In an effort to avoid the serious morale problem of a year ago, the Redskins have whittled their list of unsigned players to 15 with less than two weeks remaining before the start of training camp July 15.
The Redskins went to training camp last year with 28 unsigned players, many of them bitter over the treatment they received from the front office. A number of players have said they believe the team's slow (6-4) start was a direct result of their summer squabbles with the club.
"Hell, yes, it hurt the football team," Tim Temerario, coach George Allen's executive assistant and chief negotiator, said yesterday.
"The main topic in the training camp was not football, it was contract negotiations and who hated who the most. We wanted to prevent that this year, and I think we have. As far as we're concerned the unsigned-player issue is dead.
"I'm talking to these guys or their agents all the time. There is no agitation. And if a guy doesn't sign, he gets a 10 per cent raise for playing out his option. That's not bad, is it?"
Twelve of the 15 unsigned players are in that category, playing on the option years of previous contracts, under terms of the labor agreement between the NFL and the player's union, they would, indeed, receive a 10 per cent raise over their 1976 salary and would become free agents after the 1977 season.
Included in that group are five starters from a year ago - quarterback Billy Kilmer, linebacker Chris Hanburger, center Len Hauss, wide receiver Frank Grant and running back Mike Thomas - as well as kicker Mark Moseley, the leading scorer in the NFC last season.
Also entering their option years and still negotiating with the team are quarterback Joe Theismann, defensive tackle Bill Brundige, safety Brig Owens, wide receiver Larry Jones, linebacker Pete Wysocki and defensive end Dallas Hickman.
Two other starters in 1976 - middle linebacker Harold McLinton and tackle Tim Stokes - played out their options in 1976. They were not signed any other team and are now technically free agents, although both men are negotiating with the Redskins.
Temerario says the club wants both players back. But under terms of the labor agreement, neither man can report to an NFL training camp until he signs a new contract.
The Redskins are still negotiating with rookie tight end Reggie Haynes, a seventh round pick and the only one of the club's six drafted players who hasn't signed.
Temerario insisted yesterday, "We will have no problems on the signing business this year. Before we go to camp, it should all be worked out. If a guy says to me he'll play out his option, then we'll say so publicly and not worry about it."
The players of greatest concern in the Redskins long-range plans are Thomas, Grant, Theismann and Stokes.
Guy Draper, who represents Thomas, Grant and Larry Jones, said yesterday he hoped to have all three of his clients signed in the next two weeks. Jones, he added, probably will sign later this week.
"I would say the overall feeling is that no one wants to have a recurrience of what happened last year," Draper said. "The negotiations have not moved along as quickly as I'd like, but they have not bogged down. The channels of communication are more open."
Theismann's agent, Ed Keating of Cleveland, said the other day, "We're in no great rush, I've sritten to them telling them what our demands are and I'm still waiting to hear from them. We've got time, and Joe has an awful lot of altenatives."
Stokes said yesterday he was leaving all contract negotiations to his agent, Howard Slusher of Los Angeles.
"I don't think I'm asking for anything out of line," Stokes said from his home in Eugene, Ore. "I took a 10 per cent cut last year and made $27,000 for the season. I was the lowest-paid starter on the team.
"When I keep hearing about what a high-salaried team we are I just have to shake my head and ask where do I fit in?" Stokes reportedly is asking for a three-year contract of between $150,000 and $180,000.
"I'm not going to say anything about that except that I'm very flexible," he said.
The Redskins are probably not very concerned about some of their older unsigned veterans. Kilmer, Hauss, Owens and Hanburger usually come to terms during training camp.
Hanburger was quoted recently as saying he would not report to camp unless he had a contract. When asked about that report yesterday he offered a "No comment," saying only "There are no problems as far as I'm concerned.
"I'm sure things will be straightened out before training camp. I'm not worried about it."