Greg Campbell, Hebert's agent, has dangled the figure of $5 million for five years—first come, first served. Campbell is quick to add that this is a reasonable request, that Warren Moon, 28, the free-agent quarterback from the Canadian League, got $5.5 million for five years from the Houston Oilers in 1984.
"Bobby's in a unique position," says Campbell. "Nobody has to give up a draft choice or make a huge trade to get him. He's comparable to Moon, only younger."
For better or worse, the USFL is out of this derby. Probably for better. "It's ridiculous," says Mike Keller, the Invaders' director of operations, of Hebert's asking price.
Well, let's see. According to Campbell, 10 NFL teams have expressed interest in signing Hebert. Of those 10, Seattle, Green Bay, Atlanta, New Orleans and the Los Angeles Raiders have hunkered down seriously. The Philadelphia Eagles scouted him, but then the Eagles' interest waned. Word has it that the Raiders, with old Jim Plunkett at the helm and shaky Marc Wilson behind him, are so covetous of Hebert that they will simply let the bidding run its course and then top the best offer. Rumor even has it that Invader head coach Charlie Sumner, a former Raider assistant who still wears his Raiders' Super Bowl XVIII Championship ring, will somehow hand-deliver Hebert to L.A.'s Al Davis. Rumor also has it that Hebert has been secretly signed by the Raiders for weeks.
Sumner laughs at all of it. Campbell denies it. Davis deadpans, " Hebert is a prospect still being evaluated." And that is all he will say.
But is this cheerful, innocent kid worth all the strained silence? On potential alone, yes. Hebert is strong, agile—he once rushed for over 100 yards in his college career at Northwestern (La.) State University—and savvy. "His anticipation of routes really impresses me," says Fred Besana, Oakland's starting quarterback before the merger with Michigan. Hebert quarterbacked the Panthers in his first two USFL seasons.
Michigan chose Hebert largely on potential in the third round of the inaugural 1983 draft, after which he promptly led the Panthers to the first USFL championship. On the way he completed 57% of his passes for 3,568 yards, 27 touchdowns and had only 17 interceptions. He was named the MVP of the championship game, the USFL's outstanding quarterback and its Player of the Year. The reason he had gone so late in the USFL draft was that his school was small and he had missed much of his junior and senior seasons because of injuries. And he didn't get selected at all by the NFL because he couldn't wait for the big league draft—he was married and needed money.
Hebert didn't have an agent then, and the contract he signed—four years, followed by an option year, for relatively little money—has hindered his development ever since. He sat out all of training camp last year in protest, and finally got the last two years of his contract deleted. But sitting out hurt him—he threw three fewer TDs and five more interceptions last year than in '83. Coming to a new team this year did not help, either. Not only was there the new town, the new teammates and the new apartment with rented furniture and bare walls to get used to, but a week before training camp opened, the Invaders' offensive coordinator, Joe Pendry, quit. It was too late to hire a new coach, so Hebert more or less became his own coach, teaching himself an offense he didn't know.
After falling to 4-3-1, the Invaders finally got it together, winning eight of their next nine games and were 12-4-1 with one game remaining, the best record in the USFL. For Hebert, who finally felt comfortable, the numbers started to build nicely.
But there remains something unpolished about this gem. He throws back across the middle too much and he hasn't mastered the control game yet, the dink stuff that moves a team boringly yet relentlessly upfield. Hebert is, after all, the most authentic product of an unpolished league. "He's going to see better corners and better man coverage in the NFL," says Arizona Outlaws safety Bruce Laird, a 12-year NFL veteran who intercepted an Hebert pass in a recent game. "He's going to have a rude awakening."