April 6, 1993: 17 million reasons convince Reggie White to join Packers
Editor's note: This story appeared in the Milwaukee Journal on April 7, 1993.
Green Bay - Decades of sound practices on the financial front and one year of savvy leadership in the football operation have delivered Reggie White to the smallest city in the National Football League.
"We shocked the world, didn't we?" agent Jimmy Sexton said.
White, the superstar defensive end of the Philadelphia Eagles, chose to play for the small-town Green Bay Packers rather than 26 big-city franchises.
Shortly after noon Tuesday, negotiator Mike Reinfeldt poked his head into team President Bob Harlan's office and announced the stunning news: The free agent had agreed to terms on a four-year contract worth $17 million.
They walked down the hall to inform general manager Ron Wolf and coach Mike Holmgren of their master stroke.
"Mike [Reinfeldt] had been telling me that Mike [Holmgren] and Ron wanted him in the worst way," Harlan said. "There was no embracing, just quick handshakes and congratulations.
"All I said to Holmgren was: 'This improves your football team, doesn't it?'
"He said: 'It sure does.'"
Sexton sat in his New Orleans hotel room Monday night, unable to use his ticket for the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball championship game at the Louisiana Superdome. He was placing calls with the Washington Redskins, the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers and White, who was at home in Knoxville, Tenn.
Harlan feared the agent was using the Packers. Several indicators suggested he was correct.
Sexton said Green Bay's offer of $16 million for four years stood until the $1 million increase Monday. It was the best offer of the three teams, but sources indicated the agent fully expected free-spending owner Jack Kent Cooke of Washington to match it, at least.
Cooke, however, recoiled at the idea of offering a 31-year-old defensive lineman more than $13 million over four years. One source said the high-payroll Redskins never made a formal proposal for even $14 million.
"Washington is close to home, but we just could never get onto the same page financially," Sexton said.
Then the 49ers, under new NFL financial limitations, were permitted to offer no more than $19.5 million over five years. Their offer included a $4 million signing bonus, and base salaries of $1.9 million, $3.7 million and $4.3 million.
"I feel the dollars offered by Green Bay were just far too much to overcome," 49ers President Carmen Policy said. "Without guaranteeing the contract, which we wouldn't do, we couldn't come close to matching the deal."
The Packers, with about $30 million in cash reserves, had the money to front-load their offer that basically blew away the opposition, including Cleveland, which was fourth in line. Without the financial restrictions, the Packers feared they would have been outbid by Debartalo. But the 49ers were handicapped.
"It wasn't so much how much money he got, but how it was structured," an official with the Browns said. "Obviously, the Packers could structure their deal."
Sexton said the Browns were the choice of White's wife Sara, who comes from Cleveland.
The Packers poured $6 million, or 35.3% of the total package, into bonus money that White can receive without putting on a uniform. The signing bonus was $4.5 million, and he is set to collect $1.5 million of his $4.5 million base salary this year just by reporting for training camp.
Included in the contract are base salaries of $3.15 million in 1994, $2.85 million in 1995 and $2 million in 1996. White's final contract in Philadelphia, which was fully guaranteed, averaged $1.513 million. His new one averages $4.25 million.
White became the third-highest paid player in league history, trailing only Denver quarterback John Elway ($4.75 million) and Miami quarterback Dan Marino ($4.43 million). The Packers refused to guarantee the base salaries, although the incredible bonus package and $9 million payout in the first year were guarantees in themselves. The contract contained not a single perk or incentive clause, Sexton said.
Clearly, though, the Packers had a lot more going for them than just big bucks. When White flew here March 10, he admitted it was merely because he had been in the neighborhood the night before in Detroit.
Then White met Holmgren, defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes and defensive line coach Greg Blache, among others. He was led into snowy, intimate Lambeau Field. The personal touch was hammered home a week later, when Holmgren and Rhodes flew to Knoxville to meet White's family.
"It was huge," Sexton said. "They were smart enough and perceptive enough to know that Reggie was a relationship guy. They sold him on the fact that it's like a big college atmosphere. He was coming out of a place where it wasn't fun for him the last couple years.
"But if I had to pick one thing he liked most about Green Bay, Holmgren was it."
Harlan said the signing was perhaps his most momentous day in 22 years with the Packers. A seven-time Pro Bowl selection, White might have been the best veteran player acquired during an off-season by Green Bay since Hall of Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks came via trade from Baltimore in 1974.
In White, the Packers gained instant respect for a defense that ranked 23rd in the league in 1992, when they went 9-7 in their first full season under the leadership of Wolf and Holmgren. No defensive lineman in Green Bay has had more than five sacks in a season since 1985.
White, at a news conference here Tuesday, turned to Holmgren and said: "Me and coach made an agreement. We're going [to the Super Bowl] this year, aren't we?"
White left little doubt that quarterback Brett Favre, 23, is on the threshold of greatness. Eventually, White said, Favre will be better than Philadelphia's Randall Cunningham.
"We've now given ourselves somebody the offense has to be concerned with other than [linebacker] Tony Bennett," Wolf said.
"We've improved our defense dramatically. Realistically, the best step we've made was the hiring of Mike Holmgren. But this is a very key move."