Tiny Green Bay, which was supposed to be only a pit stop on Reggie White's grand tour, became the surprise new home for the most sought-after prize in the NFL's new free-agent system.
And officials for the franchise in the NFL's smallest city did it the old-fashioned way: They made him the best offer, an offer the Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman couldn't refuse.
White will get a $4.5 million signing bonus, a $1.5 million reporting bonus and $3 million in base salary this year. He also gets $8 million over the next three years, with salaries of $3.15 million, $2.85 million and $2 million.
"I look at this like a Charles Barkley situation," White said of the basketball star who is thriving with the Phoenix Suns after being traded from the Philadelphia 76ers. "Hopefully, my career can be rejuvenated."
He became the highest-paid non-quarterback and the third highest paid player in the history of the game. Quarterbacks John Elway of the Denver Broncos and Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins are the top two.
They've both signed contract extensions in the $5 million-a-year range although the NFL Players Association lists Marino's average at $4.34 million because it includes one year of an old contract. White's average will be listed at $4.25 million.
Green Bay lacks two of the qualities White said were important: They're not an immediate Super Bowl contender; they are a rebuilding team that was 9-7 last year. Green Bay also lacks a large inner-city population. White is a minister who devotes a lot of time to the inner city.
White said the big contract will help him to work in many inner cities.
White said: "The ministry will take care of itself. People will say I went for the money, and the money does have something to do with it. But it gives me an opportunity to build businesses, create housing and create opportunities for people in the inner city. I want to do that all over the country."
Jimmy Sexton, his agent, defended White for basing the decision on the Green Bay offer.
"You can criticize him if you want [for taking the best offer]," said Sexton, his agent. "But every man out there would have done the same thing."
But even the losers in the White Derby were not criticizing him yesterday.
Charley Casserly, the general manager for the Redskins, said, "I think from day one, it was a money issue. He went where the money was. Quite frankly, I don't blame him."
Carmen Policy, the president of the San Francisco 49ers, said, "I felt the dollars offered by Green Bay were just far too much to overcome. Without guaranteeing the contract, which we couldn't we couldn't come close to matching the deal."
The 49ers, one of the top four teams last season, were limited by the new bidding rules to offering $19.5 million for five years. Further, they could offer only $5.9 million the first year or $8.4 million over the first two years.
Over $11 million was loaded in the final three years of the 49ers' offer, and White, 31, feared he would not play that long.
"He was afraid they'd wake up one morning saying, 'We can't afford a 34-year-old defensive lineman making $5 million,' and cut him," Sexton said.
White would have played in Washington for $16 million for four years -- $1 million less than what the Packers offered.
But owner Jack Kent Cooke, worried about the impact of the salary cap next year, refused to go above the $13 million to $14 million range. Although the Redskins had privately indicated they were willing to offer $14 million, Sexton insisted they offered $13 million.
Casserly called the Redskins' bid a "fabulous offer." He added, "It was the best we could do under the salary cap. It was more than we ever offered a player to play for the Washington Redskins."
Quarterback Mark Rypien is currently the team's highest paid player at $3 million a year.
Green Bay will have an easier time making room for White's salary under the cap because its payroll is lower than Washington's.
But Packers general manager Ron Wolf downplayed the money issue, crediting coach Mike Holmgren and defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes for helping convince White that Green Bay is putting together a good team.
"Everybody seems to want to make this a money issue, but Reggie White had an opportunity to go to several teams and settled on our team," Wolf said.
The Philadelphia Eagles, who couldn't prevent him from leaving because he was named a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits, will now get No. 1 picks in the next two drafts for White. Casserly called that a "good trade" for the Eagles.
From a league standpoint, White's signing in Green Bay is a positive step for competitive balance. When the owners were fighting free agency, they argued the best players would sign with the best teams in the big-market cities. Instead, the team in the smallest market that hasn't made the playoffs in a non-strike year since 1972 got the first big prize.
White's signing by Green Bay also could be good news for the two expansion teams the league is supposed to award this fall to play in 1995.
In the past, expansion teams have tended to suffer through several losing seasons while building through the draft. The White signing shows that the expansion teams could now improve quickly by making the best offer for some of the top free agents.
Baltimore is one of the five cities that is a finalist in the expansion derby.
Meanwhile, the failure to sign White raises the question of whether the Redskins, who used to have the advantage of Cooke's open checkbook, will suffer a decline under the new system.
But the Redskins are ready to go in a different direction. They're going to make an offer for defensive lineman Wayne Martin (Casserly called his agent, Kevin Scanlon, yesterday to open talks) of the New Orleans Saints -- although the Saints can keep him by matching it -- and plan to try to sign running back Marcus Allen of the Los Angeles Raiders.
When he was asked to assess the impact of losing White, Casserly said, "We didn't lose anybody. We never had him. We'll just move on."
Total: $17 million for 4 years
Signing bonus: $4.5 million.
Reporting bonus: $1.5 million
1993 base: $3 million
1994 base: $3.15 million
1995 base: $2.85 million
1996 base: $2 million
(For salary cap purposes, a pro-rated share of the signing bonus ($1.125 million) will be added to the base salaries the last three years).