Saints match Lions' offer, will keep Swilling He will rank No. 2 in pay for defenders

March 31, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer B

Linebacker Pat Swilling couldn't take the money and run.

Swilling, a restricted free agent who was given a three-year, $5.475 million offer sheet by the Detroit Lions last Monday, will have to remain in New Orleans because the Saints matched the offer yesterday.

Swilling's contract will average $1.825 million a year, making him the second-highest-paid defensive player in the NFL behind Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants ($1.833 million).

But Swilling didn't get his wish to leave New Orleans, where he said he hasn't been appreciated.

"I don't take that seriously. That's posturing," general manager Jim Finks said of Swilling's complaints about his treatment in New Orleans, where he held out in 1989 and 1990. "If I were that sensitive, I would have been out of this business a long time ago."

Doug Allen, the assistant executive director of the NFL Players Association, said the fact that the NFL's free-agency rules allowed the Saints to keep Swilling shows that the system isn't fair to the players.

"It ought to be up to Pat Swilling whether he accepts offers from New Orleans or Detroit. Jim Finks doesn't own Pat Swilling, and he's acting as if he does. The problem is with the system," Allen said.

If the Saints hadn't matched the offer, they would have gotten two first-round draft picks from the Lions.

The NFLPA has been engaged in a 4 1/2 -year legal fight to overturn the NFL's free-agency system. An antitrust trial beginning on June 15 will be held in Minneapolis to determine if the current system is legal.

Swilling said Finks' decision "shows maybe this organization is showing the fans they are willing to make a commitment [to winning]."

But Swilling, who led the NFL with 17 sacks last year, added, "This is only one incident."

Swilling is the fourth restricted free agent since 1988 to get an offer sheet. Only one, Wilber Marshall, who went from the Chicago Bears to the Washington Redskins in 1988 when the Bears declined to match a five-year, $6 million offer, has changed teams.

The offers for Bruce Smith of the Buffalo Bills, Ray Childress of the Houston Oilers and Swilling were matched by their teams.

Some NFL officials said Finks might not match the offer because quarterback Bobby Hebert sat out the 1990 season in a contract dispute.

In explaining the decision, Finks said: "We tried to equate two first-round picks to a proven player, and it kept coming out proven player, proven player."

When Finks was asked about the free-agency system, he said: "I think it's a viable system. They focus on the fact that few players have been given offers, but I know in many cases there have been negotiations conducted, but the money wasn't enough and the player didn't accept the offer."

Chuck Schmidt, the chief executive officer of the Lions, said he wasn't surprised the Saints matched the offer.

"I would have to say we're disappointed, but I felt all along they would have a hard time not matching it because he's such an important part of their football team," he said.

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