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Young at Heart
Paul Zimmerman
February 17, 1997
With 12 rookies, six of them starters, on their roster, the Los Angeles Z's have a warrior mentality and a durable talent base
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February 17, 1997

Young At Heart

With 12 rookies, six of them starters, on their roster, the Los Angeles Z's have a warrior mentality and a durable talent base

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LOS ANGELES Z's

Players are listed by position and in the order in which they appear on the team's depth chart. Asterisks denote projected starters. Experience denotes the player's number of years in the league, including the 1997 season.

OFFENSE

Player

Pos.

Former Team or School

Exp.

1997 Cap Value

PAT BARNES*

QB

Cal

R

$650,000

BERNIE KOSAR

QB

Dolphins

13

$400,000

BILL MUSGRAVE

QB

Broncos

7

$500,000

LARRY CENTERS*

RB

Cardinals

8

$2 million

LEROY HOARD

RB

Vikings

8

$500,000

HAROLD GREEN

RB

Rams

8

$350,000

EMORY SMITH*

FB

Clemson

R

$172,000

CARWELL GARDNER

FB

Ravens

8

$450,000

ANDRE HASTINGS*

WR

Steelers

5

$750,000

BERT EMANUEL*

WR

Falcons

4

$2 million

WEBSTER SLAUGHTER

WR

Jets

12

$400,000

BILL BROOKS

WR

Redskins

12

$400,000

TROY BROWN

WR

Patriots

5

$350,000

FREDDIE JONES*

TE

North Carolina

R

$320,000

JAMES JENKINS

TE

Redskins

7

$400,000

WALTER RASBY

TE

Panthers

4

$500,000

GARY ZIMMERMAN*

T

Broncos

12

$3 million

MARCUS SPEARS*

T

Bears

4

$500,000

WALTER JONES

T

Florida State

R

$190,000

BOB SAPP*

G

Washington

R

$650,000

MIKE ZANDOFSKY*

G

Falcons

9

$750,000

LANCE SMITH

G

Giants

13

$700,000

JEFF BLACKSHEAR

G

Ravens

5

$350,000

JERRY FONTENOT*

C

Bears

9

$1 million

DAVID KEMPFERT

C

Montana

R

$135,000

DEFENSE

PLAYER

Pos.

Former Team or School

Exp.

1997 Cap Value

MIKE VRABEL*

E

Ohio State

R

$900,000

LESTER ARCHAMBEAU*

E

Falcons

8

$400,000

JASON TAYLOR

E

Akron

R

$1.45 million

MARTIN HARRISON

E

Vikings

7

$600,000

MARCELLUS WILEY

E

Columbia

R

$230,000

TONY SIRAGUSA*

T

Colts

8

$1.8 million

MATT BROCK*

T

Jets

9

$1.2 million

GLENN MONTGOMERY

T

Seahawks

9

$300,000

CHAD BROWN*

OLB

Steelers

5

$3.25 million

DARRIN SMITH*

OLB

Cowboys

5

$2 million

RICHARD HARVEY

OLB

Saints

8

$500,000

CANUTE CURTIS

OLB

West Virginia

R

$176,000

SHAY MUIRBROOK*

MLB

BYU

R

$135,500

MARLO PERRY

MLB

Bills

4

$700,000

DESHAWN FOGLE

MLB

Kansas State

R

$135,000

MATT VANDERBEEK

MLB

Redskins

8

$400,000

DWAYNE HARPER*

CB

Chargers

10

$1.3 million

RAY BUCHANAN*

CB

Colts

5

$2 million

STEVE JACKSON

CB

Oilers

7

$750,000

STEVE ISRAEL

CB

49ers

6

$375,000

TYRONE LEGETTE

CB

Bucs

6

$275,000

STEVON MOORE*

SS

Ravens

9

$1.3 million

CHAD COTA

SS

Panthers

3

$400,000

TOI COOK*

FS

Panthers

11

$275,000

LEONARD WHEELER

FS

Bengals

6

$400,000

LARRY WHIGHAM

FS

Patriots

4

$450,000

SPECIALISTS

CHRIS JACKE

K

Packers

9

$750,000

TOM ROUEN

P

Broncos

5

$750,000

Projected 1997 salary cap: $40.95 million.

Z's payroll: $40,618,500

Coach: STEVE SPURRIER. Offensive coordinator: ROD DOWHOWER. Assistant head coach/defense: VIC FANGIO.

I'm building my team Jimmy Johnson-style, with rookies, lots of them, at least six of whom I project as starters for the inaugural year of the Los Angeles Z's. And that includes my quarterback, Pat Barnes of California. Yes, I think he's that good. Barnes, a second-round draft choice, is a classic dropback thrower with a powerful arm and terrific poise. Gil Brandt, the former superscout of the Dallas Cowboys, agrees that Barnes is a can't-miss prospect, although Joel Buchsbaum, who has been analyzing NFL drafts since 1971, says, "Watch out. When things aren't going right he tends to go into a slump." It'll be a baptism by fire, a risky way to travel, but I think that bringing in a young quarterback is the right fit for my coach, Steve Spurrier, late of the University of Florida.

