Errict Rhett was a superstar running back for the Florida Gators and a second round, 34th overall, selection by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1994 NFL Draft. Errict Rhett had the potential to be one of the greatest running backs the NFL had ever seen, but a holdout for money would be the undoing to all that potential.
Rhett is a player that has faded from memory for a lot of people, but I remember him as being a beast for the Florida Gators. The Gators have produced some of the greatest running backs in the NFL like Fred Taylor, Neal Anderson and of course Emmitt Smith. Although, Errict Rhett was the best running back to ever play at Florida, and he is still their all-time leader in yards. Here is how he stacks up to Emmitt Smith, who ranks second all-time behind Rhett.
1. Errict Rhett: 1990-1993, Total Yards: 5393 yards (4163 rushing, 1230 rec) 34 td
2. Emmitt Smith: 1987-1989, Total Yards: 4391 yards (3928 rush, 463 rec) 36 td
When the Buccaneers selected Rhett in 1994, they were coming off a 5-11 season, and lacked any real firepower on offense. The Florida star stepped in and was welcomed with open arms in his home state, and did not disappoint with his rookie performance. Rhett became the starter halfway through the season, and finished with 1,011 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. The following season he had 1,207 rushing yards, while scoring 11 times. The feat was made even more impressive when you consider that the Bucs offensive line was one of the worst in the league at the time. Rhett also ran for 192 yards against the Redskins, which was the third best rushing game in team history.
Heading into the 1996 season Rhett was under contract for $336,000, which was only $130,000 more than the lowest-paid running back in the league. So for a player that had been as effective as he was, it seemed fitting that he would want to holdout for a better deal. For Rhett, that was complicated by the fact that his agent was Drew Rosenhaus. Rosenhaus was known for dramatic holdouts to get his clients more money, but just about every general manager in the league also hated him. There was yet another issue with complicated things, and that was Buccaneers new head coach Tony Dungy.
Rhett, Rosenhaus and the Buccaneers were unable to reach an agreement before the start of the 1996 season. It was reported that Rhett turned down a six-year contract worth $2.3M per year. Rosenhaus was pushing for $3M per year with a $5M signing bonus, and thus began Errict’s 93-day holdout. Rhett, through Rosenhaus, said that he would not play unless he got a contract extension. Then Rosenhaus demanded the Bucs trade Rhett before the trade deadline that season, and that fell upon deaf ears as well. In the end, Rhett got nothing, and returned to the team under his same original contract.
When he returned to the team, he was not welcomed back with open arms. Tony Dungy was the new head coach, and his star running back had held out for half of the season on him. As far as Dungy was concerned, he did not need him. Errict would only run for 539 yards and three scores, with 3.1 YPC average. After the season ended, Dungy and the Buccaneers began to move the team in another direction.
The Buccaneers had drafted Mike Alstott in 1996 as a fullback to block for Rhett, but with Rhett missing games he was also used a lot as a rusher. Tony Dungy liked him so much, that he did not feel he needed the 5’11” 210 pound Rhett anymore. In 1997, with the 12th overall pick the Bucs looked to replace the former Florida star, with a then current Florida State star, Warrick Dunn. That pick was a death sentence for Rhett in Tampa. He did play the following season, but only had 31 carries for 96 yards and three scores in 11 games played. Dunn became the feature back, and Rhett was never the same player again.
The story of Errict Rhett did not have a good ending, and Rhett has only himself and his trust in Drew Rosenhaus to thank for that. It was poor decision after poor decision by Rosenhaus, coupled with Tony Dungy and his lack of respect for Rhett that derailed this once promising career.