Forget the talk, free agents put money...


Forget the talk, free agents put money first

If you ever hear somebody say it's not the money, you probably can bet on one thing.

It's the money.

That's why it was amusing to hear Keith Jackson's answer whehe was asked last week what sold him on the Miami Dolphins.

"The offensive scheme, no doubt about it," he said.

The $6 million contract didn't hurt, either. The NFL got its first glimpse of free agency for big-name players since 1976 last week when Jackson, Webster Slaughter and Garin Veris changed teams.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who insists that free agency will hurt competitive balance, noted all three players joined winning teams.

But Jackson left one of the league's best teams, the Philadelphia Eagles, to join a team, the Dolphins, that has made the playoffs once in the past six years. Don Shula and Dan Marino give the Dolphins a glamorous image, but they've finished 8-8 in three of the past six years.

Under free agency, players will leave good teams as well as bad. And they'll leave for the money.

Jackson also gave up a chance to play against the Cowboys, Redskins and Giants twice a year in high-pressure games for a chance to play the Jets, Patriots and Colts twice a year in yawners.

He did it for the money, which is the real reason the players love free agency and the owners hate it.

In free agency, there's always one team that will overpay. Twenty-six teams declined to top the Eagles' offer to Jackson, estimated to be $1.2 million to $1.3 million a year.

But the Dolphins went to $1.5 million, even though Jackson arrived in Miami complaining that the Eagles had the audacity to ask him to block on occasion.

"I didn't want to stay in and block. I didn't like that," he said. "Pass blocking is not one of the things I like to do."

He'll take the money, but don't ask him to throw any blocks. Maybe he got that in his contract, too.

This week's lawsuit

It wouldn't seem appropriate for a week to go by without a lawsuit being filed by the NFL players.

The filings last week were done by former Saints quarterback John Fourcade and New England Patriots cornerback Maurice Hurst in federal district court in New Orleans. The class-action suit was filed on behalf of all former and active players who are "denied freedom of movement available to employees in any other industry in the United States."

What they're seeking is free agency for all players whose contracts are up at the end of this year.

It'll be interesting to see the response from federal judge David Doty, who granted free agency to Jackson and the other holdouts.

In his decision, Doty said he believed that "granting such relief may encourage, rather than stifle, settlement [of the case]."

It actually stifled negotiations because there will be no settlement until both sides find out if all the players will be free agents.

The question now is whether Doty will blame the owners or the players for the lack of a settlement.

If he blames the owners, he could grant free agency to all players. If he blames the players, he might not.

Last week the owners started preparing a new free-agency plan with the input of their lawyers. The players are likely to file suit against it and then Doty will have to decide whether to allow it.

Pride and poise?

Many NFL people found it telling that Al Davis, the managing general partner of the Los Angeles Raiders, passed on Keith Jackson.

The owners always have raised the specter of Davis buying up all the good players in a free-agent market.

That he passed showed how tough things are for Davis. He's not a tycoon and the Raiders aren't a big money maker these days because they're having trouble drawing fans.

Losing teams don't draw well in Los Angeles under any circumstances, especially at the Los Angeles Coliseum. A Southern California player was struck by a stray bullet on the team's practice field near the Coliseum last week. The Raiders don't practice there, but the incident did nothing to allay fans' fears about going to the stadium.

The Raiders are 0-4 this year and have lost eight straight.

But Davis, who can't blame himself for the team's failure, founhis first scapegoat last week -- assistant coach Terry Robiske. Davis took the play-calling duties away from Robiske and handed them to another assistant, Tom Walsh.

"Maybe we can get over the hump by doing that," Davis said.

The Raiders need a new play caller, but not on the field.

8, They need a new one in the front office.

The last win

On Dec. 22, 1990, the second-to-last game of the 1990 season, the Indianapolis Colts upset the Washington Redskins, 35-28.

Since that victory, the Colts are 2-18.

Eric Dickerson, though, is even worse. He's 0-15. He has played in 11 losing games with the Colts and four with the Raiders.

"It's been a long time since I've won a game," Dickerson said. "But I can't sit up at night and think I have a curse on me."

A bad 3-1 team?

John Elway is getting tired of hearing how the Denver Broncos, who have gone nine quarters without a touchdown, are a bad 3-1 team.

"Who cares? Would you rather be a good 0-4 team," he said. "The Raiders are a great 0-4 team.

Head shots

Like Lynn Swann a generation ago, Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers is complaining about all the blows to the head he's getting.

"I told the trainers they need to design a certain helmet for my head because I'm getting TKO'd out there, bells and everything," Rice said.

"If they have an opportunity to get a hit on me, they try to take me out."

The 49ers have complained to the league office about the shots. Rice was knocked out of the Buffalo game with a concussion three weeks ago.

After the Raiders gave Swann concussions with shots to the head in two consecutive games, former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll called them the "criminal element" of the league in 1976.

George Atkinson, who hit Swann from behind in the back of the helmet, then sued for slander, but lost in court.

Vito Stellino's picks

I don't know if the Cowboys are back to being "America's Team," but they appear to have become the tattoo team.

Two fans wrote to the Dallas Cowboys Weekly saying they're sporting Cowboys tattoos. And they weren't joking.

Matthew McOwen of Toledo, Ohio, wrote: "To show my support, I recently had a Cowboys helmet tattoo placed on my calf, and I wear it proudly."

Marsha Moser of Hometown, Ill., wrote that she and her husband are rabid fans and she has a Cowboys helmet tattooed on her shoulder, and "I took a beating from the Bears fans where I work about the preseason loss."

Is this some sort of new fashion trend? Will Colts fans do this? Do the Colts still have any fans?

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