The Rams made the first move with disgruntled tailback Eric Dickerson Thursday, placing him on the team's inactive list indefinitely and ruling him out of Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers at Anaheim Stadium.
The Rams, in a prepared statement, said that Dickerson at this time is "physically and mentally unable to play. . . . Eric will be reinstated on the active roster when he is 100% physically and mentally ready to play and we are assured that he is ready to resume his role on our team."
The inactive roster, or taxi squad, is a byproduct of the National Football League players' strike. NFL owners voted this week to expand rosters to 50 players to allow coaches a longer look at non-union players.
Each team must still reduce its game-day roster to 45 players, but now it has the option of selecting from five additional players.
While on the inactive list, Dickerson will be paid in full.
Suspending Dickerson without pay was a less likely option because he and his agent would surely have filed a grievance with the NFL Players Assn., claiming Dickerson is injured.
And according to the Rams, he is. Although some skeptics have accused Dickerson of malingering during last Monday night's 30-17 loss in Cleveland, the team officially announced that he was excused from the second half because of a thigh injury.
The Rams could have also placed Dickerson on injured reserve, but then the team could not recall him for a minimum of four weeks.
Ram Coach John Robinson did not rule out the possibility of a trade by next Tuesday's deadline but said, "Presently, we are not contemplating any other action."
Neither Dickerson nor his financial adviser, Charles Chin, made themselves available for comment Thursday.
Dickerson left Rams Park shortly after 10 a.m., but not before cleaning out his locker.
Robinson said Dickerson would not be required to be at practice today but wouldn't comment on whether his presence would be required at Sunday's game.
In the statement, the Rams detailed Dickerson's salary structure in an effort to prove that the team has offered to make him "the highest-paid running back in the NFL."
Of course, it's all in how you read the numbers.
The Rams listed the worth of Dickerson's three-year contract extension, which began this year and runs through 1989, at $2,550,000, or a total value of $850,000 a season. That figure, however, includes a $500,000 signing bonus that Dickerson, "because of his personal needs," the statement read, elected to receive a year before the extension began.
The Rams have offered to renegotiate Dickerson's present contract by $275,000 a season, which would put the total at $1.125 million.
Seattle Seahawks running back Curt Warner is reported to be the NFL's highest-paid running back. He recently signed a five-year, $5.21-million deal.
But Dickerson and Chin see the figures a little differently.
They claim the $500,000 signing bonus should be viewed as compensation for Dickerson's low base salary in 1986, when he earned $400,000.
In their eyes, Dickerson's base salary dropped from $900,000 in 1986 to $682,000 this season, $682,000 next year and $686,000 in 1989.
Thus the Rams' offer to increase Dickerson's salary by $275,000 a year still leaves him far short of $1 million and far behind Warner.
Team reaction to the Rams' decision on Dickerson was mixed.
Charles White, the starting tailback in Dickerson's place, made his first public comments since his arrest on misdemeanor charges for being under the influence of a controlled substance in August.
"I don't know if it's good for him," White said of Dickerson Thursday. "But overall, it's good for the team not to have a negative force around us. We're trying to win games. I think John did the right thing."
Dickerson's closest friend on the team, tight end David Hill, said the move to the inactive list may have been the final blow.
"It'll be hard for him to come back from that," Hill said. "Mentally, they've taken away the fun of playing here. After all the begging and screaming and hollering, it'll be almost hard to play and deal with the Rams for the rest of his career. It's almost past the point of money now."
Hill said Ram players are following the negotiations closely.
"As John Elway is to the Broncos, Eric is as important to this team," Hill said. "It does scare a lot of people. It's like, if they're doing this to Eric Dickerson, what won't they do to me? It's like shooting the prize bull. It doesn't make the other bulls feel too good."
Hill knows support for Dickerson is not universal.
"A few players think he's selfish," he said. "But those are players that will never be in his position. They have a hard time understanding. I don't have a hard time understanding. I'm for anyone with that ability. He's helped carry this team to the playoffs."
The Rams, though, think that Dickerson should honor the contract he signed.
In fact, the team said he promised as much.