Eight hours before the expiration of the contract between the National Football League and the NFL Players Association, negotiations between the two sides recessed. In today's bitter bargaining session, management rejected a union proposal that the league fund a counseling program that would include treatment for players dependent on illegal drugs.
"It just shows an incredible degree of insensitivity to the needs of the players," said Joseph A. Yablonski, a special counsel to the NFLPA.
"We believe the league has already started down the path of a drug program that is preventive in nature and is aimed at rehabilitation," said Jack Donlan, executive director of the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm.
Donlan also attacked the NFLPA leadership today for being antileague. "Whatever the league wants the union is against it," he said. "They're always talking about setting up joint committees. We have a problem with that because of our relationship with this union and the union's leadership."
Responded the NFLPA's executive director, Ed Garvey, "Maybe we should change the makeup of this bargaining committee, but then maybe they should change the makeup of theirs. I've been called all sorts of things. I'd have gotten out of this business long ago if it bothered me."
As three days of talks broke off, Donlan said the management council will contact the players association early next week about resuming negotiations in Washington. But, said Donlan, "We're going nowhere and not so rapidly."
"Any reason to keep from bargaining and they'll find one," said the NFLPA's president, Gene Upshaw of the Oakland Raiders.
As the midnight expiration of the contract passed, the status of unsigned rookies remained clouded but their number swiftly dwindled.
Late tonight, four first-round draft choices were unsigned: Darrin Nelson, Minnesota; Mike Munchak, Houston; Marcus Allen, Oakland, and Glen Collins, Cincinnati. Just beating the deadline were Tampa Bay's Sean Farrell and Chicago's No. 1 pick, Jim McMahon. McMahon signed a Bears contract a day after a West Coast meeting with George Allen of the United States Football League's Chicago franchise. Allen denied making McMahon an offer, but Jim Finks, Bears' executive, said, "I wonder why Allen met with him if he wasn't making him an offer?"
Union and management agree that unsigned rookies no longer will be able to negotiate directly with their clubs after the contract expires. If unsigned, they will not be able to report to training camp.
Donlan contends an unsigned rookie still has the option of signing his club's last best offer. Garvey disagrees, contending the union has the power to void such agreements simply by going to the National Labor Relations Board.
In the contract expiring at midnight, the union had given players the power to bargain individually for wages and working conditions. But under federal labor law that right reverts exclusively to the union when the contract expires.
"I don't know why they would want to sign after July 15 anyway," said Garvey. "The reason they would not have signed would be because the offer was inadequate and that would not change just because the contract expired."
Yablonski said the counseling program the union proposed was patterned after one now in existence in the National Basketball Association. In that program, the NBA retains an independent agency to offer players counseling on personal problems.
NFL players would be eligible during their playing careers and for up to four years afterward, and the league would pay for it at a rate of $50 per player per year. Players seeking help would be guaranteed anonymity.
But Donlan said the proposal was turned down because it contained a clause prohibiting urinalysis testing of players for use of illegal drugs and "because we have a concern about setting up any program jointly with the union."
As the talks recessed today, the sides had yet to agree on anything. This week the players formally turned down management's first comprehensive proposal, which provided for increases in minimum wages, fringe benefits, playoff and Super Bowl bonuses and eased restrictions on a player's movement from one team to another.
Management already had rejected the union demand that the league set aside 55 percent of its gross revenue for player salaries, which would be paid on a seniority-based scale with performance incentive bonuses.