The Los Angeles Rams are 0-2. How much effect did the absence of four players from training camp -- all because of salary squabbles -- have on the team?
The New England Patriots are 1-1 and four important players still have not rejoined the club -- Sam Cunningham, Tom Owen, Mike Haynes and Richard Bishop, all without contracts and all seeking better deals. Is there a connection?
"This has hurt us a great deal," was the opinion of Charles W. Sullivan, executive vice president of the Patriots. "We have had frequent talks with Haynes. Bishop is expected back, we hope in the near future. We are far apart on Cunningham and Owen. We had gotten close on Bishop but his agent, Howard Slusher, has refused to let him sign. He wants to use him as leverage, like when baseball pitchers Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax negotiated in tandem with the Dodgers years ago.
"Slusher tried that with John Hannah and Leon Gray and the union-management players committee found the same agent in violation of our labor contract by trying tandem bargaining. His principal interest is not in getting the players signed. Slusher has made a purposeful effort to hurt the Pats because he is more interested in promoting his position as a spokesman for player agents. He wants to have the Steelers win, because he has more clients on the Pittsburgh team than on the Patriots.
"His influence with the Pats is diminishing. Tim Fox left Slusher and signed with us. Rod Shoate, who was in his option year, decided to use an attorney, Ken Fishkin, and negotiations are going well."
Slusher was asked to comment on Sullivan's charge that the agent was trying to give the Steelers an advantage.
Slusher laughed at length on the telephone from Los Angeles and was asked if that was his answer. "Describe it as a hysterical laugh," Slusher said.
Sullivan contended that Slusher's primary interest is in publicity, so he can get more clients, and noted that the agent came 3,000 miles to air his views on the intermission of a network game telecast, in New York City, "but would not come up to Foxboro (Mass.) to talk about signing the players. Our general manager (Bucko Kilroy) had goner to Los Angeles twice to talk to Slusher, but when the Pats played an exhibition in Anaheim, Slusher didn't come over from his L.A. office.
"He's involved in an effort of agents to try to do away (with) the NFL Players Association officers and they brought suit against Slusher, Mike Trope, and Jerry Argovitz, agents who are trying to fix prices for player talent, for bargaining by groups of players, like tandem bargaining. We didn't renegotiate with Hannah and Gray and we won't with any players."
Slusher said he knows of no such suit, that no travel is necessary for the players to sign. "All Sullivan has to do is say 'yes' to written offers on General Manager Kilroy's desk."
Is it possible that his four clients may not play this season with the Patriots and earn no money?
"That's up to Sullivan. Or should every player agree to sign for the minimum salary just to play?"
Don Klosterman, general manager of the Rams, saw Jack and Jim Youngblood, Perry Brooks and Dennis Harrah miss all of training camp, and Bob Brudzinski, Pat Thomas, and Vince Ferragamo each miss some time.
"It hurt the cohesiveness on defense," Klosterman said, "because the two Youngbloods and Brooks were missing from that unit. You just don't step in and pick it up again.
"There were two results. One, the players realized that they couldn't miss that much practice and be effective; and, two, the younger players benefited; they got more attention and coaching," a fact that dawned on some borderline veterans.
"We'd rather be disappointed now, at 0-2," Klosterman said, "than later, knowing we will have good personnel and 14 games left."
He said no contracts were renegotiated.
Al (Bubba) Baker of Detroit missed all of the preseason, but General Manager Russ Thomas said the defensive end's contract was not renegotiated. It was extended three times, through 1984, and he got a bonus, but his basic salary remained the same.Did his absence hurt the team?
"Well, we won three of four exhibitions and our regular season opener while he was absent," Thomas said.
Tex Schramm, general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, said he has no hard-and-fast policy against renegotiating contracts but that Tony Dorsett got a new contract, "for the rest of his career," after leaving camp for a couple of days and then returning.
Slusher blamed the owners' stance on the National Football League's compensation clause, which he says results in players who are frustrated in trying to switch teams saying, in effect, "Why wait until the end of his contract to try to get more money?"
The lesson San Diego's Fred Dean learned about trying to renegotiate was indelible. He stayed away 58 days and ended up being fined $23,000 when management made its point that a contract is a contract is a contract.