Bickett, Burkett among first to take hit from NFL's new salary cap

PRO FOOTBALL

February 27, 1994|By VITO STELLINO

If you've been a bit preoccupied with the saga of Nancy and Tonya in Lillehammer and Michael Jordan in Sarasota, you probably overlooked the tale of Duane and Chris in the NFL.

The fate of Duane Bickett and Chris Burkett is a sign of the changing times in the NFL. They're two of the first victims of the NFL's brave new world of the salary cap.

A year ago, Bickett was the Indianapolis Colts' franchise player. He was scheduled to make $2.1 million this year. But he was one of several players who were waived by the Colts a week ago to get the team under the salary cap.

Bickett may be brought back by the Colts or he can sign with another team. But he's certain to take a pay cut.

Burkett, the New York Jets receiver who's is 31 and caught 40 passes last year, unexpectedly announced his retirement last week.

In a statement, he said his plans were to "pursue several business ventures and to spend quality time with my wife and two daughters."

He seemed to be walking away from a $1.075 million salary this fall.

What really happened is that general manager Dick Steinberg said he had a general discussion with him about the fate of older players with high salaries.

Steinberg said he didn't specifically ask Burkett to take a pay cut, but the veteran knew what was coming.

"Instead of waiting to see what his fate would be, I guess he decided to pack it in," Steinberg said.

Burkett may change his mind and come back for less money, but the salary cap is obviously going to cause a lot of trauma for many veterans.

There are obviously going to be some big winners among free agents. For example, cornerback Nate Odomes of the Buffalo Bills signed a four-year, $8.4 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks last week.

But it doesn't take many of the those $2 million-a-year deals to make a big dent in the $34 million each team can spend.

One team that's obviously going to be affected is the Washington Redskins, who have to slice $10 million off their payroll.

One prime target could be quarterback Mark Rypien, who's scheduled to make $3 million this year. His agent, Ken Staninger, said last week he's waiting to hear from the Redskins.

Staninger indicated Rypien is likely to test the market rather than take a pay cut.

He may find out he can no longer command a $3 million salary.

The retirement?

When a weary Joe Gibbs resigned as the Redskins coach last May 5, many speculated that he'd come back after a couple of years off to recharge his batteries.

But his decision to turn down the Carolina job last week was a sign that he may follow in the footsteps of John Madden and Dick Vermeil and never coach again.

Gibbs won't completely close the door. He only says he won't coach for the "foreseeable future." When it was suggested he may have walked away for good, he said, "You're going to have me down here crying on the floor in a minute."

Still, he sounds like a man who has found out there's life after pro-football coaching.

"All of a sudden, you get a breath of fresh air and how much fun it is to charter your schedule," he said.

The QB shuffle

One quarterback who's likely to command more than $3 million is Scott Mitchell of the Miami Dolphins, who's made stops in Minnesota and Detroit and is expected to visit Washington and New Orleans this week.

The Chicago Bears dropped out of the bidding for Mitchell when they signed Erik Kramer of the Lions, but the bidding for Mitchell is likely to be spirited.

Among the other quarterbacks who could change teams are Warren Moon of the Houston Oilers and Jeff George of the Colts, who are under contract, but could be traded.

The Redskins talked to the Colts about George and offered Desmond Howard -- a sign of how disappointed they are with the Heisman Trophy winner -- but the Colts want to start with a first-round pick. The Atlanta Falcons seem to be the leader in the George derby.

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