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Offseason contract disputes stir echoes of 1985

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Posted Oct. 19, 2012 @ 9:32 a.m.
Posted June 29, 2010 @ 9:42 a.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

In just two NFL seasons, Titans RB Chris Johnson has racked up 3,234 yards rushing and 763 yards receiving. In 2009, he came within 100 yards of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record. 

Johnson frequently has been compared to Dickerson, who rolled for 2,105 yards in his record-breaking 1984 season. Johnson, like Dickerson, has excellent speed.

And they have something else in common: Both wanted new contracts after two years in the league.

Johnson, who is slated to make $550,000 in 2010, has suggested he could hold out in search of a new contract. He isn't the only high-profile player contemplating a holdout; Jets CB Darrelle Revis, like Johnson coming off a wonderful season, wants a new deal.

Chargers WR Vincent Jackson and OLT Marcus McNeill, both unsigned restricted free agents and both key members of the defending AFC West champions, could sit out until they get new deals or are traded, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. Per The Union-Tribune, Jackson and McNeill could hold out until November; both must report to the Chargers by Nov. 16 to get credit for an accrued season, which is used to calculate a player's free-agent status and minimum salary, among other factors.

Such contract strife is notable, but it isn't anything new. Take the case of the 1985 preseason, when the NFL's rushing champion (Dickerson) and its most prolific passer (Dan Marino, who broke the single-season passing-yardage record the previous year) wanted new deals. In this edition of the NFList, we turn back the clock 25 years and look at some of the high-profile contract disputes that occurred in a tumultuous summer:

1. Rams RB Eric Dickerson — Dickerson, who was in the third year of a four-year, $2.2 million contract that was to pay him $350,000 in 1985, made it clear early in the offseason that he wanted a big raise. When no contract was struck by training camp in late July — and with Dickerson claiming team president John Shaw reneged on a promise to give him a three-year contract extension — he became a holdout.

"I don't think this will go on very long," Dickerson said to The Associated Press.

As it turned out, his holdout would last 47 days — and his unhappiness with his contract would become a persistent issue.

Dickerson, who was fined $1,000 for each day he didn't report to the Rams, finally returned to the club on Sept. 13. According to news accounts, the Rams agreed to pay him the $150,000 reporting bonus he was to forfeit in his holdout and also took out a $4 million injury insurance policy on him. Dickerson would sit out the Rams' first two games but rushed for 1,234 yards and 12 TDs in 14 games.

In December, Dickerson struck a three-year deal with the Rams that extended his contract through 1989. But Dickerson would soon sour on his contract, and on Oct. 31, 1987, Dickerson was traded to Indianapolis, who signed him to a new deal.

2. Cowboys RB Tony Dorsett — Dorsett held out until mid-August and signed a new contract with the club that, per The Dallas Morning News, added two new years to the pact, a 20-year annuity and a real-estate deal. Dorsett sought a new contract as he worked to pay off a tax debt of more than $400,000 to the Internal Revenue Service. 

3. Giants CB Mark Haynes — Haynes, a Pro Bowl performer, re-signed with the Giants on Oct. 16. He was dealt to Denver the following spring.

4. Dolphins QB Dan Marino — Like Dickerson, Marino began his career with two spectacular seasons. And like Dickerson, he wanted a new contract. Unlike Dickerson, Marino's holdout did not cost him any regular-season games. Marino returned to the Dolphins on Aug. 31, ending a 38-day absence from the club. While Marino didn't get the new deal he wanted in 1985, he got it the following year, signing a six-year contract reportedly worth about $9 million.

5. Redskins RB John Riggins — ­Riggins, who held out until Aug. 12, signed a one-year, $850,000 contract, a record one-year deal for a running back at the time. ­Riggins also held out in 1973 and 1980; the latter holdout lasted the entire season.

6. Bears LB Mike Singletary, S Todd Bell and DE-LB Al Harris — Singletary, the Bears' star middle linebacker, returned to the club on Aug. 21 after the Bears restructured his contract, knocking two years off the deal and adding performance incentives. However, Bell and Harris, slated to be starters, held out the entire season — which concluded with Chicago winning Super Bowl XX. Bell and Harris returned to the club in 1986.

 

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