A new collective-bargaining agreement in pro football ended labor strife and retained a modified draft that makes the college superstars status symbols. But there is no rival league to dicker with an record number of holdouts is in prospect.
In contrast to years when there was an All-American Conference. American Football League or World Football League to make it an employee's market, negotiations are dragging.
Only 12 of 28 No. 1 draft choices have been signed by NFL clubs. Players may not practice in training camps if they are not under contract and all except five clubs will have opened their rookie camps by Sunday.
Holdouts by veterans is another consideration. The biggest newsmaker among them figures to be running back Ckuck Foreman of the Minnesota Vikings, who has threatened not to play unless his contract is renegotiated.
Some veterans learned before the draftees that it was an owner's market this season, with the new labor contract restoring a modified Rozelle Rule after the suspension of the old compensation clause for a year.
Of 42 veterans who played out the option years of their contracts last season, only six were signed by new clubs and five were cut loose as free agents. Eight faced up to reality and signed with their old employers. Four others signed with their old clubs and were traded.
Nineteen have received offers to rejoin their 1976 clubs, but now is the time of year when the challenge from rookies may create a sense of insecurity.
When the WFL folded in 1975, it left the pro football player with one other option - the Canadian league. But the number of imports from the United States is limited and the Canadian rosters are earlier because that cold-weather league starts earlier. There is also the inhibiting factor that once a player reports to an NFL training camp he cannot jump to the Canadian league in the same season.
Because of the labor negotiations, the 1976 NFL dreaft was not held until April 8-9 and in 1977 not until May 3-4, instead of the usual last week in January.
Still, in previous years an overwhelming majority of the top choices was in the College All-Star training camp at this stage of the season, and, under the rules, they could not become available to the All-Stars until they had signed contracts with NFL clubs. The game was dropped after the 1976 renewal.
This year's names Tony Dorsett of Pittsburgh and Ricky Bell of Southern California, quickly were put under contract by the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively.
The two running backs reportedly signed for five years, at about $1.25 million each.
But defensive end Joe Campbell of Maryland has not yet signed with the New Orleans Saints or defensive tackle Wilson Whitley of Houston with the Cincinnati Bengals.