Wide receiver Ricky Thompson and punter Mike Connell were unexpectedly absent yesterday as the Redskins opened a three-day minicamp with 105 players, providing the team with a potential insurance policy should there be labor problems this summer.
The Redskins haven't had so many players under contract since the days of George Allen, and General Manager Bobby Beathard wouldn't deny that the potential of labor difficulties this summer, stemming from contract negotiations between the NFL Players Association and the league, influenced the team's thinking.
"There were a lot of good free agents out there and we didn't sign anyone who we thought couldn't make the team," Beathard said, "but you can't ignore the labor difficulties. I can't say it never entered our minds."
Although it is unlikely the NFLPA will call a strike during the preseason, there remains the possibility of an owner-called lockout. If that happens, the NFLPA expects the teams to encourage rookies to stay in camp and to play preseason games against rookies from other clubs.
"We'd consider it a selective lockout, but that's exactly what they did in 1970," said Ed Garvey, the NFLPA's executive director. "We'd fight it. But if they kept a team alive, it would present a pressure situation to the veterans; such as, what happens to my job if that guy is practicing? When we struck in 1974, they continued with rookies and kept pressuring the veterans to cross the lines."
If there is a lockout, the Redskins are hoping many the 35-plus free agents and 15 drafted rookies acquired since the end of last season would continue to work out with the team, even if veteran players stayed home. Since Beathard became general manager in 1978, Washington usually has had no more than 85 players both at the minicamps and at summer camp.
"We've noticed a lot of teams are signing a lot more players than normal," Garvey said. "They want to use the young guys as leverage against the older ones. But things have changed since 1970 and 1974. If they try to lock us out, we'll seek an immediate injunction preventing them from selectively letting players back in."
Thompson, who lost his starting position to Virgil Seay midway through last season, has told Beathard that he wants to be traded since it is apparent his chances of regaining his regular spot are slim. Beathard said attempts to deal Thompson have been unsuccessful.
It seems likely the Redskins now will waive Thompson before the start of summer camp. Coach Joe Gibbs said he was disappointed that Thompson, who is in his option year, did not call to explain his absence and did not have postseason surgery to repair knee-cartilage damage.
"Anyone who misses this minicamp is putting himself in a real hole," Gibbs said. That warning apparently also applies to Connell, a free agent who has been offered a new contract by the Redskins. Beathard said he expected Connell to work out, but Connell told Gibbs Wednesday night he would not, despite stiff competition for the punting position.
"Free agents like Mike can work out even if they don't have a contract, but it's voluntary on their part," Beathard said. "As long as they have an offer, they are protected if they are injured."
Two other unsigned Redskin free agents, Dave Butz and Brad Dusek, also declined to practice, as expected. Gibbs said after a team meeting Wednesday night that he asked to see any players who did not plan to practice. When Connell, Dusek and Butz approached, he said he told all three to go home "because I didn't want them hanging around if they aren't going to work."
Thompson's position was not enhanced when the Redskins drafted speedy Carl Powell on the third round last month. Charlie Brown, a 1981 draft choice who missed last season with an injury, is healthy again and also will be pushing for a roster spot.
The Redskins waived tight end Gregg McCrary, acquired last year from San Diego . . . With Lemar Parrish traded to Buffalo, Joe Washington has switched from No. 25 to No. 24 . . . Veterans Rickey Claitt, Bob Raba and Charlie Weaver, all free agents, have signed contracts. . . Two other free agents, Pete Cronan and Karl Lorch, are practicing although still unsigned.