North Carolina running back Kelvin Bryant and UCLA offensive tackle Irv Eatman, two of last season's top college players, signed multiyear contracts with the Philadelphia Stars of the United States Football League today.
It had been reported that Bryant would earn about $300,000 per year on a three-year contract. But his agent, Perry Deering, said today that Bryant signed for four years with a contract value closer to $2 million, making him the highest-paid USFL player.
Bryant, a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder, was only the third player in Atlantic Coast Conference history to gain 1,000 yards or more in three consecutive seasons, despite undergoing knee surgery two seasons ago. He said he didn't think he was taking a gamble by choosing the USFL over the NFL because his long-term contract is guaranteed.
"I came here to visit, was pleased with the organization and liked the idea of playing in the spring," Bryant said.
Around the National Football League, there were differing views on the signings today.
"Our league not being able to push up the draft date (from late April) is looking like a bigger mistake all the time," said Bobby Beathard, general manager of the Washington Redskins. "In the long run, I think all these players will come back to the NFL . . . It's still a good draft but it is looking less attractive all the time."
Tex Schramm, president and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, said the large contracts of Bryant and a few others could hurt the development of the USFL.
"It appears that each (USFL) club is going to make a shot at one player," Schramm said in a telephone interview. "Whether that will gain them recognition, I don't know.
"It's obvious from a purely financial standpoint that competing with the NFL squadwise would be self-destructive because there is not the money available in TV at that time of year."
He continued: "Their success isn't going to depend on this type of acquisition. The success will depend first on the level of competition, the evenness of competition . . . In some ways, this becomes self-destructive because the other teams are not going to have that ability (to sign a number of high-priced players)."
Other USFL first-round draft choices who have chosen the new league include running back Craig James of SMU, signed by Washington; running back Tim Spencer of Ohio State, signed by Chicago, and quarterback Reggie Collier of Southern Mississippi, signed by Birmingham.
Eatman is believed to have been given a four-year deal involving close to $1 million. Having been primarily a defensive lineman in college,, Eatman said playing in the USFL immediately would give him a chance to develop his offensive techniques.
"Playing defense was much more demanding," he added.
The Stars also announced the signing of wide receiver Scott Fitzkee, who played out his option with the National Football League's San Diego Chargers, and Roger Jackson, a safety on Penn State's 1982 national collegiate championship team.
Beathard said he was not surprised by the signings. But he said a source in Philadelphia had told him the figures were closer to the original estimates than Bryant's agent contended. "I think the agent inflated them a bit," Beathard said.
Historically, Schramm said, "You have problems when there is a great variance in players' salary . . . Of the players they've signed, I don't think any are household words nationally."