Eagles' All-Pro Jackson, 3 others await ruling on NFL free agency

September 22, 1992|By Glen Macnow | Glen Macnow,Knight-Ridder

PHILADELPHIA -- Today, All-Pro holdout Keith Jackson will ask a judge to sever his ties to the Philadelphia Eagles. Yesterday, another Eagles All-Pro -- defensive end Reggie White -- took the first step along the same path.

White signed on as the lead plaintiff in a class-action suit representing hundreds of players seeking free agency. White's case isn't likely to go to trial for more than a year, if it ever does.

It is part of the NFL Players Association's strategy to pepper the league with lawsuits until owners agree to a collective-bargaining settlement that players find favorable.

Jackson's fate, meanwhile, could be decided today. Almost certainly, his future with the Eagles will be clear before the club's Oct. 5 game with the Dallas Cowboys.

Attorneys representing Jackson and three other unsigned NFL veterans appeared in federal court in Minneapolis today. They were to ask Judge David S. Doty to declare the four players free agents, based on the Sept. 11 jury ruling in Doty's court that the league's Plan B system violates federal antitrust law because of its restrictions on the movement of players from one club to another.

Jackson and the three others -- New England defensive end Garin Veris, Cleveland wide receiver Webster Slaughter and Detroit running back D.J. Dozier -- are the first real test cases to follow the Sept. 11 verdict in McNeil vs. the NFL. If they are declared free agents, it could set a worrisome precedent for the league's owners.

Jeff Kessler, an attorney representing the four unsigned players, said, "Our point in this case is that if Plan B violated the rights of some players, it violated the rights of all players. These men don't have contracts, so they should be allowed to go free."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league plans to argue that giving Jackson free agency could destroy the Eagles' Super Bowl chances this season.

"Consider the closeness of the division races and how frequently playoff berths are determined by tie-breakers," Aiello said. "Allowing a quality player such as Keith Jackson to become a free agent in the middle of the season would really damage the Eagles -- especially if he signed with Washington or Dallas."

Originally, nine other players joined Jackson in filing this suit last week. But the Jackson 10 quickly turned into the Jackson Four.

One of the players, Pittsburgh Steeler defensive back Thomas Everett, was traded to the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday. Five others were released: Pittsburgh receiver Louis Lipps, San Diego nose tackle Joe Phillips, Kansas City wide receiver Stephone Paige, Cincinnati cornerback Mitchell Price and Cincinnati defensive end Natu Tuatagaloa.

None of the released players has signed with a new team.

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