Steve Young, the NFL’s MVP, officially was removed from the leag
NEW YORK (AP) _ Steve Young, the NFL’s MVP, officially was removed from the league’s first- ever unrestricted free agent pool on Thursday, along with dominant pass- rushers Neil Smith of Kansas City and Leslie O’Neal of San Diego.
But teams seeking instant help were left with a potpourri of pickings that includes Philadelphia’s Reggie White, one of the NFL’s top defensive linemen, and quarterbacks such as the inconsistent Vinny Testaverde of Tampa Bay, who was the top overall pick in the 1987 draft, Bobby Hebert of New Orleans, and Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler, who each won Super Bowls for the New York Giants.
Thursday was the deadline for teams to declare players they would protect from raids by other teams.
A total of 66 players were protected of a possible 84, but 39 of those 66 were players whose contracts are up in future years. And only 10 of the 28 teams designated ″franchise players,″ those who cannot be touched.
The list was indicative of the vagaries of pro football.
On the one hand, one-time top prospects such as Testaverde were left to sell their wares on the free agent market. On the other hand, players considered expendable under the now-defunct Plan B - Kansas City nose tackle Dan Saleaumua and San Diego running back Ronnie Harmon to name two - were protected under a far less restricted system.
Houston solved a problem by re-signing backup quarterback Cody Carlson, who would have been a highly sought free agent. Then the Oilers protected three prime potential free agents - All-Pro linebacker Al Smith, running back Lorenzo White and wide receiver Ernest Givins.
And the short careers of running backs was reflected in the fact that only five were protected - White, Harmon, Barry Foster of Pittsburgh, Reggie Cobb of Tampa Bay and Harold Green of Cincinnati. By contrast, three of the 10 franchise players - Paul Gruber of the Bucs, Jumbo Elliott of the Giants and Lomas Brown of the Lions - are offensive tackles, a position at which careers are long.
There were two categories of players protected.
One was franchise players like Young, the San Francisco quarterback, who must remain with the 49ers and be paid among the league’s top five quarterbacks - a minimum of $3.28 million. They remain protected for the life of their contract and their team can’t designate another franchise player during that time.
But 18 teams declined to place anyone in that category, at least for this year.
″That’s a media term I’ve never used in my life. We don’t take it seriously,″ said Jim Finks, the Saints’ president and general manager, who protected three players, including Morten Andersen, perhaps the game’s best placekicker.
Andersen and many others are ″transition players,″ who must be paid among the top 10 at their positions. Their current teams have the right to match any offer made to them by other teams.
Many of those transition players included 1992 rookies whom teams want to protect even though their contracts aren’t close to being up.
They included Indianapolis’ Steve Emtman and Quentin Coryatt, the top two players chosen in last year’s draft; the Los Angeles Rams’ Sean Gilbert, the third overall pick; Marco Coleman and Troy Vincent, Miami’s two first-round picks last April; and Kansas City cornerback Dale Carter, the defensive rookie of the year.
Cleveland protected safety Eric Turner, the second player taken in 1991, as a transition player.
Next season, teams will be allowed only one transition player and thereafter will be able to protect only the franchise player.
The designation of Young, who led San Francisco to a 14-2 record last season, was expected. It also could lead to the departure of Joe Montana, who has always been considered ″the franchise″ in San Francisco, where he led the 49ers to four Super Bowl victories.
Reggie White automatically is free because he was a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits that led to the settlement. But he was declared a franchise player, as was another plaintiff, safety Tim McDonald of Phoenix. They did that so that if White and McDonald move, they can get draft-choice compensation (from a pool established for that purpose).
In fact, the big winner on the day might have been Leigh Steinberg, the agent for Young, McDonald and a number of top players; he continued to negotiate with the Cardinals on a new contract for McDonald as the 4 p.m. EST deadline approached.
One of Steinberg’s clients, 30-year-old linebacker Duane Bickett of Indianapolis, was named a franchise player, meaning a player who made one Pro Bowl must be paid among the top five linebackers, at least $1.64 million. By comparison, Carl Banks of the Giants, a player of similar age, ability, accomplishments and salary, was made only a transition player.
General manager Jimmy Irsay said the decision on Bickett was based on choosing a position where Indianapolis could least afford to lose a key player.
″We’re going into an area of great uncertainty, no one knows what is going to happen to the market,″ he said.
But that move set up a potential bonanza for two other clients of Steinberg’s - Jeff George, the Colts’ quarterback, and Kansas City linebacker Derrick Thomas.
Thomas, whose contract runs out after next season, could be protected then as a transition player. He is an All-Pro, four years younger than Bickett, meaning that he probably can command far more as a free agent.
If Bickett’s new contract extends beyond 1995 - and Steinberg plans that - it will mean that George, entering the fourth season of a six-year contract, will be a free agent in ’95. That should mean a financial bonanza for George.
Wilber Marshall, the linebacker who left Chicago for Washington as a free agent in 1988, was designated the Redskins’ franchise player. He was one of only two players in 15 years to change teams under the old system.