The Baltimore Colts attempted to trade Lydell Mitchell to several clubs before a player-club relations committee tried again yesterday to settle the running back's grievance at the NFL Players Association office here.
The Colts talked to the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns about a possible deal for Mitchell, without success. The St. Louis Cardinals said they would not be interested because of the amount Mitchell reportedly is asking in salary, $200,000 anually in a three-year contract.
There was speculation before the meeting at the players association that Bob Irsay, owner of the Colts, was unwilling to settle with Mitchell unless he withdrew a charge of racial discrimination against the Colts, and that perhaps Mitchell would withdraw the grievance, or even apologize.
Mitchell, whose current salary reportedly is $99,000, was offered a contract Monday night that would have paid him $170,000 the first year, $195,000 the second and $200,000 the third, or an aggregate of $565,000. There also would have been an option year.
There was a tentative acceptance, but it was made by two Colt representatives who had to get the approval of Irsay, which was not forthcoming Tuesday.
Mitchell then said it probably would be best if he were traded. Coach Ted Marchibroda agreed, and began to try to make deals.
Mitchell is 29 years old and a veteran of six seasons in the National Football League. If he were a free agent instead of playing out his option year, as he is, the Colts would be entitled to two No. 2 draft choices if another club paid him $200,000 a year.
The Colts have averaged only 2.8 yards rushing while losing all three exhibition games in the absence of Mitchell, who has been replaced by Don McCauley.
Mitchell averaged more than 1,000 yards rushing the past three seasons and led the NFL with 71 receptions in 1977.
Jim Finks, executive vice president and general manager of the Bears, said he told the Colts. "We have no need of a halfback with Walter Payton, Johnny Musso and Art Best.
"Mitchell is worth more to the Colts than to other clubs because he is more productive in their system. He doesn't have blinding speed."
Finks pointed out that only 10 days remain before the opening of the regular season, and he emphasized, "This is a team game."
Peter Hadhazy, executive vice president and general manager of the Browns, told the Colts he already has a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] halfback in Greg Pruitt had couldn't pay the price for Mitchell.
The Rams are understood to have told the Colts that Los Angeles already has plenty of running backs.
The Colt situation was viewed as a distress sale by the Rams and the Cardinals, with the Baltimore club known to be in a poor bargaining position.
A source familiar with the Ram operation reported the Colts were seeking a running back and a special teams player. He said Mitchell should bring a No. 1 choice or more for a team wanting to deal in draft picks.
Joe Sullivan, director of operations for the Cardinals, said, "We would be the 26th or 27th (excluding the Colts, of course) contacted if Mitchell is asking that kind of money.
"I'd pay O.J. Simpson that kind of money, but Mitchell is not O.J. If he were a free agent, I think he would bring a No. 1 and a No. 2 draft choice, but it is a distress sale; he has not been to training camp, and he would have to learn a new system. He is very versatile, but he is not a breakaway runner."
Irsay was quoted in Baltimore Tuesday as saying he would want at least a No. 1 draft choice for Mitchell.
That promped a management source from a club in the East Division of the AFC with the Colts to say, "I'd give Irsay a No. 1 real fast. I'd give a No. 1 and a No. 2, and maybe more. We'd go for a $200,000 salary.
"Halfbacks are hard to come by. The injury factor has taken a toll. He is a very valuable piece of property because of his versatility. He runs, blocks and catches passes and plays every play.
"The Colts won't let him go to our division. So I'd like to see him out of our conference."