The Minnesota Viking can't seem to get a Super Bowl trophy, but they are yards ahead of the rest of the National Football League in preparing for a feee-agent system.
"Traditional contracts are a thing of the past," said Mike Lynn, general manager. "There is a different structure now."
He envisions the contract for a high quality player everaging seven to 10 years.
"Whether you are dealing with a rookie you think is going to be a starter for several years, a veteran, or even a free agent." Lynn said, "you will sign him for what you think will be his useful life (career).
"We have one player under a seven-year contract, Ron Yary, who signed a month before the Super Bowl. In our opinion Yary (now 30 years old) should play for seven more years. Normally, we would have signed him fro, say, two, maybe one, or three years.
"Now, we look at the veterans or high draftees we want to keep and give them long-term contracts.
"We have signed more starters to long-term contracts than most other teams. For instance, Bobby Bryant is signed through 1979, so is Chuck Foreman, Carl Eller, Ahmad Rashad, Fran Tarkenton, Ed White and rookie Sammy White.
"Yary is signed through 1983, rookie James White through 1981, Alan Page and Jeff Wright through 1980: Nate Wright, Mick Tingelhoff, Doug Sutherland, Jeff Siemon, Charles Goodrum, and Jim Marshall through 1978. They all include the option years of the contracts."
The change began at Minnesota even before the Rozelle Rule was suspended, allowing free agents to sell their services among all other clubs after playing out their options, without the original clubs having to be compensated.
"We signed Page for five years before the Mackey case (in which the Rozelle Rule was ruled illegal)," Lynn noted.
"Last season, we drafted defensive tackle James White No. 1 and we expect he will become a starter in the fuure.
"We used to give a rookie maybe a two- or three-year contract, but we signed White for five years, six including his option year. Eller first signed with us in 1963 and signed seven different contracts. That is now a thing of the past. We don't want a player who is going to be with us for 10 years negotiating say, four different times.
"I noticed that New Orleans signed running back Chuck Muncie to a seven-year contract (for a reported $1 million).
"It makes no sense anymore to sgin a player for three years and then lose him as a free agent after that. We (the club and player) establish the rate at which he should be paid and sign him for his useful life, provided he makes the team each year.
"He still must pass the physical each year to continue playing and qualify annually performance-wise, too. We have no players with guaranteed (no-cut) contracts."
Long-term contracts are not new, of course, but seven- to 10-year ones have been rare.
But how can a club persuade a budding superstar to lock himself into a set figure for so long a period? And how can a club risk giving such terms to a promising prospect who might flop?
"In the future we are going to have these very sophisticated contracts which take into consideration how the present value of money becomes worth less; the depreciation of bonuses paid players for signing, and the realization that we are negotiating with '50-cent dollars' tax-wise, if a club is making money. If you are making money, you are in the 50 per cent tax bracket, so a $100,000 payment is really costing you only $50,000.
"Once we determine what a contract in net form means to the club and the player and that it has to be to the mutual benefit of both, then we can construct such a sophisticated contract.
"Under the 'present value' system we can invest money and get interest for future payments. Conceivably, you could pay a player $100,000 within 15 years and it would cost you nothing."
Lynn said a club can even afford to sign players who are less than superstars to such long-term contracts because even if a player flopped, deferred income paid to him could be recovered over a long period from interest paid on a long-range investment. What the club would lose in that case, if th player was a flop, would be the interest.
Why are the Vikings more advanced in contract matters than the other clubs?
"I came into football form the business world," Lynn said. At age 17, while attending Morris Hills Regional High School in New Jersey, Lynn became the youngest manager in the history of a theater chain.
After three years with the Army Security Agency, one in Korea, he ran a chain of theaters in Delaware and Maryland.
At 27 he became general manager of a department store in East St. Louis, Ill., doing more than $10 million of business [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
When the city of Memphis completed a 50,000-seat stadium and sought a FL franchise, he was chairman of the mayor's committee [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] executive officer [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] an NFL team, he joined the Vikings.
Now, if he could only negotiate a contract for next year's Super Bowl.