Eric Dickerson, the NFL's single-season rushing champion, signed a three-year contract with the Indianapolis Colts yesterday after a three-team trade that brought the Los Angeles Rams two running backs and six top draft choices over the next two years.

As part of the deal, the Colts traded the draft rights of unsigned linebacker Cornelius Bennett to Buffalo. He was the No. 2 overall pick in this year's college draft.

Rams Coach John Robinson said the "trade was necessary" because Dickerson had disrupted the Rams with his weeks of bickering over his salary. Robinson said he felt he had no choice.

As compensation, the Rams receive from Indianapolis a first- and second-round 1988 draft choice, a 1989 second-round pick and running back Owen Gill. From the Bills, the Rams get a 1988 first-round pick, 1989 draft choices in each of the first two rounds and running back Greg Bell.

The Bills acquired the signing rights to Bennett, a rookie holdout from Alabama. The Bills then signed Bennett to a five-year contract worth an estimated $4 million.

"We're happy that we obtained the number of {draft} choices we did," Robinson said. "It's a little startling when you think about it."

Although financial terms were not disclosed, Dickerson's new contract is believed to be for more than $1.1 million a year. Earlier in the day, he said he had agreed to a four-year deal for $5.6 million; that deal would have been worth $1.4 million annually.

"Believe me, it's fat," he said before boarding the team plane to New Jersey, where the Colts will play the New York Jets Sunday at Giants Stadium. "I'm very satisfied. I wouldn't say it if I wasn't."

Colts Coach Ron Meyer, who coached Dickerson in college at SMU, said Dickerson will be in uniform Sunday and might play. Dickerson went through a short practice with the Colts yesterday before they departed for New Jersey.

"You want to be appreciated. With the Rams I don't think I was appreciated," Dickerson said. "And I don't think the fans appreciated me. They would take for granted that Eric was going to rush 100 yards. If I didn't, they were disappointed."

He set an NFL record with 2,105 yards rushing in 1984, then held out the first two games of the next season. He was in the first year of a three-year deal with the Rams that averaged out to $850,000 per year, including a $500,000 signing bonus. He asked to be traded after the NFL players' strike ended last week because the Rams refused to renegotiate the contract.

"It seemed like a deal that would never happen," Colts quarterback Jack Trudeau said. "I never thought L.A. would trade him . . . He and Walter Payton are on the same level."

Friday night on ESPN, Dickerson announced the trade, saying he had learned of it from Meyer. None of the teams involved in the deal, however, confirmed the trade until Saturday, when Dickerson was signed in Indianapolis.

"I'm happy to announce we have an outstanding young man joining the Colts organization," Meyer said at the airport in Indianapolis. "We just completed the contract signing. No. 29 will be on the field with me {Sunday}. I don't have any big plans to use him in the game, but he might get in for a play or two."

While he held no grudges against the Rams, Dickerson said he was happy to be reunited with Meyer. "Believe me, I'm going to enjoy playing for him again," Dickerson said.

In Los Angeles, where Dickerson had been put on the team's inactive roster for today's game against the San Francisco 49ers, Robinson said: "Obviously we recognize Eric's great talent. He was a great football player for the Rams . . . In my view, the trade was necessary once the disruptive influences got into the everyday life of the football team.

"Ultimately, the team as a whole is always more important than any individual involved in that team."