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This Cowboy's Cayuse Is the Living Room Couch : Contract Talks Keep Former Bruin Star Sherrard Waiting and Watching

August 07, 1986|BRIAN LANDMAN | Times Staff Writer

As Mike Sherrard watched an injured Mike Renfro sitting on the Cowboys' bench and other receivers dropping passes all over Wembley Stadium's soggy field, he ached for a chance to play against the Chicago Bears.

But Sherrard, the former UCLA standout and Dallas' No. 1 draft pick, was not watching last Sunday's exhibition game from the sidelines. Instead, wearing a UCLA T-shirt and shorts, he sat comfortably on a couch in his uncle's Inglewood home, parked in front of the television set.

"It's really tough," he said. "I would've liked to have gone to London and play. I've never been out of the country, unless you count Tijuana. But there's nothing I could really do about it."

Negotiations between the Cowboys and Sherrard have crept along at a snail's pace.

Leigh Steinberg was seeking a four-year, $1.76-million package for his client, but the Cowboys reportedly offered about $500,000 less than the proposed figure and then reduced their offer to $1.2 million.

That did not surprise Steinberg.

When the Cowboys surged past the New York Giants, the team Steinberg was certain would take Sherrard, by swapping the 20th pick of the first round to San Francisco for the 18th pick overall and selected Sherrard, Steinberg was initially disappointed.

"Dallas is traditionally one of the lower-paying teams in the NFL," he said at the time.

Still, Steinberg's clients usually sign before training camp. In fact, last season was the first time he held anyone out.

"I abhor holdouts," he said. "I don't like the concept at all."

But the Cowboys complicated the negotiation process by not making their first offer until June 23, just 13 days before they opened training camp in Thousands Oaks on July 6.

Steinberg said that he countered with a package worth $1.6 million but the Cowboys would not budge.

The Arizona Outlaws of the U.S. Football League reportedly offered Sherrard a four-year, $1.9-million contract before the USFL-NFL antitrust trial ended, but Sherrard said that he was not seriously contemplating a career in the USFL.

"All the time, I really wanted to play in the NFL for the Cowboys," he said while watching the Bears beat the Cowboys, 17-6. "As a kid, you always think of playing in the NFL.

"The USFL was an option, but they needed to win a lot of money if they were going to pay me (and the other players). Now, it's going to be tough for the league to make it."

Steinberg has dropped his demands "to a figure that would split the difference" and that would be in line with the contracts of other first rounders, especially Tim McGee. McGee, the speedy wide receiver from Tennessee and the No. 21 pick overall by the Cincinnati Bengals, signed a four-year, $1.3-million deal.

In the meantime, the 6-foot-2, 186-pound native of Chico can only wait and practice independently.

He said that he is working out four or five days a week at UCLA and studying a playbook, but he will still be behind when he does sign.

"I'm working out, but not twice a day," he said. "The more time I miss in training camp, the tougher it's going to be to step in and contribute."

The Cowboys, however, know he can contribute. After all, the team lacks a deep threat, and Sherrard certainly can get up the field in a hurry.

Sherrard, who averaged 15.5 yards a reception at UCLA, ran 40 yards in 4.28 and then a 4.23 at workouts for NFL scouts just before the April 29 draft.

During the telecast of the Cowboys-Bears game, NBC announcer Dick Enberg referred to Sherrard and his "blazing speed." However, Sherrard's ability to catch the football sometimes is lost in the rush to talk about his times in a dash.

Indeed, Sherrard's hands are often criticized, even though he holds UCLA's records for most receptions in a season (48) and in a career (128).

"I don't like him because he doesn't have first-round hands," said Bruce Coslett, Cincinnati's wide receiver coach, before the draft. "He catches everything in his chest. If he has to reach up and catch it, he can't."

Such comments are about the only thing that can anger the otherwise mild-mannered Sherrard.

He said that he caught passes with his hands in high school, but UCLA teaches its receivers to cradle the ball with their bodies.

"We call it the 'pocket catch,' " he said. "When you catch it, it's already secure. I think it's a good way to catch it.

"There. Did you see that?" he said pointing to a replay of Dallas' Tony Hill making a pocket catch. "If you analyze the game, you'll see most people catch the ball with their bodies."

And Sherrard is quick to point to his almost unblemished record of holding onto the ball. In four years, he fumbled only once, against Cal two years ago when he was fighting for a first down.

"In college, I was running a 4.4, which isn't slow but it's not great, and all they talked about was my ability to catch the ball," Sherrard said. "Now, I'm running a 4.2 and all they talk about is my speed. I guess you can't have both."

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