As you know, getting Spurrier, who had refused many times to try his hand at the NFL game, was a bit of a coup. I had to give him the richest coaching contract in NFL history. Give my owner, Ted Turner, credit for that. When I bounced the numbers off him, he said, "I want to win, and I want to win now." I pointed out that that was impossible, since we don't play any games in February. Turner seemed a bit annoyed at that comment but still replied, "I know, I know, just pay the guy what he wants."

Spurrier was adamant about getting something else—a reliable left tackle to protect Barnes's blind side. He was still having nightmares about the way Florida State played handball last November with Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel. So I signed one of the best left tackles in the business, Gary Zimmerman (no relation), who was under the impression that he was going to retire after six Pro Bowl seasons. I did a selling job on Gary and persuaded him to hold off for a while, just as the Carolina Panthers did in 1995 with Greg Kragen, who has turned out to be a terrific nosetackle. It cost us $3 million, but Gary will have the honor of playing for a president and general manager with the same last name.

As of now 12 rookies are on my 53-man roster, possibly with more to come once I start bidding for players who went un-drafted. The plus is that if you've chosen wisely, you have a nucleus of young players locked into four- and five-year contracts at reasonable prices. Which doesn't mean that those salaries can't be adjusted upward if a raise is merited. San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard once said that if you hold a guy to a long-term deal that he has clearly outperformed, all you've done is create an unhappy player.

How did I collect those dozen draft choices? First there was the expansion arrangement that awarded my club, as well as Peter King's, an additional pick in each round of the draft. Sure, a lot of owners complained about the extra choices the Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars got for their first two drafts and vowed to never let that happen again. Gee, too bad. They got 'em, so I wanted 'em too! And I damn well got 'em for my $200 million expansion fee!

I had the second overall pick in the draft after losing the coin Hip to Peter (it was his coin), so I decided to put the largest chunk of my money on the top veteran free-agent prize, former Pittsburgh Stealers linebacker and sack machine Chad Brown. As expected, Peter took Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning with the first pick, and I traded the second selection to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for their two first-round choices, numbers 10 and 18. (I owned another first-round pick—the 33rd—as part of the expansion deal.) I had to send the 18th choice, plus a third-round pick, to the Atlanta Falcons for Bert Emanuel, who, because he was a top-level restricted free agent, cost me a 1 and a 3. I needed a wideout who could get down the field.

That left me with two first-round choices, and I got a third by trading my first-rounder in 1998. I also gave up my second-round selection next year and whatever other future choices it took to get extra picks for this year, so that I could sign a trio of lower-valued restricted free agents: linebacker Marlo Perry (Buffalo Bills), tackle Marcus Spears (Chicago Bears) and safety and special teams crazy Larry Whigham (New England Patriots). I did whatever was necessary to load up for this draft. It's a variation on the old George Allen theme of buying on the never-never, paying later for what you want now. There were rookies I simply had to have.

With my trio of first-round picks and a second-round choice I got Barnes; Ohio State defensive end Mike Vrabel, a great hustle-and-desire guy whom I've already penciled in as my starter on the strong side; Washington guard Bob Sapp, whose superior drive-blocking skills and athleticism caught my eye; and Jason Taylor, a 250-pound rush linebacker-defensive end from Akron and the first draft choice in Z's history. Taylor erupted in a sacking frenzy in the college all-star postseason, just as Hugh Douglas, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year with the New York Jets in 1995, did two years ago. Brown and Taylor will be my nickel-rush wingmen.

Clemson's Emory Smith, Emmitt's little brother, will start at fullback. Freddie Jones of North Carolina is my tight end. Of my half dozen other rookies, here are a couple of low-round sleepers: Shay Muirbrook, BYU's highly productive middle linebacker, carries the knock that he's undersized at a listed 6 feet and 240 pounds, but Zach Thomas earned the same baggage when the Miami Dolphins drafted him in the fifth round last year. You get the point? Montana center David Kempfert (6'4", 282 pounds) is a little light but a real battler. That's what I want, warriors. Finally, from that great football factory on the Hudson, Columbia, for which I shed many pints of blood once upon a time, I took a chance on Marcellus Wiley, a 270-pound defensive end with a sack mentality. A raw talent.

As expected, Peter and I got into a bidding war for veteran free agents. You win some, you lose some. Bernie Kosar, who has always played better than he looked, is my backup quarterback. No, he's not ancient. He's 33, and he can still move the sticks. I spent a lot of dough to pry fullback Larry Centers, the free agent who played for the Arizona Cardinals, and I'm switching him back to his original position, pass-catching running back. I never viewed him as a true fullback—too small at 215 pounds. Smith will be the big banger. It's a backfield without real speed, like most NFL backfields.

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