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Ismail Agrees in Principle to a Two-Year Contract

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Raiders have agreed in principle with receiver/return man Raghib (Rocket) Ismail on a two-year contract worth slightly less than $3 million, according to his attorney, Bob Woolf.

According to Steve Ortmayer, the Raiders’ director of football operations, the deal isn’t final, but he planned on working late into Monday night in an attempt to hammer out the final details.

And Ismail?

He was sitting by his phone late Monday night at his home near Wilkes-Barre, Pa., waiting to hear if he would be able to use the ticket in his hand to fly to Los Angeles today and sign the contract.

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“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “I feel excited. But I feel the anticipation. I feel apprehensive. I feel like I’m heading into uncharted territory.”

Ismail, 23, learned earlier in the day that the deal was close to being completed when he heard people whispering about it at his chiropractor’s office.

“I had to avoid people on the way home,” he said. “They were all waving and going crazy. I guess they had all heard.”

If Ismail arrives today, there is a chance that he might play in Sunday’s home opener, at least as a kick returner, against the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings’ roster includes Ismail’s brother, Qadry.

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Would that be a family dream come true?

“When he and I are on the field,” Raghib said, “and see each other, we’ll probably realize it’s finally happened. But right now, we’re getting sick and tired of just hearing it might happen. We’ve heard so much about it, it’s lost some of the fanfare.”

If Ismail comes in, but is not ready to play, the Raiders might receive a two-week exemption from the league before being required to count him on the roster.

Monday’s agreement in principle ends a five-month negotiating process that often seemed to be heading nowhere.

It was back in early spring that the final ties between Ismail and the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League were severed.

That’s when Woolf began talking to the Raiders, who had selected Ismail fourth in the 1991 draft.

Ismail had been an electrifying star at Notre Dame and the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in his junior year.

Instead of returning for his senior season, however, he turned pro.

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But not in the NFL.

Ismail might have been the No. 1 pick in the 1991 draft had he indicated his willingness to play in the league. Instead, he reversed his field and headed north to sign a four-year, $18-million contract with the Argonauts.

Only half a million dollars of that total was included in Ismail’s player contract. The rest was in a personal-services deal with Toronto owner Bruce McNall, which required Ismail to promote the CFL in general, and the Argonauts in particular.

Toronto had no problem with Ismail’s performance on the field in his first season. He caught 64 passes for 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns and had another 1,388 yards and a touchdown as a return man.

Ismail’s numbers dropped in his second season, as did the fortunes of the Argonauts. They went from 13-5 to 6-12 and their attendance dropped as well. Injured part of the time, Ismail caught only 36 passes for 651 yards.

But the real problem, according to the Toronto media, was Ismail’s failure to live up to his promotional and media obligations.

The exit door back to the United States swung open and there, across the border, were the Raiders. Their gamble at having drafted Ismail, despite his bolt to the CFL, had paid off.

Or had it?

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It was assumed Ismail would be on hand for the start of training camp in Oxnard.

Or the start of the exhibition season.

Or sometime during the exhibition season.

But talks dragged on. Woolf was asking for $1.5 million per year, the same amount received last season by Desmond Howard, the former Heisman Trophy winner drafted fourth overall in 1992 by the Washington Redskins.

The Raiders began by offering $1 million over two seasons, then came up to $1.1 million per season.

Finally, the gap was narrowed.

“All’s well that ends well,” Woolf said. “It was never acrimonious, never bitter.”

But also never easy.


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