Baltimore Colt president Bob Irsay said today that there is a good chance the National Football League will reach a settlement on a contract with the players' union by Feb. 15, including a provision for a draft of college players.
There has been no contract since 1974.
Irsay made the disclosure in response to a question about the prospect of a draft at a news conference to announce the appointment of Dick Szymanski as Colt general manager to replace the fired Joe Thomas and Ernie Accorsi as new assistant general manager.
Irsay said of the NFL club owners, "In Seattle (at a meeting of chief executives), we felt we were very close to an agreement.
"I think we will have a limited draft, of maybe five or 10 players, or one negotiated with the union. I don't know how many players would be drafted by each team - three . . . five . . . 10 - but it will be changed from what we have had in the past. All the owners agree on that."
Irsay also revealed that the Colts were invited to bid on Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett of the University of Pittsburgh to be signed as a free agent.
Asked if he was prepared to negotiate with Dorsett's agent, Michael Lance Trope of Los Angeles, in the event there is no draft, Irsay said, "Not on the terms laid out."
He said those terms included "more than $1 million for two years. We just can't afford it." He did not formally turn down Dorsett, he said, but just did not answer his agent.
Irsay reported that defensive coordinator Maxie Baughan has been given permission to be interviewed for the head coaching job at Atlanta.
Irsay said the Falcons made the overture and head coach Ted Marchibroda gave permission.
Irsay described the final development that led him to fire Thomas - "When Thomas told me he told Ted to go to Atlanta (to negotiate for the head coaching vacancy there)."
Did Thomas know he was about to be fired by the Colts when he told Marchibroda totalk to the Falcons?
"Yes," Irsay said, "The Friday (Jan. 7) before the Super Bowl game. Joe did it without telling me."
On Monday, Thomas said in a prepared statement distributed by his atorneys to the media, "Shortly before the Pro Bowl game, Marchibroda asked me for permission to talk to other clubs. I said it was o.k. as far as I was concerned, but he would have to get permission from Irsay. Irsay refused."
Marchibroda's version today was, "Let's say I did ask permission. I told Thomas that he had a month to look for another job - at Atlanta and with the New York Jets.
"I had no chance at all. No, I was not sure of my job with the Colts then. I did not look for a job elsewhere; I did not get permission (from Irsay)."
Irsay said, "If Ted went, the assistant caches, would go and I figured Bert (Jones) would want to go." The president said the fans, the players and coaches want Marchibroda to stay.
Irsay offered as evidence that Thomas wanted to fire Marchibroda, "Joe said to me about Ted, 'I can't live with this man.' How would you interpret that?"
Irsay said he might not have to pay Thomas for the year remaining on his contract, 1977, suggesting THomas might have breached his contract.
Asked if he expected to be sued by Thomas, Irsay said, "I don't think so: his contract says any question like that would have to be reviewed by commissioner Pete Rozelle.