pick from New England for tampering with a Raiders’ scout.

The Rams remain convinced that the Raiders undercut their efforts to sign Perry by talking to him as much as two weeks before the March 1 deadline for such conversations. If the findings of NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue support the Rams, the Raiders could be fined, lose draft selections or a combination of both.

“I’m disappointed that we would lose an unrestricted free agent without really understanding what was going on,” said John Shaw, the Rams’ executive vice president. “But we’re now making an attempt to replace him.”


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