American Football: Green Bay's greenbacks are right for White: The nascent transfer market has landed its first big catch. Matt Tench reports on the talent trawl

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The Independent Online
IN Atlanta Reggie White received a standing ovation from both houses of the State legislature. In Cleveland there was a promise to help him build a church. In Green Bay they just offered dollars. As things turned out it was the dollars that counted and White, the key figure in Philadelphia's defense for the last seven years, will soon be absconding to Wisconsin.

For most of its history American football has existed virtually without a transfer market, players being forced to stay with the clubs that originally drafted them out of college. Following a protracted struggle earlier this year the players won the right to move on after five years' service, a development which made some form of transfer market inevitable. In the meat market that ensued White is the prime cut.

He stands 6ft 5in and weighs 20st. A massive presence on the defensive line, he is widely regarded as the best in a key position. At 31 he has four more good years in him. To top it off, he is also considered a benign influence: White is an ordained Baptist minister.

When he started looking for new employers, White established a number of criteria: a team that had a chance of winning the Super Bowl (the Philadelphia Eagles have been perennial pretenders without ever becoming convincing contenders); an area where he could help the inner city poor; a stadium with a grass pitch; and an owner who would fully value his services.

In the light of White's move to the Green Bay Packers, it seems the temptations of Mammon proved decisive. The Packers have not won their division for 20 years, and do not have a significant problem with inner city deprivation (though White said he would travel to Milwaukee, 120 miles away). What they do have is a grass pitch and a lot of cash. White's contract is worth dollars 17m ( pounds 11.24m) over four years, including dollars 9m ( pounds 5.95m) in the first year, half in a signing bonus and half in salary.

A number of the NFL's leading teams were keen to land him, including the Washington Redskins (apparently White's preferred destination) and the San Francisco 49ers, but as the stakes got higher all dropped out, even, eventually, the traditionally cash-rich 49ers. 'I felt the dollars offered by Green Bay were just far too much to overcome,' Carmen Policy, the 49ers president, said.

The 49ers were particularly anxious to recruit White after the loss of Pierce Holt, their most dominating defensive lineman in recent seasons. Holt has defected to the 49ers' divisional rivals, the Atlanta Falcons, who have been one of the more aggressive players in the nascent transfer market.

Another team to set out their stall early are the New York Jets, who stole a march on the rest by recruiting a proven quarterback (Boomer Esiason, from Cincinnati), an inspirational defensive player (Ronnie Lott from the LA Raiders), and another good defensive lineman (Leonard Marshall from the Giants) before most of their rivals had finished watching the films.

Since virtually all those moving on are thirtysomethings, one result of the new rules will be shorter-term planning. 'It's like the college game, where you have guys for four years and then they leave,' Dick Steinberg, the Jets general manager, said. 'What none of us knows is how you can build a contender for the long haul.'

White apart, it seems that few of the game's biggest names will be affected, but that clubs are using the free agency option to get the best out of their established stars. The Miami Dolphins have recruited a couple of new wide receivers to catch Dan Marino's darts, while the Detroit Lions have shored up their dilapidated offensive line in the hope of giving the brilliant Barry Sanders something to run in front of.

The biggest name of all, however, does look destined for a new club. The 49ers have committed themselves to re- signing Steve Young, the quarterback who guided them into last season's conference championship game, and have just agreed a contract with Steve Bono, one of the league's better back-up play- callers. All of which would seem to leave Joe Montana without a home. The quarterback who directed the 49ers to four Super Bowl victories will be talking to Kansas City, Phoenix and Tampa Bay in the next few weeks, and it will be a major surprise if he is still in the Bay area come next September.

----------------------------------------------------------------- THE BIG NAMES WHO HAVE MOVED ON IN THE NFL ----------------------------------------------------------------- Name Position Former club New club ----------------------------------------------------------------- OFFENSE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Boomer Esiason Quarterback Cincinnati Bengals New York Jets Vinny Testerverde Quarterback Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cleveland Browns Jim McMahon Quarterback Philadelphia Eagles Minnesota Vikings John Stephens Running back New England Patriots Green Bay Packers Mark Bavaro Tight end Cleveland Browns Philadelphia Eagles Gary Clark Wide receiver Washington Redskins Phoenix Cardinals Mark Ingram Wide receiver New York Giants Miami Dolphins Bill Fralic Offensive line Atlanta Falcons Detroit Lions ----------------------------------------------------------------- DEFENSE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Reggie White Defensive end Philadelphia Eagles Green Bay Packers Leonard Marshall Defensive end New York Giants New York Jets Pierce Holt Defensive end San Francisco 49ers Atlanta Falcons Kevin Greene Linebacker Los Angeles Rams Pittsburgh Steelers Ronnie Lott Cornerback Los Angeles Raiders New York Jets Tim McDonald Safety Phoenix Cardinals San Francisco 49ers -----------------------------------------------------------------