Negotiators for the National Football League handed the NFL Players Association a comprehensive contract proposal today that they said would substantially ease the movement of players from one club to another and increase minimum salaries and playoff and Super Bowl bonuses.
But the players, who are seeking a salary package based on 55 percent of NFL gross revenues, immediately labeled the package as inadequate.
"If that's their opening shot, it missed. It's not even in the ballpark," said NFLPA President Gene Upshaw of the Oakland Raiders. "It's about what we expected, but it's totally ridiculous."
However, Jack Donlan, executive director of the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm, said, "We feel this proposal is the basis for a settlement. We took the existing contract and built on it, which is a traditional way to bargain."
Donlan also said the management council has asked the union to waive its exclusive right to negotiate on behalf of unsigned rookies and veteran free agents after the contract expires at midnight on Thursday.
Unless the union agrees to such a waiver, unsigned rookies and free agents will not be able to report to a training camp, he said.
However, Donlan said they would be free at any time after the contract expiration to accept the club's most recent offer. Dick Berthelsen, NFLPA general counsel, said the union will consider that waiver when negotiations are resumed Wednesday.
The management council said its contract proposal would ease the restrictions on movement of players from one club to another by reducing the amount of compensation a club signing a veteran player would have to pay--in the form of draft choices--to the club that lost him.
Currently an $80,000-a-year veteran player costs a new club that signs him a first-round draft pick, and a $200,000-a-year veteran player commands two first-round draft picks. The management council's plan would put the level for one first-round draft choice at $110,000, but after a player had been in the league for seven years the level would increase at the rate of $10,000 a year, thus increasing his mobility, Donlan said.
To cost a new club two first-round draft picks a player would have to be making $250,000 a year and that figure also would rise $10,000 a year beginning in the player's seventh year.
Donlan said this provision would not only ease movement of players from one club to another, but would also be an incentive for clubs to try to keep their present players by paying higher salaries. Currently the average player in the league makes $90,000 a year and would cost a new club a first-round draft pick. This would no longer be true under the new plan, Donlan noted.
However, the players' union has argued that because of the NFL's unique system of revenue sharing, in which all clubs share television playoff and Super Bowl income equally, there is no economic incentive to win and hence no pressure on the owners to outbid each other for top players.
Upshaw repeated this position today. "We want to talk percentage of the gross and they want to talk free agentry," he said. "That's ridiculous. They're not going to bid for anyone."
On the matter of minimum player salaries, the management council proposed increases across the board; for rookies from the current $22,000 a year to $30,000 a year and for fifth-year veterans from the current $32,000 a year to $50,000 a year. Postseason-play bonus would increase from the current $35,000 a player can earn by being on the winning team in wild-card, playoff and Super Bowl games to $56,000.
However, those figures are substantially below the salaries and bonuses proposed in the union's package, under which players would be paid from a trust fund drawn from 55 percent of the league's gross revenues.
In the union's package, rookies would earn more than $90,000 a year and would be eligible for additional performance bonuses. Being a member of a Super Bowl-winning team, for example, would be worth more than $70,000 under the players' proposal.
The two sides are scheduled to meet again Wednesday, but neither held out hope for an early settlement. "This plan doesn't look like it would cost the owners any more in 1982 than it did in 1981," said Berthelsen.
"It doesn't do anything for the players," said Brig Owens, a former Washington Redskin and an assistant to NFLPA Executive Director Ed Garvey. "It's the same package they gave us in Miami last winter with a few blanks filled in."
Donlan called the union's response "very distressing. They seem to feel we have to throw out an entire system. We say the system works. It is the only system that works in professional sport entertainment and we're not going to scrap it for some cockamamie scheme that we don't have anywhere else in the country."