Errict Rhett has the reputation of being a disgruntled running back with a huge ego that cost him millions of dollars and almost his career in the NFL, but several coaches who have worked with him say that he is a tireless worker intent on being one of the best runners in the game.
The Ravens are about to find out which description is more accurate.
The Ravens obtained Rhett, a restricted free agent, yesterday by trading a third-round draft pick in 1999 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rhett will sign a one-year deal worth about $650,000 in base salary if he passes his physical today.
The move is somewhat of a gamble for the Ravens, who also reached a one-year agreement with tight end Eric Green yesterday for a contract that could pay as much as $1.2 million next season with incentives.
If Rhett, 27, who will battle rookie Jay Graham for the starting position, has a big year, the Ravens will have to go through the negotiating process again with agent Eugene Parker, who has a reputation for holding out players.
Parker is the agent for rookie outside linebacker Peter Boulware, whom he held out for six weeks of training camp last summer before finally caving in to owner Art Modell.
"What gamble?" asked Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "We did a similar deal with guard Jeff Blackshear a couple of years ago for a fourth-round pick. We're going to have Errict from February until the end of the season. We feel as though he is going to like our team, our coaches, our city, and want to be part of the organization for quite a while."
That seems to be the only gamble the Ravens are taking with Rhett.
Despite rumors that have circulated about him for nearly two years after a lengthy and bitter holdout in which Rhett went from a Tampa hero to public enemy No. 1, he is often described as a sincere, hard-working player who has a great intensity level.
Rhett, 5 feet 11, 212 pounds, is considered to be a tough all-around player who perfected his pass-catching skills at the University of Florida. He isn't going to break a lot of long gainers, but he runs hard inside the tackles.
He never recovered from the negative publicity in Tampa Bay, where, on the advice of then-agent Drew Rosenhaus, he turned down a six-year, $14 million offer in 1996 during a 94-day contract dispute. Instead of making a possible $3 million the past two seasons, Rhett has barely made $550,000. Instead of being the featured back, he was replaced by fullback Mike Alstott and rookie Warrick Dunn.
"I think I impressed a lot of people last year by not saying anything," said Rhett. "It was a very difficult situation, and I made the best of it. I wasn't lethargic, I was always ready to go. I think I came out of it a better person. I appreciate the little things more, such as being able to play the game, my family and community. I'm a forgiving person, and I can't hold a grudge if God is going to forgive me. I realized it was time to move on."
"Baltimore has gotten something special," said Dave Myers, one of Rhett's coaches at MacArthur High in Hollywood, Fla., where Rhett was an all-state football and wrestling champion. "We're not talking Bam Morris here. They shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath. Errict doesn't take any shortcuts. There is not a lot of style or show, but this guy goes all out every day, even in practice. I haven't had any guy match his intensity since he left here. The problems he had in Tampa weren't with him, but stemmed from his agent [Rosenhaus]."
Clyde Christensen, the Buccaneers' tight ends coach and former quarterbacks coach at the University of Maryland, agrees with Myers.
"He is a good man who got bad advice from a bad agent," said Christensen. "He was underpaid, and the agent had him hold out. Errict got a bad reputation from that, and then everything started going south. I have never met a finer, harder-working human being. The fresh start is going to do him good. This guy is a player."
Rhett is part of the off-season project by Newsome and Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda to bring in players who have a strong work ethic and passion for the game. Displays of emotion have been rare on Sundays the past two seasons except for outbursts from players like safety Bennie Thompson, linebacker Ray Lewis, defensive end Michael McCrary and offensive linemen Jonathan Ogden, Blackshear and Orlando Brown.
That should change a little with the addition of Rhett.
"Wait till they see this guy practice," said Carl Franks, Rhett's running back coach at Florida. "He is Mr. Intensity, a nonstop talker. His personality is infectious, he rubs off on people, motivates other players. He stays in the weight room. By the middle of the week, he can't wait to play in a game."
Myers said Rhett preaches as he practices.