Ed Garvey, executive director of the NFL Players Association, charged yesterday that the current negotiating difficulties involving the majority of this year's first-round draft choices is an orchestrated attempt by league owners to stop escalating rookie salaries.

"The general managers held a seminar at Harvard this winter and there is no question one of the results was not to hold down rookie wages but to stop them from escalating," Garvey said. "It's collusion, but it's tough to prove because you can't prove what is said behind closed doors.

"But by the time we go to collective bargaining next year, we'll have ample evidence how things have been kept in line."

This year, only eight of the 28 first-round choices have been signed, including two who went to the Canadian Football League. Another two reportedly are close to agreeing to a contract. The rest, including the Redskins' Mark May, still are negotiating.

Last year, the quick signing of Lam Jones to a $2 million contract by the New Jork Jets had two effects: most first-round picks came to terms soon after and many were rewarded with large salaries and bonuses.

"The league obviously vowed that something like that wouldn't happen again," Garvey said. "The general managers talk to each other, they know what the range of salaries are for each round.

"The players and agents are fooling themselves. Individual bargaining just doesn't work in this league. There is a limit the clubs are going to pay and the negotiations take place until that figure is reached. If it isn't, the player doesn't get a contract."

Garvey long has charged that teams are in collusion regarding player contracts, one reason he wants to eliminate individual bargaining in the next contract with the league, replacing it with a proposal that would allow the players to share part of the clubs' gross revenues.

"There have to be changes made," he said. "This is just a pattern in all sports where the owners are working together to hold down salaries."