In a deal filled with ramifications that are likely to reverberate throughout the NFL, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones lured cornerback Deion Sanders away from the San Francisco 49ers yesterday by making him the highest-paid defensive player in league history.
Although Jones wouldn't reveal the details until Sanders arrives in Dallas for the official announcement tomorrow, sources in Dallas said Sanders got a $25 million deal with a $12.5 million signing bonus that is the highest in league history.
The seven-year deal voids after five years and dwarfs the four-year, $17.25 million deal with $6 million up front that Reggie White got from Green Bay in 1993 and was the previous high for a defensive player.
The Cowboys also said they will play Sanders some at wide receiver.
The deal could switch the balance of power in the NFL because San Francisco beat Dallas twice last year with Sanders, but was 0-3 against the Cowboys in its previous three meetings. The teams have won the past three Super Bowls.
"We got Charles Haley away from San Francisco and won two Super Bowls with him. Maybe we can do the same with Deion," Jones said.
But Sanders' signing may not automatically put the Cowboys over the top. It's not the same as his signing with San Francisco last year.
To start with, Sanders played last year for $1.134 million so his signing didn't upset team chemistry. On the Cowboys, only quarterback Troy Aikman, who has a $50 million package, will be making more than Sanders.
Running back Emmitt Smith said: "Deion should help us get to the Super Bowl. That's what it's all about." But Smith may have trouble forgetting that he had to hold out in 1993 to get a four-year, $13.6 million deal, which is barely more than Sanders' signing bonus.
Sanders, an outfielder with the San Francisco Giants, also played 14 games with the 49ers last year because of the baseball strike. Sanders won't join the Cowboys until after the baseball season ends and then likely will have arthroscopic surgery on a sprained ankle to deal with Texas Stadium's artificial turf.
Sanders' arrival also will mean that right cornerback Larry Brown will have to switch to the left side. And the Cowboys, who usually play zone, will have to switch to man-to-man for Sanders.
49ers president Carmen Policy called the Dallas deal stratospheric.
"Their offer was beyond significant. We feel that it was not only inappropriate and irresponsible to match that offer. It would have had a very destructive effect on the 49ers team chemistry," Policy said.
But Jones noted that when he bought the Cowboys for $140 million "naysayers said we paid too much."
In any case, this signing hypes the San Francisco-Dallas Nov. 12 meeting that already had been touted as the NFL's game of the year.