The change of coaches, from Jack Pardee to Neill Armstrong, has raised an exciting prospect of seeing the Chicago Bears use Walter Payton as the Minnesota Vikings have used Chuck Foreman.
Armstrong, former defensive coordinator of the Vikings, has talked of throwing more to backs, as Fran Tarkenton does so proficiently at Minnesota.
Armstrong says the Vikings' biggest offensive threat involved Foreman coming out of the backfield to catch a pass, with his speed and open-field trickery.
The vision of Payton, who has reportedly rejected a $375,000 contract to play out his option at $66,000, given such running room is an entrancing one, with him facing only one or two defenders rather than a gang at the line of scrimmage. It could add years to that position, the average career usually is usually about four and a half seasons.
Lenny Moore of the Baltimore Colts made his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame by adding receiving to his strong running game.
Payton figures to be a mismatch against defensive backs, with his power to break tackles, his speed, and his fluid changes of direction once he gets in the clear.
Asked yesterday if he were looking forward to exploiting the role after having demonstrated it picture perfect in a contact drill, Payton offered a jolting answer.
"I like to run the ball, but he is the head coach," Payton said.
Was he implying that he would rather not be used more fequently as a pass catcher?
"When you are a professional - and I am a professional - you adjust. I'd rather run the ball but I will do anything the coach wants if it will benefit the team.=
"Did he have any concern about the change in coaches after Pardee left to coach the Washington Redskins?
"Well, we built for three years and were prospering when he left. I wondered if there would be a big change that might set us back. I hope not."
Payton was asked about the big money involving his contract.
"That's settled," Payton said, "it will not bother my football."
Had he finally agreed to terms?
"No, I am playing out my option. The Bears made a generous offer, but it's not acceptable."
Payton said he was not trying to match the $733,000 annual salary of O.J. Simpson, as has been speculated.
"We are not far apart," he said, declining to be specific. "I'm not a turncoat. Four other guys are playing out their options, but there is no talk about them, all starters."
He mentioned wide receiver James Scott, guard Noah Jackson, safety Gary Fencik and linebacker Tom Hicks.
The Bears reportedly have offered Payton a multiyear contract, with incentive bonuses in addition to $375,000 a year.
They say they do not want to upset "the integrity" of their payroll. Translated it means they do not want Payton's salary to be far out of balance with the rest of the players.
Payton's options call for a serious decision. If he continues to play out his option this season in the expectation that he will do better shopping other clubs for the 1979 season, he will receive an automatic 10 percent raise from the Bears this year.
But would he be able to convince another club to make up for what he will lose this season - the difference between $72,000 while playing out his option or accepting nearly $400,000 this year on a new contract?
Besides topping the Bears' offer a new club would have to give up two No. 1 draft choices to the Bears.
Would Payton be happy if the club that topped the Bears' offer was low in the standings or the city was undesirable otherwise?
The Bears note that payton is in demand for product endorsements in Chicago, citing a one-shot television commercial he had made. It brought $25,000.
PITTSBURG STEELERS - Announced that quarterback Larry Lawrence, signed as a free agent earlier this month after being cut by Montreal of the Canadian Football League, was put on waivers.
BUFFALO BILLS - Acquired outside linebacker Robert Watts from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for an undisclosed future draft choice.
OAKLAND RAIDERS - Offensive tackel John Vella, limited to only one full game last season because of a knee injury, underwent surgery Wednesday after a bad block in training came resulted in a ripped pectoral muscle.He could miss the first 10 games of the season.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES - Traded guard Harvey Goodman to the San Diego Charpers for future considerations.
CINCINNATI BENGALS - Linebacker Chris Devlin, 24, a three-year veteran, announced his retirement.