While Ram management tried to soothe the wounds opened by the recent 24-day player strike, disgruntled running back Eric Dickerson stood poised with his salt shaker Monday.
Dickerson, along with 44 other former Ram strikers, returned to practice Monday in time to sprinkle some discontent. As if another knee injury to starting linebacker Mark Jerue, a 1-4 record and the memory of Coach John Robinson's bogus player list weren't enough.
Just in case anyone has forgotten, Dickerson said, he still is upset about his contract; he wants to be traded--to the Far East, if necessary; and he predicts that the Rams will be forced to rely on the passing game if his demands aren't met.
"I'm like the 25th-highest paid player in the league and I'm one of the top three players," Dickerson said. "That doesn't make any sense. You all can say in the paper I'm crying, I complain. If you want to get rid of somebody who cries, get rid of me. That's my motto: Get rid of me.
"If I had a dog that I couldn't stand or bit me, I'd shoot him," he said. "I'd kill him. I'd just get rid of him. I mean it. Get rid of me. I'd gladly leave."
This wasn't exactly the attitude Robinson was promoting. Reconciliation and appeasement were more on his mind as he tried to find a cure for last place and frayed emotions.
"He practiced hard (Monday) and I haven't had a conversation about it, so I don't know what to tell you," Robinson said of Dickerson. "Wasn't Ted Williams unhappy the year he hit .406?"
But Dickerson, upset and outspoken, wasn't in a mood for nerve soothing.
"I'm so underpaid that it's ridiculous," he said. "Don't get me wrong, $600,000 (actually, $682,000 in pre-strike salary and signing bonus) is a lot of money. I'm not saying that by no means. But when I look at John Elway making 2 million; Dan Marino makes a million-five, (Vinny) Testaverde makes a million-three; Boomer Esiason makes a million-two . . . What I make in salary, they pay in taxes."
He also said: "I'm willing to play out this year. I'm willing to play out the year, if they just give me a solemn oath that they'll get rid of me. I wish they would. I don't cause problems. I don't have no drug problems or anything. My hang-up is that I'm under-paid. That's my big hang-up, I'm under-paid."
As recently as last Friday, Dickerson said, the Rams presented a contract package that would increase his annual earnings to $975,000 through 1989, the length of his current agreement. In return, he said, the Rams want him to sign a one-year extension for $1.1 million.
According to Dickerson, it was the Rams' final offer. Dickerson said the proposal is unacceptable.
Right now, Dickerson earns $682,000 on a $341,000 signing bonus and $341,000 in base salary for 1987; $682,000 on the same arrangement for '88, and $686,000 in base salary for '89. Dickerson lost $85,250 during the strike.
"They offered me a ridiculous figure," Dickerson said. "There are defensive backs making the money they're offering me. They want me to run the ball 30-35 times and be productive and win football games. They want a Rolls-Royce with a Volkswagen sticker on it.
"I met with John Shaw (Ram vice president in charge of finance) five times and it was the same old runaround. I'm just getting sick of it. Hey, let me go. Release me. Waive me. Yeah, please release me."
There was more. Plenty. He spared no one, certainly not management.
Dickerson on Robinson's salary, estimated to be about $600,000: "John makes more than all of us. All of the players, me too. He makes more than me. Let him run 47 Gap."
Nearby, teammate David Hill burst out in laughter. "You'll be out of here before nightfall," Hill said.
"I'm serious," Dickerson said. "This has got to me. I'm unhappy, really unhappy. I had better days in high school and college and I wasn't even making money."
Dickerson on the price of happiness: "I'm going to play no matter what. I'd play this year for a million-one. That would satisfy me.
"I'd play great for a million-three. No problem. (The Rams) wouldn't even hear this out of me again. I'm not a problem player. All I ask is to be compensated for the way I play."
The Rams, however, as proven by league-wide salary comparisons, rarely pay market value. Dickerson earns considerably less than his peers. But, says management, Dickerson did sign the contract.
To this, Dickerson says he will happily depart the premises. In fact, he's thinking of reminding Robinson of just that.
"I asked John about trading me during training camp and I'm going to ask him again because I'm not a happy player right now."
As for the previous conversation, Dickerson said it was wasted effort. "Oh, (Robinson) gives me this runaround. Who knows what he gives me? Like I told him, they made the deal with Barry Redden. He played out this year, they traded him. (I'm) asking him for the same thing. I'm going to ask again, really, because I'm really disgusted."