To match or not to match: Finks is mum Saints' decision on Martin due today

April 14, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

Jim Finks is in his sixth decade in pro football. He has been a player, assistant coach and executive.

He started his NFL career in 1949 with the Pittsburgh Steelers and was the team's quarterback in his final season in 1955 when they cut a youngster out of Louisville, Ky., named John Unitas.

He has since run a Canadian team (Calgary Stampeders), a baseball team (Chicago Cubs), three NFL teams (Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints) and came within three votes in 1989 of being elected NFL commissioner.

At 65, the Saints general manager has seen it all, and he's not thrilled by some of the things he's seeing.

"What ever happened to the NFL as we used to know it?" Finks said yesterday. "It worries me."

What worries him the most is the new free-agency system in which teams are throwing boxcar salary figures at players.

"I had no idea there would be such a premium in the minds of some people on certain players," he said.

One of those players is Wayne Martin, a Saints defensive lineman, who got a four-year, $10.1 million offer from the Washington Redskins last Wednesday.

Finks must decide today whether to match the offer to keep Martin or give him up and get a first-round draft pick in return.

Finks has spent six days mulling over the decision and said yesterday he hasn't made up his mind.

Kevin Scanlon, Martin's agent, said he negotiated a contract with Finks for another player on Monday, and Finks never mentioned Martin.

One of the team's assistant coaches called Martin and told him he thought they'd match, but said Finks had given the coaches no indication which way he was leaning.

"I have no clue," Scanlon said. "I've talked two NFL executives who've talked to Finks, and one thinks he's going to match and one thinks he isn't."

A year ago, Finks matched an offer averaging $1.79 million a year that the Detroit Lions made for linebacker Pat Swilling rather than give up two No. 1 picks under the old system.

According to Finks, that doesn't necessarily mean he'll match this one. "This is a whole new ballgame. That has no bearing one way or the other."

Finks said he's spent several days trying to figure out his payroll for 1994, when he thinks the salary cap will kick in.

"According to my calculations, you'll have about $29 million to sign 53 players," he said. If he matches on Martin, he'll have $26.5 million to pay 52 players -- an average of about $500,000.

"It sounds like a select few will get 70 to 80 percent of the money, and the rest will play for the minimum," he said.

While pondering the Martin move, Finks has been busy making other decisions. On Monday, he withdrew his offer to Bobby Hebert and signed Wade Wilson to compete with Steve Walsh and Mike Buck for the starting quarterback job.

The Hebert move can be read two ways. Finks could be freeing up money to match the Martin contract, or he could be sending a signal he has to cut the payroll. Finks did say the Saints are over the proposed cap.

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