George Allen's reputation as the National Football League's Most Valuable Spender for superstar free-agent talent will be severely tested under the terms of the labor agreement that was ratified Friday by pro football owners and the players association.
Under the new contract, Allen is going to have a difficult time plucking a John Riggins or a Calvin Hill off the free-agent list. After all, each team only had so many No. 1 and No. 2 draft choices.
Nevertheless the wheeling and dealing at Redskin Park should go on. Under the terms of the new agreement, it will take more than big bucks to land the kind of talent. Allen became so accustomed to bidding for a year ago when there was no Rozelle Rule. Now, he will need draft choices to shop for the higher-priced spread, and there aren't many left.
The new contract calls for a No. 3 draft choice to compensate a team for a man in the $50,000 to $65,000 salary range; a No. 2 in the $65,000 to $75,000 $125,000; a No. 1 and No. 2 from $125,000 to $200,000, and two No. 1s for a player over $200,000.
"If a club doesn't have those draft choices the same year it wishes to sign the free agent they cannot make an offer for that man," Terry Bledsoe of the management council said yesterday. "If you want to bid for that free agent, you're going to have to go out and get those choices in trades or other transactions. No future choices can be involved. And it must be your pick or a better one earlier in the round."
The Redskins do not have a choice in the first three rounds of the 1977 and 1978 drafts, mostly because of the Dave Butz and Tim Stokes deals. Butz costs them first-round picks in 1977 and 1978, and a second round choice in 1979. Stokes was worth numbers two three and four in 1978 and a fifth in 1979.
The Redskins still have their first picks in 1979 and 1980 but Nos. 2 and 3 in 1980, belong to Los Angeles for offensive lineman Dan Nugent.
The bottom line is this: the Redskins will not be able to bid for any free agent making more than $50,000 in salary for at least two more years, unless Allen can obtain high picks from trades.
But Allen is not expected to go searching for a bridge to jump off. With the exception of the Riggins and Hill signings, in recent years he has tried to build his team with a solid foundation of young veterans like Jean Fugett, Joe Theismann, Joe Lavender, Peter Wysocki, Dave Butz, Tim Strokes, and Nugent, to name a few.
All of those players were making under $50,000 when the Redskins signed them. All of them had several the NFL, or Candadian league, and all years of professional experience in of them have already become, or soon will be, starters.
The new contract says that players with four years experience do not have to have an option year in order to become free agents as soon as the new pact is formally approved.
According to Bledsoe, all existing player contracts will remain in effect, although any man choosing to play out his option will earn 110 per cent of his salary, instead of having to take the old 10 per cent cut.
For example, Billy Kilmer signed a one-year contract with the Redskins last summer, with a one-year option.Thus, he is bound to the Redskins contractually for the 1977 season, even if does not sign a new contract.
Other starters believed to be in the same position are Frank Grant, Mike THomas, Terry Hermeling, Len Hause, Fischer and Ken Houston.
And what about Theismann? He, too, will be in the option year in 1977. If he decided to play out his option and become a free agent in 1978, under the current salary terms of his contract, the Redskins would get a No. 1 choice for him.
They could also much offer Theismann received from another club and retain him, no matter how unhappy he might be with his status here.
The new compensation provisions will also make it more difficult for some of the Redskins higher-priced veterans to go elsewhere. Would a team try to sign a Diron Talbert or a Jake Scott (both reportedly making more than $100,000 a year) knowing that it would lose at least a No. 1 draft choice for a player with two or three years left?
The new contract also is going to place an even heavier burden on the Redskins' undermanned yet highly successful scouting system. The team has had a history of sleeper picks in the later rounds. Grant Dennis Johnson and Stu O'Dell, for example, all were 13th-round picks.
There are going to be an awful lot of talented free agents out there, and with the Redskins having only five picks in the new 12-round 1977 draft, the pressure surely will be heavy to sign the best of the rest.
And how much is all of this going to cost? The owners say the entire package is worth $107 million, a tidy $3.5 million for each of the 28 clubs over the length of the five-year pact.
Some of those increases will be absorbed by the tv networks paying for what surely will be a staggering new contract. But the fans (so what else is new?) will be forced to foot a good portion of the bill.