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In the NFL draft in New York next week the Redskins have a No. 1 pick and the Cowboys don't. The Jets will have four selections out of the first 47. The fate of Billy Sims, the top choice in the nation, is in the hands of a Houston dentist, and San Francisco 49er Coach Bill Walsh, renowned as a molder of quarterbacks, might have to pass up the finest collegiate signal-caller since Bert Jones.
It's an iffy kind of draft. Trades, especially for San Francisco's choice, the second on the board, could throw everything out of whack. The top two linemen, Anthony Munoz of USC and Bruce Clark of Penn State, are coming off knee surgery. Insiders claim more clubs will draft "for need" this year. Still, the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers say they'll take the best available athlete—surprise! But somehow no one ever drafts that Soviet decathlon man.
You could get into arguments about the quality available. Browns Director of Player Personnel Tommy Prothro sees this year's draft as "a great one, better than last year's. It has depth." Other club officials are more guarded. "Once you get past the big stars, you'll see a lot of jumping around," says Dallas Vice-President for Personnel Development Gil Brandt.
Everyone concedes that the strongest position is cornerback, with at least six players worthy of going in the first round. Clark is the premier defensive lineman, but after that it's a scramble. For the first time in recent memory, three centers could go early. It's a bad year for linebackers, a good one for running backs. There's talent along the offensive line but no great depth. And no quarterback can be mentioned in the same breath with Brigham Young's Marc Wilson.
On talent, there's no question that the top choice in the draft, which belongs to the Detroit Lions, is Sims, the Oklahoma running back. The only knock on him is that he'll be 25 before he plays a down in the NFL.
"That could be a help, in terms of maturity," Lion Coach Monte Clark says. "The extra years don't matter, because they don't represent NFL wear and tear. The problem is signing him."
Enter Jerry Argovitz, 41, who has given up his Houston dental practice and become the newest star in the agents' league. Argovitz is Sims' agent, and so far his talks with Detroit General Manager Russ Thomas have been "totally unproductive," according to Thomas. "He's not realistic in his demands. I don't think he knows how NFL contracts are structured. I'd much prefer dealing with an experienced person."
For nine years Argovitz filled teeth for a living. In 1973 he stopped doing that and began handling doctors' and dentists' investments. He then became the financial adviser to a number of Oiler players.
Sims' original agent was L.A.'s boy wonder, Mike Trope. But a few months ago, when the particulars of the contract Trope had negotiated with Houston for Earl Campbell began to surface, Sims started having second thoughts. Campbell's $1.4 million, six-year package with the Oilers turned out to be mostly air. The bulk of it was deferred 40 years down the line, to be paid off in five-cent dollars, figuring on inflation. Trope had taken his cut from the original bundle. Campbell hired another agent and very quietly and smoothly upgraded his contract, reportedly for $3 million over six years, with no 40-year deferments.
Sims switched to Argovitz, whose first proposal looked like this: A $1.5 million signing bonus, deferred 20 years, with $500,000 to be loaned to Sims over 10 years, the loan being a common device to beat the tax bite. The $1.5 million figure is negotiable, Argovitz says. The guaranteed three-year contract would call for salaries of $120,000, $150,000 and $240,000. At the start of the third year the club would have an option to extend Sims' contract through a fourth, fifth and sixth year—at $500,000 per. Otherwise they could release him, but he would get paid for the third year. And there's something Argovitz calls the Sims Clause.