If players recall Simms, they're not likely to vote for new cap in '99

ON THE NFL

July 31, 1994|By VITO STELLINO

Remember Phil Simms.

It may not exactly rival "Remember the Alamo" as battle cries go, but it's certainly appropriate for pro athletes fighting the concept of a hard salary cap with no exceptions.

While the baseball owners are trying to put one in place, football players are talking about getting rid of the one they'll have to live with until 1999.

That's the last year of the current agreement between the football owners and players, when the cap will be lifted and players need six years of experience instead of four to qualify for free agency.

It's not going to be easy to get the players to accept another cap in 2000 after this one is lifted.

Jim Quinn, the attorney who worked out this deal for the players as part of a court settlement, doesn't sound as if he's ready to accept another one.

"I looked at it even at the time as basically a transition into a non-cap world," Quinn said.

In any case, it's difficult to imagine the players voting for another cap.

Terry Orr, the former Washington Redskin, is leading a group of players who are still in court fighting the deal on appeal on the grounds that it wasn't explained well enough to the players in the first place.

It's difficult to imagine a court unscrambling the egg now. But there's no doubt the players now understand what a hard cap means. It's not like the NBA soft cap -- although the NBA players are trying to get rid of that one, too -- in which teams can sign their own players and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar can play seemingly forever.

The Simms case shows how the cap is dangerous to older veterans. He had a fine season as the New York Giants quarterback last year, but he's 38 and underwent shoulder surgery in March.

If he came to camp and his shoulder blew out, the Giants would have to pay his $2.55 million salary, which would limit their options under the cap to sign other players.

It was an emotional news conference when the Giants announced the move on June 14. Owner Wellington Mara was in tears when he said, "This is a day of overwhelming sadness for me."

Simms considered his options. He got feelers from other teams, but it would have meant taking less money and uprooting his family. He decided to take a deal with ESPN instead.

That prompted commissioner Paul Tagliabue to say that it proved Simms was ready to retire.

"The fact he ended up with ESPN rather than seeking to continue his career with another team suggests rather strongly he concluded it was time to retire," Tagliabue said in a conference telephone call.

Throughout his career, Simms never popped off. Not when he was benched for Scott Brunner. Not when he lost his job to Jeff Hostetler.

But for Simms, who had worked out through the entire off-season in expectation of playing again, Tagliabue's comment was too much.

"He has no idea what he's talking about," Simms said. "He pTC should be tested for drugs."

Actually, what Tagliabue should be tested for is a lack of compassion and sensitivity. It was similar to his comment that losers in the expansion race could use their stadium money to build museums and plants.

This time, even Tagliabue realized he had gone too far.

Thursday afternoon, he called Simms, who told the New York Times that he and Tagliabue "buried the hatchet" during the lengthy telephone conversation.

"Let me just say this," Simms said. "I have regretted the harshness of my statement. I did have the opportunity to talk with him and it was a good conversation. We buried the hatchet. I really appreciated the fact that he took the time to call and explain himself. It was a nice conversation. It's over."

Tagliabue, though, had already done the damage. He made Simms' fate the symbol for why the players aren't likely to take another cap.

San Francisco coach George Seifert summed up the situation recently when he said 11 of the 49ers got 52 percent of the cap money.

"And then there's everybody else. And you look at other countries in the world where there's that type [of disparity], and what do they usually have?" Seifert asked.

He answered his own question. "Revolutions," he said.

There would be a revolution before the football players would take another cap -- and before the baseball players would take one now.

The Rams derby

St. Louis appears to have the lead in the battle for the Los Angeles Rams. According to sources, Tagliabue has told the Rams he'll fight a move to Baltimore.

But a small group of Baltimore fans has started a grass-roots campaign to try to persuade the Rams to move here.

Dennis Hand, a retired Baltimore firefighter, and a few friends have started a "Rite to the Rams" campaign, asking fans to write to team president Georgia Frontiere or vice president John Shaw at the team's business office (2327 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, Calif. 92801) with a message in support of the team's move.

They've sent more than 800 individually addressed postcards with personal messages.

Meanwhile, agent Leigh Steinberg is continuing his effort to keep the team in Anaheim but concedes it's a struggle.

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