Leaders of the National Football League Players Association said today they are more optimistic than ever about reaching an agreement with NFL owners over a new contract.

"For the first time, we're starting to deal with the owners on an equal basis," said Dick Anderson, the Miami Dolphin safety and president of the player's union, said today at a news conference.

"I think we're starting to make progress," said Ed Garvey, director of the player's association. "We have some informal meetings scheduled and we hope more progress can be made. I'm optimistic for the first time."

The players have been without a contract for three years.

That optimism, Garvey and Anderson said , stemmed mainly from recent union victories in the courts declaring the Rozelle Rule and the player draft illegal , and the owners willingness "to recognize that the union is not just going to vanish and go under."

Anderson said the union was willing to make some compromises in the draft and other freedom of movement issues in exchange for other benefits and Garvey agreed.

"When two sides recognize they have to compromise," he said, "they can get an agreement pretty quickly. A lot of people on the owners side now realize it's time to deal with us. Maybe we can get an agreement in a month or two if people are willing to do it.

Garvey said the union would like to see a draft system similar to the one used by the National Basketball Association. He also predicted that if the owners proceed with a draft "it would be a serious invitation to disaster. I don't think the NFL is being run by the captainof the Titanic."

NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle said Friday he would not improve any contract between a college player and a NFL team until the draftis held, and he expected no trouble from his owners alongthat line. Garvey said he had no idea "what will happen if they try that (negating a college player's contract) but I'm sure the injuctions would be flying around like bats."

"The key issue is the fact that for the first time, the impetus is on the owners to get an agreement," Anderson added. "They're the ones who want the draft. We're now treated more equally than we've ever been and we have a better chance of getting an agreement."

Anderson said he and Garvey had settled their past differences. "We've kissed and made up," Anderson said. Both men said the union is picking up new membership all the time.

Garvey said there are 800 dues-paying members compared to 550 at this time a year ago. They expect the total to reach 1,000 by February. The Redskins, he said, led the league with 48 members.

Anderson listed a half-dozen major issues the union consideration most important of all in the negotiations - the draft, the reserve system, preseason pay, union security, impartial arbitration and back pension contributions."When we get these things solved," he said, we'll have an agreement.

Garvey added that "for the first time in a long-time" the union was in the black last year, with $20000 in the treasury. Legal fees over the last six years, he said, totaled $500,000.