Raghib (Rocket) Ismail, the Notre Dame football star, gave a new meaning to the term blockbuster contract Saturday night when he signed to play the next four seasons for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League for $6.5 million a year.
"It isn't all guaranteed," said his lawyer, Jon Edwards of San Francisco. "Only $4.5 million a year is guaranteed--for all four years."
Bruce McNall, the owner of the Kings and Argonauts, signed Ismail at the Forum to a contract that could pay him $26.2 million for 1991-94. Of that, $18.2 million is guaranteed.
Ismail will have to earn the other $8 million by attracting larger crowds than expected and with other services, Edwards said.
The Rocket's $6.5-million stipend is about $1.5 million larger annually than that of the highest-paid baseball players, Roger Clemens, Dwight Gooden and Jose Canseco.
Ismail's guaranteed $4.5 million nearly approximates their wages.
Quarterback Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers is the highest-paid player in the National Football League. He earned $4 million last season and will make $3.75 million this year.
McNall was unavailable for comment at Saturday night's Stanley Cup hockey game but authorized the preparation of statement for release early today.
As one of the financial considerations, "Raghib will have an opportunity to participate in the appreciation of the Toronto franchise," Edwards said.
The team is owned by McNall, King star Wayne Gretzky and actor John Candy.
"It's an unprecedented contract, the largest and most innovative in sports history," said East Coast writer Ralph Wiley, an friend of Ismail who hired Edwards and the other lawyers and agents on the player's negotiating team.
Earlier this month, McNall had opened the bidding for Ismail at $6 million for two years but raised his offer after the Dallas Cowboys traded with the New England Patriots to get the top pick in today's NFL draft.
Friday night, Team Rocket had offered the Dallas Cowboys a special price of $14.5 million over five years, The Times learned.
All of that would have been guaranteed. Half of that money would have been deferred. The Cowboys declined, and, reportedly, so did the Atlanta Falcons.
"We wanted to make sure that the NFL got a bona fide chance to get Raghib," said Oakland lawyer Ed Abram, a source close to one of the members of Team Rocket.
The player's negotiating team was worried, however, by the fact that the NFL's owners haven't recently signed a collective bargaining contract with their players, the source said.
"For that reason and because of Bruce McNall's integrity, we preferred Toronto all along," he said.
Ismail had said earlier that he preferred to test himself in the NFL. But he changed his mind after visiting Toronto this month and paying two visits to McNall.
He slipped into town Saturday and plans to return to school tonight after a Los Angeles news conference at a site to be announced.