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THE NFL
Peter King
December 18, 1989
NICE GUY FINISHES FIRST
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December 18, 1989

The Nfl

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OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY

The highest-paid players in the NFL this season are the 49ers, according to a Players Association salary survey obtained by SI. But the Eagles' average player paycheck made the most startling jump from 1988 to '89--from 14th in the league to second--propelled by huge new deals the club signed with defensive end Reggie White (four years, $6.1 million) and quarterback Randall Cunningham (seven years, $20.2 million). The NFLPA's figures, gathered at the start of this season, include salaries and bonuses scheduled to be paid to players during the calendar year. Overall, the average player salary rose to $302,400--a 27.6% increase, the largest one-year rise ever. Here are the NFLPA's survey results:

1989 Rank

1988 Rank

Club

1988 Avg. Salary

1989 Avg. Salary

Pct. Increase

1

4

San Francisco

$280,400

$376,300

34.2

2

14

Philadelphia

$238,500

$360,500

51.2

3

7

Cleveland

$263,500

$347,900

32.0

4

3

Giants

$282,600

$343,800

21.7

5

9

Denver

$257,700

$343,100

33.1

6

16

Jets

$234,600

$332,000

41.5

7

11

Dallas

$243,200

$330,700

36.0

8

23

Houston

$220,800

$327,800

48.5

9

15

Phoenix

$237,600

$327,500

37.8

10

1

Raiders

$298,200

$319,600

7.2

11

19

Minnesota

$227,700

$314,900

38.3

12

6

Indianapolis

$263,700

$312,200

18.4

13

13

New England

$240,100

$311,300

29.7

14

2

Kansas City

$288,300

$307,100

6.5

15

18

Washington

$230,500

$305,800

32.7

16

8

Chicago

$258,100

$300,000

16.2

17

24

Detroit

$214,400

$299,700

39.8

18

5

Seattle

$272,100

$295,600

8.6

19

21

Atlanta

$222,900

$288,500

29.4

20

25

Green Bay

$210,100

$285,400

35.8

21

22

Buffalo

$222,000

$280,000

26.1

22

20

New Orleans

$226,800

$275,600

21.5

23

26

San Diego

$196,400

$265,600

35.2

24

17

Cincinnati

$233,000

$261,300

12.1

25

27

Pittsburgh

$192,100

$259,500

35.1

26

12

Rams

$241,700

$250,100

3.5

27

10

Miami

$252,500

$249,000

-1.4

28

28

Tampa Bay

$178,300

$186,900

4.8

NICE GUY FINISHES FIRST

This is Steve Largent's week to drive the kids to Heritage Christian School in Bothell, Wash. So on Monday, the morning after Largent returned from Cincinnati and from breaking one of the most significant individual records in football, he piled his four kids into his minivan, picked up four more kids on the 20-minute drive to school and dropped them all off.

The previous evening, in the dusk of Riverfront Stadium, Largent had taken off the Seahawk jersey he wore in making his NFL-record 100th career touchdown reception, breaking Packer Don Hutson's 44-year-old mark of 99, and handed it to Pete Gross, the Seahawks' radio play-by-play man, as a gift. Last year Gross had surgery to remove a cancerous portion of his stomach, and in November he missed four games while undergoing chemotherapy. "I admire you," Largent said to Gross.

The feeling was mutual. In the NFL record books the nice guy is finishing first all over the place. Largent already holds the records for career receptions (816), career receiving yards (13,035), career 1,000-yards-receiving seasons (eight) and consecutive games with at least one reception (175). On Sunday, with 42 seconds left in the first half, he found a deep hole in the Bengal zone, waved to quarterback Dave Krieg, made eye contact, watched the pass into his gut, kept both feet in bounds at the back of the end zone and tumbled over. History.

Setting this last record of Largent's 14-year career had become something of an endurance test. He finished last season needing three touchdown receptions to pass Hutson. Largent said then that if he retired with the record unbroken, "it would haunt me for the rest of my life." In Week 1 this season, he broke his elbow at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and missed the next six games. In all, it took him almost two seasons to get the five scoring catches he needed to retire in peace.

"Physically, it is a battle now," says Largent, who's 35. "I don't regret the decision to play this year, but I also know retirement at the end of the year is the best decision I could make." Now he can leave knowing he has surpassed everyone who has ever played his position. The next stop will be Canton in 1995. After dropping the kids off at school a few more times, of course.

TOUCHY ISSUE OF THE WEEK

NFL personnel people find themselves in a tough spot these days about what to do with college juniors. "We don't want them to come out, and we don't encourage them," says George Young, the general manager of the Giants. "But there's a personnel community out there. We have to be in tune with it." On Monday the NFL cautioned both Blesto and National Football Scouting—the league's other scouting organization—that it is league policy not to scout juniors.

The big question, aside from which players might want to come out early, is what the NFL will do to stop them. The NFL has long prohibited drafting college players with eligibility left and who have neither graduated nor completed four years of study, but the rule is of questionable legality, and the league has consistently backed down from enforcing it when challenged by players. The latest to do so was Barry Sanders. Last April the league allowed Sanders, a true junior who was never redshirted and had eligibility left, to escape probation-saddled Oklahoma State, and officials fear his case may open the floodgates.

Complicating matters, the top pick in April could be a junior, Alabama linebacker Keith McCants—if he decides to turn pro. One Dallas scout says of McCants: "He's Lawrence Taylor. He's the best player out there. It's not even close." There are at least 17 other players with eligibility left who, if available, could go in the first three rounds:

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