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ANATOMY OF A TRADE : How Dickerson Got What He Wanted

November 04, 1987|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

Eric Dickerson probably gained half of his 7,245 yards for the Rams running 47 Gap. The Gap, a hard-driving charge off tackle behind massed blocking, was his play and, in the end, his ploy.

He knew he wasn't worth what a superstar quarterback earns--up to $2 million a year for the Denver Broncos' John Elway--but he thought he was worth more than the highest-paid running back--the Seattle Seahawks' Curt Warner at $1.04 million a year.

So his team devised a game plan. His business adviser, Charles Chin, said they wanted "nothing less than 25% above the highest-paid running back."

Jim Brown, a Pasadena lawyer whom Chin brought in as a consultant a couple of months ago, said: "We were thinking in terms of something between quarterbacks and running backs. We wanted more than the highest running back, plus a gap. Our game plan all along was that gap area."

Dickerson shot the gap and scored. Big.

The Colts paid him a signing bonus of $500,000 and will pay him $1.1 million this year, pro-rated down to $687,000 because he joins them in mid-season. Then he will receive $1.2 million in '88, $1.3 million in '89 and $1.45 million in '90, plus as much as $200,000 in incentive bonuses.

Throw in the $127,875 he will receive from the Rams for three games before and after the strike and he could earn as much as $5,464,875 through 1990, plus playoff money, if any.

The Colt contract is guaranteed against injury but not diminished skills. In other words, if Dickerson, 27, breaks a leg, he's covered. If people start catching him from behind, he's out of luck.

The speed with which it all came together was impressive, considering the drawn-out agonies Dickerson and the Rams had endured twice in the last three years.

Even then, Ram vice president John Shaw told Chin at 7 Friday night that if he and the Colts couldn't work it all out by noon Saturday, it was off.

Then, while Chin, Brown and Dickerson met with the Colts at Indianapolis Saturday, Chin said: "The Rams nit-picked us until the last second. In my opinion, John Shaw didn't think we could put it together."

Brown said: "Charlie did a heck of a job, and Eric did a lot of the deal himself. He's had enough of agents."

Dickerson fired his first one, Jack Mills of Boulder, Colo., because, Dickerson said, Mills was too far away.

Then, when the Ken Norton Personal Management Agency collapsed in a dispute between Jack Rodri and Norton after the latter's debilitating car crash, its only client--Dickerson--placed his trust in Chin, Rodri's former assistant.

Chin, 27, is a native of Korea who immigrated with his family in 1968 and attended the U.S. Air Force Academy. He said he hired Brown, who once worked for sports attorney Leigh Steinberg, to "research salaries of other players and (help with) the legal parts of the contract."

When reports started circulating that Dickerson had flown to Indianapolis late last Friday night with "Jim Brown," it was generally assumed that the former Cleveland Browns running back-turned-actor was running interference for Dickerson in negotiations.

Not so.

"I hardly know Jim Brown," Dickerson said.

This Jim Brown dabbles in sports agentry but is more involved in golf projects in Japan. It's only coincidental that he once lived in Indianapolis and has extensive contacts in the city.

During Dickerson's most recent problems with the Rams, Brown frequently consulted Steinberg and two other well-known agents: Steve Zucker of Chicago, who represents Bear quarterback Jim McMahon, and Ken Weinberg of Akron, Ohio, who works with Greg Lustig in representing Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly.

They pretty well knew what they wanted when things suddenly started to pop early last Friday morning.

When Colt Coach Ron Meyer cut short the taping of his weekly TV show to meet with owner Robert Irsay and Irsay's son, Jim, the general manager, it seemed too much if the Colts were just going to sign their first-round draft choice, holdout linebacker Cornelius Bennett.

The only other implication could be that the Colts were working on a deal for Dickerson, and with the connections there it made a lot of sense. Meyer coached Dickerson at Southern Methodist. Jim Irsay, 28, was an undistinguished SMU linebacker for 1 1/2 seasons and a year ahead of Dickerson, until an ankle injury ended his career.

In fact, Jim Irsay had asked Meyer that morning if he'd like to have Dickerson, if a deal could be put together. Meyer said his response was "ecstatic."

Irsay already had approached Shaw during the National Football League owners meetings at Kansas City earlier in the week, expressing casual interest in Dickerson.

When Brown's contacts in Indianapolis noted the Saturday morning activity, they called him, and Brown told Chin: "Charlie, I think we should all stay close today."

It was a long day. At about 7 p.m., Shaw called Chin to give him authorization to talk with the Colts.

Jim Irsay made a $1.1-million-a-year offer.

He was told that alone wasn't enough.

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