Cooper, Bonner ink 'lifetime' deals to stay with Rattlers
By Darren Urban
Technically, Hunkie Cooper and Sherdrick Bonner signed two-year contracts Wednesday to keep the receiver/linebacker and quarterback where they have played their whole Arena Football League careers.
But Arizona Rattlers vice president Gene Nudo called them lifetime deals, and Cooper and Bonner concurred, saying they will retire after the 2005 season.
“The main thing is being able to finish where we started,” said Cooper, who has played 10 seasons in Arizona. Bonner has played nine.
Terms of the contracts were not disclosed, but it is believed both players took lower offers to stay in Arizona after passing on lucrative deals in Las Vegas and San Jose. Bonner turns 35 in October while Cooper turned 34 this summer.
“It does no good to sign me and Sherd but lose Tuck (Mark Tucker) or Bo (Kelly) or (Randy) Gatewood,” Cooper said. “It might cost us a couple of dollars, but in the long run we’ll get that back in victories and championship rings.”
Both players are coming off one of their best seasons. Bonner was named first-team all-AFL, setting career highs in yards (3,692) and touchdowns (88). Those numbers came despite missing two of the 16 regular-season games
and a half of a third game.
Cooper led the team in receptions (70) and receiving yards (862), and scored 21 touchdowns. The two helped Arizona reach a second straight ArenaBowl, although the Rattlers lost to Tampa Bay.
Contract talks between the two stars and the Rattlers were admittedly never smooth — “The smooth way would have been for us never to have hit the (free-agent) market,” Cooper said — but Bonner said negotiations never stopped.
“The best thing about this deal is we had disagreements and in the end we could come to an agreement,” Cooper added.
Cooper would have liked to return to Las Vegas, where he is from and where he played in college. But he and Bonner were a package deal and Cooper said he turned Vegas down once Bonner made it clear he wouldn’t go there.
“To wear another jersey would have been awkward for me,” Bonner said.
Cooper, who had surgery this summer to repair a bad rotator cuff, also needs surgery on a thumb and wrist. He has decided to instead play through the pain and not jeopardize having to sit out any part of the season. Avenging back-to-back ArenaBowl losses is important to both players, who said they thought the organization was headed in the right direction to get back to the title game.
“We’ve been fortunate here to have pretty much anything we needed to get victories,” Bonner said.
EXTRA POINTS: Nudo said signing the rest of the team’s free agents should “fall into place,” now, with the top priority on defensive specialist Hamin Milligan. The “reasonable” terms Bonner and Cooper took for their new deals helped the Rattlers against a tight salary cap, Nudo said. . . .
Nudo said the team will end up signing as many as four players from an open tryout camp in September. Among the possibilities is a backup quarterback to Bonner. Ex-NFLers Stoney Case and Joe Germaine were among the candidates