Imagine this: a CFL club outspending Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for a top player.
Well, 23 years ago Sunday, this happened.
Yes, on April 20, 1991, the Toronto Argonauts signed Notre Dame wide receiver Raghib “Rocket” Ismail to a four-year contract reportedly worth up to $26.2 million with $18.2 million in guarantees.
The Cowboys, who acquired the No. 1 overall pick from New England, could not strike a deal with Ismail. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Cowboys wouldn’t give Ismail the five-year, $14.5 million guaranteed contract he sought. (Before dealing the No. 1 pick, New England also could not reach an agreement with Ismail.)
“Rocket is a fine, fine player, and we wish him a lot of luck,” Jones said after Ismail’s deal with Toronto, according to the Baltimore Sun. “We asked and received an offer from Ismail’s agents. It was very apparent when we got their offer that Rocket was legitimately headed to Canada. His numbers were totally out of our range. Basically, we wanted to see if there was a chance of an NFL team being able to sign him.”
Ismail played two seasons in Toronto, earning Grey Cup MVP honors after his kickoff return touchdown helped the Argonauts win the 1991 CFL title.
In 1993, Ismail would join the Los Angeles Raiders, who held his NFL rights after drafting him two years earlier in Round Four. Interestingly enough, Ismail would finish his pro career with Dallas, and he would set career-highs in catches (80) and yards (1,097) for the Cowboys in 1999.
The Cowboys, for the record, would take defensive lineman Russell Maryland No. 1 overall in 1991. He played on all three of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl-winning clubs of the 1990s. Also, the Cowboys’ other No. 1 pick in 1991, Alvin Harper, started in Super Bowl XXVII and XXVIII for Dallas.