10 Contracts That Changed Dallas Sports

One of the easiest lines to draw between eras of sports history is before and after free agency in each of the U.S.' four major leagues. Before free agency, players were stuck with the team that drafted them or signed them out of high school until they retired, were traded or were released. Free agency — whether it came thanks to a court decision, as it did in Major League Baseball, or an agreement between players and owners, as it did in the National Football League — gave players freedom of movement and teams the chance to remake themselves quickly, as long as they were willing to spend.

In Dallas, free agency permanently changed the sports landscape. Without it, the Rangers might still be a woebegone franchise stuck playing in a minor league park, the Mavericks and Stars would likely never have won championships, and the Cowboys might not have spent the '00s in salary cap hell. As Dirk Nowitzki continues to bask in the praise he's received for taking an 80 percent pay cut to help rebuild the Mavs, let's take a look at 10 contracts that made Dallas sports what they are today.

December 7, 1988: The Rangers sign Nolan Ryan for $2 million, guaranteed.

Before the winter of 1988, the Rangers were a distant third for many DFW sports fans. They lacked the history of the Cowboys or the immediate success of the Mavericks, who'd just made the playoffs for the fifth time in their eight seasons in Dallas. The Rangers, who'd never played in the postseason, were stuck at Arlington Stadium, a retrofitted minor league park with few amenities and scorching metal bleachers in the completely exposed outfield.

On December 7, 1988, Tom Grieve, the general manager at the time, changed the trajectory of the franchise, signing Nolan Ryan to a one-year, $1.6 million contract. Combined with a $200,000 signing bonus and a $200,000 buyout for a second, optional year, the contract guaranteed Ryan $2 million and showed the rest of the league that the Rangers were capable of attracting a major talent in free agency. Although he was 42 before the 1989 season began, Ryan pitched five seasons in Arlington, recording two no-hitters, his 300th win and his 5,000th strikeout with the Rangers. Ryan retired in 1993, the year before the Rangers moved into their current home, Globe Life Park. It couldn't have been built without the interest and crowds Ryan brought to Arlington.

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