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INSIDE: THE NFL
Peter King
September 25, 1989
AN ALTERNATIVE
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September 25, 1989

Inside: The Nfl

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THE 29 BARRIER

Indianapolis coach Ron Meyer thinks Eric Dickerson can play through 1995. If Dickerson does play that long—and remains as productive as he has been—he'll have Ruthian numbers: 21,483 rushing yards (4,757 more than anyone else ever had) and 163 rushing TDs (53 more). But according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Dickerson will have to be exceptional to keep up his pace. He turned 29 on Sept. 2. Of the NFL's alltime leading rushers, only Walter Payton and Jim Brown averaged more yards per carry after age 29 than before. Here are the top 10, ranked by total yards.

 

Before Age 29

Age 29 and After

Player

Yards

Avg.

Yards

Avg.

Age at Final Game

Walter Payton

10,204

4.34

6,522

4.39

33

Tony Dorsett

7,015

4.54

5,724

4.12

34

Jim Brown

10,768

5.20

1,544

5.34

29

Franco Harris

7,377

4.23

4,743

3.94

34

John Riggins

4,655

4.02

6,697

3.81

36

O.J. Simpson

8,123

4.76

3,113

4.47

32

Eric Dickerson

9,915

4.64

222

5.55

29*

Earl Campbell

8,296

4.41

1,111

3.65

30

Jim Taylor

5,678

4.81

4,262

4.47

32

Ottis Anderson

7,843

4.34

629

3.31

31*

*Active in 1989.

AN ALTERNATIVE

The numbers are downright frightening for NFL owners. According to the Players Association, salaries and bonuses paid to first-round draft choices rose 5.3% from 1987 to '88, but they skyrocketed 37.3% from '88 to '89. In '87, the average payout on first-round rookie contracts was $474,000. In '88, it was $499,000. This year it's $685,000.

The owners can moan all they want about the exorbitant demands of rookies, but there's a solution: Just say no. That wouldn't be so difficult if the owners examined what they were getting for their money. Of the 166 first-round choices from 1983 through '88, only 37 (22.3%) have made the Pro Bowl.

Instead of shelling out huge sums for unproved talent, teams would be wiser to use their first-round picks to acquire topflight free agents. After no movement for nine years in the free-agent market for Type A players (the class of player whose original team must be compensated with two first-round draft picks by the team that signs him), three such players have received offer sheets in the last two off-seasons. Linebacker Wilber Marshall, who left the Bears for the Redskins in '88, was the only one who switched teams. Defensive end Ray Childress of Houston and defensive end Bruce Smith of Buffalo signed lucrative new deals this year after their clubs matched offers from other teams. This winter, the bidding for free agents should be much more serious.

As a result, teams are going all out to re-sign their productive players. Dallas wants to nail down Herschel Walker, whose contract expires after next season, and on Sunday Philadelphia announced that it had extended the contract of quarterback Randall Cunningham through 1995. The tab: about $17 million.

In the last two months the Vikings have given lucrative contracts to quarterback Wade Wilson (who signed for $1,075 million a year), tight end Steve Jordan ($700,000) and defensive tackle Keith Millard ($850,000) to keep them from becoming free agents. Minnesota general manager Mike Lynn imposed a Sept. 5 deadline on any further re-signings, but with wide receiver Anthony Carter, safety Joey Browner and defensive end Chris Doleman—all of whom went to the Pro Bowl last season—in the final year of their contracts, Lynn has extended that deadline indefinitely.

Still, some star players may be available in February. The potential free agents most likely to get offers from new teams are Ram quarterback Jim Everett, Redskins tackle Jim Lachey and Bengal tackle Anthony Munoz. "If you give the money to a proven veteran, you're not guessing," says agent Tony Agnone, who represents several NFL players. "You make your coach happy, and you make your fans happy. You look like you're opening the vault."

"First-round draft picks are the most overrated commodities in football," says Cincinnati assistant general manager Mike Brown, who vows never to trade for one again. Look for teams to give up some of those first-round selections in exchange for free agents. Says San Francisco owner Eddie DeBartolo, "I think there'll be some movement. Would the 49ers get into it? It's something I won't tell you I won't do."

TICK...TICK...TICK

Going into this year, Seattle wide receiver Steve Largent had missed four games in 13 NFL seasons because of injuries. Now Largent, who's chasing the last grand receiving record he doesn't own—most touchdown receptions—will miss at least six games with a cracked right elbow. He sustained the injury two weeks ago in Philadelphia. But he says he has not played his last game. "My arm feels great, which makes it more frustrating," says Largent, who is not wearing a cast. "Under the new injured-reserve rules, I can't practice with the team for four weeks."

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