Pro football linemen used to command only peanuts to put on their gorilla act. No more.

The NFL clubs are having a dickens of a time trying to sign many of the defensive front-four and blocking convoy types they took as high draft choices, in many cases No. 1s, in itself a far cry from the old days when glamour came first.

Player agents cite the $1 million plus contracts that running backs Tony Dorset and Ricky Bell drew at the top of the draft as bringing about insistence on big bucks by players chosen lower on the first round. But Green Bay Packer coach Bart Starr, dickering hard to sign first-round picks Mike Butler (Coolidge High Kansas) and Ezra Johnson, two defensive ends, says a bigger hurdle in the negotations is the reported $500,000) the New York Jets gave their No. 1 pick, offensive lineman - yes offensive lineman - Marvin Powell.

And Johnson's agent evidently wants to wait and see what Butler gets before firming his own asking price.

Atlanta's early choice defensive line draftees, and their agents, are using the dissatisfaction of veterans Claude Humphrey and Mike Tileman as levers. Then there is Miami. The No. 1 Dolphin choice, defensive tackle A. J. Duhe of Louisiana State, knows he has the team up against the wall because veterans Randy Crowder and Don Reese are off the team because of narcotics arrests.

"We're not even close to signing him," coach Don Shula said. "We've offered him the same contract we've offered other No. 1s, but his agent isn't satisfied."

U. of Houston All-American Wilson Whitley, the Lombardi Award winner, and the Cincinnati Bengals, who drafted him first round, are way apart with opening of camp six days off. Whitley's agents, Tom Crawford, said his man only wants $100,000 a year, but "The Internal Revenue is easier to deal with then Mike Brown (assistant general manager). At least the IRS is reasonable."

Meanwhile, Crawford said, Whitley "has a Cincinnati Bengals sticker on his car; he wears Cincinnati Bengals shirts to work out) he even had his car painted Bengals' orange and black . . . He wants to be there today, but I won't let him step foot in Ohio until he signs" . . .

Another reason for Duhe's reluctance might be Shula's now vow he is going to be tougher with his 1977 squad - "I've assumed some things in the past and I've been taken advantage of." Still Chuck Foreman, the Minnesota Viking all-pro, says he'd like to play for Miami - he went to U. of Miami and makes his home there now (just visits good old Frederick, Md). And Shula assures he would bid for Foreman if the opportunity arose.

Foreman, due to appear at the Viking camp July 26, but at bitter stalemate in his bid for a renegotiated contract, says, "The day I'm supposed to report is the day I disappear. I'll be leaving the city, getting off by myself. I might just get in my car and head west, I don't know. Nobody will know where I am" . . .

Au contraire, quarterback James Harris has found a real hofe in San Diego. The Joe Namth displaced Ram yesterday signed a five-year, no cut part with the Chargers. Guesstimate: $170.000 per annum.

Today is the date set by the National Hockey League for World Hockey Association clubs to apply for membership, and the Indianapolis Racers won't be among them. Unlike the NBA Pacers, saved by a telethon, the WHA team failed to come up with the bread despite an 11th-hour strugle. The Racers were looking to banker William Callahan of Bettendorf, Iowa, of all places, to invest some of the $8.3 million needed to clean up debts and buy into the NHL; he backed off, the Racers are dead . . . Colorado Rockies owner Jack Vickers lost a reported $2.7 million in his first NHL campaign. He said yesterday he has received three offers to take the team off his hands, rejected all and will keep the club in Denver. One of the bidders was Jack Skalbania, owner of the WHA Edmonton Oilers, lookin for an existing NHL franchise to move to Edmonton in case the merger doesn't go through . . .

From Robert A. Barbuto, account executive for Merill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, no less, comes an open letter to Jerry Hoffberger and his Baltimore Orioles urging they pick up a Washington-area radio outlet for the rest of the baseball season. As Barbuto points out, once WBAL-AM-1090 fades out for the evening hours, folks down here are out of luck trying to keep up with play-by-play of "the hottest club in baseball." It does seem, what with Hoffberger's hardrock stand against a new D.C. franchise because of Oriole "territorial rights," he'd want "Oriole" territory blanketed with coverage of the team; make fans and lure them to Memorial Stadium and all that . . .

The Orioles probably will activate onetime Senator outfielder Elliott Maddox, tha knee problem of two years' standing, this week. Acquired in January from the Yankees, for whom he played only 18 games in 1976, Maddox has yet to perform for Baltimore. Now, whom to deactivate to make room?Gossip is that it may be end of the line a couple months ahead of time for Brooks Robinson although he could come back to finish up on the expanded post-Sept. 1 roster . . . Phillie third baseman Mike Schmidt, NL home run leader, may be back in the lineup tonight. Blame the three games he missed in Pittsburgh - three Phil losses - on Friday night's fight at Three Rivers. It got him a nondisplaced hairline fracture of his right ring finger.