Miami quarterback Dan Marino ended his 38-day holdout yesterday, returning to the Dolphins one week before the National Football League season begins without having received the renegotiated contract he covets.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles Rams running back Eric Dickerson remains a holdout, seeking a renegotiated contract. So he sits in Sealy, Tex., playing his negotiating trump card and not football.
As the pressure gauge returned to normal in Miami, Marino said at a news conference, "It wouldn't be fair to myself and to a lot of other people to stay away any longer . . . At this time, I'm not being forced to return. This is totally my own decision."
Marino, who broke the NFL record with 48 touchdown passes last season, said during his holdout that he wanted a deal similar to that received by San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana, who signed a $6.8-million, six-year deal last year.
Marino is in the third year of a four-year contract he signed before his rookie season. He is scheduled to earn a $300,000 salary this season and $400,000 next year. Miami owner Joseph Robbie has said throughout the holdout that he would not discuss a renegotiated deal with Marino or Marv Demoff, his Los Angeles-based attorney, if Marino was not in camp with the team.
In a prepared statement yesterday, Robbie said contract talks with Marino will resume "within a day or two. I have already called Dan to give him this assurance."
What appears to be a victory for Robbie is certainly a victory for the Dolphins. Veteran Don Strock, who had been starting in Marino's place during the preseason, has thrown for a dozen fewer touchdown passes in his 11-year career than Marino threw for in 1984.
Marino, 23, said that if he does not have a renegotiated deal completed this week, he will play this season under his current contract. He also said that he feels he could play in the Dolphins' regular-season opener Sunday against Houston.
"(The holdout) is something that I felt was right at the time and I still feel it was right," Marino said. He said he expects a negative reaction from Miami fans, who last season awarded him with numerous standing ovations and bedsheet signs in the Orange Bowl such as the one in the conference title game that read, "Book 'em, Dan-O!"
"If I was in their situation," said Marino, who accumulated $19,000 in fines ($500 per day) by the team during his holdout, "I would feel the same way, and I think they would feel the same way as me if they were in my situation."
Miami Coach Don Shula said he would decide later this week whether Marino or Strock will start in the regular-season opener. "I'm obviously happy," Shula said. "It's too bad that it's gone on for so long. (Marino) looks in excellent shape and now we're going to work him overtime to get him caught up with all of the things he has missed."
Meanwhile, the negotiations between Dickerson, who rushed for a league-record 2,105 yards last season, and the Rams remain at an impasse.
Barry Redden, Charles White and A.J. Jones -- who in an aggregate 10 years of NFL service haven't combined to rush for as many yards as Dickerson gained in 1984 alone -- have filled in for Dickerson.
Like Marino, Dickerson has two years remaining on his contract. He reportedly was scheduled to earn a $150,000 reporting bonus and a $200,000 salary in 1985 and a straight $400,000 salary next season. Dickerson reportedly is seeking a contract extension with some guaranteed money.
Dickerson is represented by the Ken Norton Personal Management Agency, which includes the former heavyweight boxer and his partner, Jack Rodri. The firm reportedly has a clientele of one: Dickerson.
Rodri has contended the Rams' vice president/finance, John Shaw, promised a contract extension to Dickerson. Shaw will neither confirm nor deny this since he does not speak with the press as a policy.
"The club's only posture has been to say nothing other than the kid is under contract," club spokesman Pete Donovan said. "There's nothing else for us to say."
At a July 29 news conference, Dickerson, 24, said he would not report and added, "I sincerely hope that Rams fans will understand that all I am seeking is what other successful running backs are now regularly receiving -- a little job security.
"To give you a few examples, we all know what happened last season to Curt Warner, William Andrews and Billy Sims, to name a few . . . I need to hold out for the security which comes with the contract extension promised by the Rams."
Reached late this week, Rodri said, "We have absolutely no comment. Nothing has changed since Eric had a press conference a few weeks ago. Everything is status quo."
Maybe it is a coincidence that three NFL individual offensive records were broken last season -- Marino's 48 scoring passes, Dickerson's rushing total and Redskins wide receiver Art Monk's 106 receptions -- and all three players sought renegotiated deals.
Monk quietly signed a renegotiated multi-year deal late last season, one year before his contract was to expire. His salary, which would have been about $190,000 this season, jumped to about $400,000 in 1985 because of the new deal.
Similarly, after the Chicago Bears won a playoff game last year for the first time since 1963, primarily because of the league's top-rated defense, all-pro linebacker Mike Singletary held out for a renegotiated deal even though he had signed a six-year deal only last season.
Singletary recently reported after signing a new contract. Now safety Todd Bell and linebacker Al Harris, their previous contracts having expired, are holdouts in contract disputes, too.
Bears General Manager Jerry Vainisi says, "Everybody takes a disproportionate share of our success last year. We have 49 guys who think they were the most valuable player."
Records are made to be broken and now, in light of these developments, it seems contracts are made to be broken, too. Or, if not broken, then amended. If not amended, then forget it. Owners will hold the line and players will hold out.
"Why are (players seeking renegotiation) different? Because we allow them to be," said Giants General Manager George Young. "As soon as a guy has a good year, the policy for most of us is not to renegotiate. The players don't pay us back when they have a bad year, do they?"
"When you look at Marino and Dickerson, you're talking about impact players," Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard said. "But you still have to be within reason. We all probably think we are worth more than we really are, and I'm not just talking about players.
"I think contracts in sports are like no other business. In a lot of ways, renegotiation is the only way agents can make money. It gives him a pocketful right away.
"A lot of times when you do a contract with a player, you put in safeguards, like incentives, if he plays better than you expect. But now it seems like the incentives don't mean anything. That's like a little extra money.
"It just proves one thing: money doesn't make players happy, it makes them unhappy. You'll find players on every squad, ours included, and they don't talk about football. They say to each other, 'Did you read what somebody is getting?' They never think that maybe the other guy is a better player or that the other team is spending more than it can afford."