The Los Angeles Raiders yesterday announced the signing of the first player under the NFL's new free agency system, and it prompted the first controversy under the five-day-old plan.
The Raiders signed Gerald Perry, the starting left tackle of the Los Angeles Rams since 1989, and the Rams promptly filed tampering charges with the league, saying the Raiders had contacted Perry before March 1. That is the earliest teams may contact other teams' free agents under the settlement agreement that brought labor peace to pro football. Perry, sources said, signed a three-year contract with the Raiders worth $3.4 million -- a 246 percent raise.
A second unrestricted free agent switched teams yesterday, when the Denver Broncos announced offensive lineman Don Maggs, a three-year starter for the Houston Oilers, had agreed to terms, which were not disclosed.
New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms, also an unrestricted free agent, is staying put, according to his attorney. Simms, 37, is expected to sign a two-year contract worth about $5 million, David Fishof told the Associated Press.
The agreement apparently means quarterback Jeff Hostetler, another unrestricted free agent, will sign elsewhere. New Giants coach Dan Reeves has indicated he would keep either Simms or Hostetler, who were involved in a two-year quarterback controversy under former coach Ray Handley.
"Clearly this means Jeff will be seeking another team," Marvin Demoff, Hostetler's attorney, told the AP.
Meanwhile, according to the out-of-court settlement document, New Orleans quarterback Bobby Hebert will receive slightly more than $3.206 million, the largest individual payment to the name plaintiffs in the various class-action antitrust lawsuits players brought against the league. The plaintiffs received a payment of $175 million. Hebert was the only plaintiff to sit out a season while the players fought a five-year court battle for free agency.
Six other name plaintiffs will receive more than $1 million each and a total of 15 will get at least $500,000 each. But Philadelphia defensive end Reggie White will not receive anything as a name plaintiff because his contract never expired while he was restricted under the league's Plan B system of free agency. A federal jury in Minneapolis struck down Plan B last September.
White filed suit shortly thereafter, seeking free agency for all NFL players whose contracts expired at the end of the 1992 season. That led to the proposed settlement agreement to which federal judge David Doty in Minneapolis gave preliminary approval last Friday. Under it, 297 unsigned veteran players with at least five years of NFL service became unrestricted free agents five days ago, with 24 exceptions.
Perry's signing by the Raiders -- and its maverick owner, Al Davis -- has outraged the Rams. Neither team was discussing the controversy yesterday, since it has been submitted to NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue for a decision.
But according to the Los Angeles Times, John Shaw, the Rams' executive vice president, said Wednesday his team had been advised by various sources, including Perry, that the Raiders began courting him in mid-February. Tank Younger, the Rams' director of player relations, said he knew the Raiders were talking with Perry before March 1.
But Younger told the newspaper he wasn't concerned and that he and Perry had "kind of laughed it off" because Perry and the Rams had a handshake agreement on a three-year contract calling for $1 million this season. Perry made $460,000 in base salary and bonuses last season.
Both Steve Ortmayer, the Raiders' director of football operations, and Conya Perry, the player's wife, denied that the Raiders had negotiated with Perry before March 1, the newspaper reported.
Ortmayer said that the Raiders contacted Perry a few hours after midnight on March 1, according to the Times.In New York, league spokesman Greg Aiello said, "We will review the matter under our tampering provisions and will contact the Rams and the Raiders if additional information is required."
Aiello said Tagliabue is empowered to levy cash or draft-choice fines if tampering took place.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, lawyers for several players said they will object to the settlement on the grounds their clients should receive more damages than they will under a complicated points system that will determine how much each of the non-name plaintiffs receives.
The objection will be heard at an April 16 hearing Doty has scheduled for final approval of the settlement. Also to be heard that day is an objection filed Tuesday for Redskins linebacker Wilber Marshall, who wants the judge to strike the franchise player provision from the settlement and give the Redskins right of first refusal instead so he can shop the marketplace. San Diego defensive end Leslie O'Neal will join Marshall in a bid to get rid of the franchise provision.
Of the $175 million to be paid current and former NFL players in the out-of-court settlement of class-action antitrust litigation against the league, the following name plaintiffs will receive:
McNEIL VS. NFL Freeman McNeil..........$400,000
ALLEN VS. NFL Marcus Allen..........$1,876,612
JOYNER VS. NFL Seth Joyner.............$597,575
WHITE VS. NFL Reggie White..................$0