Dolphins make Jackson $6 million man Free agent unseats former Terp Edmunds

September 30, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

Keith Jackson was unpacking his bags in Miami yesterday and Ferrell Edmunds was getting ready to pack his.

Jackson, the biggest prize in Judge David Doty's NFL free-agent derby, signed a four-year, $6 million deal with the Miami Dolphins.

He was one of four holdouts who was released from the NFL's free agency restrictions Thursday by Doty in the wake of a verdict by a federal jury Sept. 10 that the NFL's Plan B free agency violates the antitrust laws.

Two of the other three, Garin Veris and Webster Slaughter, also switched teams. Veris moved from the New England Patriots to the San Francisco 49ers, and Slaughter switched from the Cleveland Browns to the Houston Oilers.

That left running back D. J. Dozier, who is playing professional baseball, as the only unsigned free agent, and there seems to be little interest in him. The Detroit Lions, his last NFL team, have said he no longer is in their plans.

Jackson's arrival made Edmunds, the former Maryland tight end, expendable, and his Baltimore-based agent, Tony Agnone, said he has given the Dolphins a list of teams he would be interested in joining.

Jackson, Veris and Slaughter are the first NFL players who were able to switch teams without having to follow the compensation system established after 18 players, including John Riggins, moved in 1976 during a brief window of free agency.

That window closed when the players negotiated a collective bargaining agreement in 1977 that included a fixed compensation system of draft choices for players who changed teams.

Whether these three players have opened the floodgates for other players is a matter of much debate. The owners say they will implement a new system with restrictions before Feb. 1. The players say that all the players whose contracts expire at the end of this year will be free to move. The courts will have to determine which side prevails.

The signing of Jackson shows that if free agency comes to the NFL, the future will be unpredictable.

Many NFL people had said they thought Jackson would return to the Eagles. They didn't think he was worth more than the $1.33 million the Eagles were offering him in a three-year deal for $4 million.

Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said last week that a pass catching tight end wasn't worth $1.5 million. Jackson, who averaged $538,000 per year in his old contract, is the only tight end in the league making more than $1 million.

Coach Joe Gibbs, in explaining why the Washington Redskins passed, said: "You've got to weigh in there the price, your own football team, and what it would do to your football team, bringing in someone at this late date. We looked at all those things. . . . We're going to stand pat."

It was even more surprising that Miami paid the $1.5 million that Jackson wanted even though it has a good tight end in Edmunds.

"I'm just as good as he is and . . . he'll have to beat me out," said Edmunds, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who caught 10 passes in the first three games after coming back from arthroscopic knee surgery.

Jackson, who caught 242 passes in his past four years to 107 for Edmunds, will become the starter.

Agnone said Jackson may not match his Philadelphia statistics in Miami because Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham looked for Jackson.

Miami quarterback Dan Marino looks for his wide receivers and the Dolphins had a good passing offense without Jackson. They were fourth and third in the league in passing yards the past two years. It's questionable how much of an impact Jackson will have on the Dolphins.

"All the sages I've talked to around the league told me the Dolphins need defensive help, not help at tight end," Agnone said.

Dolphins coach Don Shula said, "I know standing here that we're a lot better off as a football team than we were a few days ago."

Eagles general manager Harry Gamble said the Eagles offered to make Jackson the highest-paid tight end and added: "Keith Jackson has made what he considers to be a decision that was in his best interests. We wish him well."

Shula testified at the trial in Minneapolis that free agency would hurt competitive balance in the league.

"I'm opposed to it, certainly," Shula said. "I have to go with the rules presented to us. Other teams were interested in Keith that we're competing against. We have to do what's best for our organization."

Jackson, 27, who has been a holdout in three of his five NFL years, said: "I don't look at myself as a pioneer. It's a situation of wrong and right, and right has to prevail. Judge Doty put me in the right situation. Things weren't working out in Philadelphia, so why can't I go to another team?"

Agnone said that as an agent he's happy that the tight end market is going up -- Edmunds is making $522,500 this year and his contract is up at the end of the year -- even though he's disappointed Edmunds probably will have to leave Miami.

The Slaughter and Veris contracts didn't raise any eyebrows. Slaughter got slightly more than $1 million, which is less than half of what Jerry Rice got from San Francisco.

Veris, who played college ball at Stanford, wanted to return to the Bay area. He got a prorated salary of $650,000 this year and $730,000 next year. The Patriots offered $575,000 and $625,000.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.