The Redskins still are very interested in obtaining Bruce Clark, the former Penn State all-America defensive lineman, a move that would ease the sting of not having a No. 1 draft choice next year and provide a blue-chip player who would be a significant addition to their troubled defensive line.
Clark was the fourth player chosen in the 1980 draft, by the Green Bay Packers. After refusing to sign with Green Bay, he has spent the last two years with Toronto in the Canadian Football League.
The Redskins were interested in signing Clark after last season, but he chose to play another year in Canada. It has been learned their interest in him remains strong, although team officials refuse to talk specifically about him to avoid being accused of tampering by the National Football League.
Clark almost assuredly will play in the NFL next season. But before he signs a contract, he should be the object of one of the biggest contract bidding wars since the AFL-NFL merger.
The reason: under terms of the current contract between the league and the NFL Players Association, any team that signs Clark does not owe Green Bay compensation, since he never has played for the team. The Packers do have the right to match any contract offer and have promised to sign Clark.
League sources feel that the Packers could be priced out of the market in the bidding for Clark, just as when the Bullets refused to match the offer Los Angeles made Mitch Kupchak last summer under similar circumstances in the National Basketball Association.
Will Redskin owner Jack Kent Cooke be willing to pay whatever it takes -- a long-term contract with bidding probably starting at $1 million-plus -- to sign him and discourage Green Bay?
"No, he won't," said Ed Garvey, the NFLPA executive director. He maintains the owners' "lack of will to win" precludes such bidding wars.
"Oh, there may be a case like this where the player will get a good contract," said Garvey, who wants to abandon free agency rules in the next contract with the league, replacing them with his 55-percent-of-the-gross concept.
"But even if Bruce does make some extra bucks, it doesn't prove anything. It certainly doesn't prove that free agents have a chance in this league, just like no one bidding for Walter Payton proved there was a conspiracy among the owners.
"Bruce will be one guy out of 1,500 who happened to benefit from the present free agent setup. Eric Harris (ex-CFL player now with Kansas City) was in Clark's situation, and he had bids from three of the 28 teams. That's not much.
"I'm sure the league will make a big show of it if Bruce gets a big contract. Maybe they'll get some bids for (Joe) Theismann and Bert Jones, too. But it doesn't really affect what's happened to the rest of the 1,500 players."
Garvey also maintains there will be no restrictions on Clark's free agency as of July 15, when the NFLPA contract with the league expires. After that date, he says, Green Bay doesn't have the right to match a contract offer. The league disagrees.
"We talked to Green Bay once a year ago about Bruce and they said then if he came to the NFL, they'd sign him," Redskin General Manager Bobby Beathard said. "When the time comes that we are allowed to talk to Bruce, then we would make a decision whether he fits into our plans and then go from there.
"He's still Green Bay's property. I'm sure he'll sign with them. He was a fine player when he came out of college and I assume he still is."
The Redskins already have decided to use their early draft choices to strengthen the defensive line, which has had problems generating a pass rush and stopping the run this season. But there is no player available in this year's draft who matches the talents of Clark. Signing him would not cost Beathard any of the high draft picks he would like to hoard.
Green Bay has until the draft in April to sign Clark. After the draft, he can begin negotiations for the first time with other teams, then take the best contract offer to the Packers. They then can decide to match the bid or let him go.
"Bruce has completed his obligations in the Canadian Football League and there is a great likelihood that he'll play in the NFL next year," said Richard Bennett, Clark's Washington-based attorney, who also represents Redskins Art Monk and Terry Metcalf. "The Packers retain full bargaining rights to Bruce. But we haven't talked to anyone in the Packer organization, nor have we talked to anyone representing any other NFL team, including Bobby Beathard."
Clark played defensive tackle, end, nose guard and linebacker with Toronto. He was named all-CFL in 1980 but did not play as well last season, when his tackles fell from 73 to 49 and his sacks from 16 to seven. The drop-off could hurt his bargaining power somewhat in his NFL negotiations. He was not available to comment yesterday.
The Redskins, according to Beathard, are not interested in another CFL player, quarterback Vince Ferragamo, who has indicated he may return to the NFL after a year with Montreal.
Although Theismann will be a free agent Feb. 1, Beathard said he just "doesn't like Ferragamo as a quarterback. He's a guy who needs a great line and a great team around him and then he might help you. But he's not a Namath who can take a good team and make them great. He has a big arm, but I wouldn't want him."
Middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz, the Redskins' leading tackler, was placed on injured reserve yesterday after undergoing an arthrogram examination on his injured right knee. His place on the roster was taken by rookie offensive tackle Mike Daum, who was cut by Miami after being drafted in the seventh round out of California Poly-San Luis Obispo.