Former Washington Redskins coach George Allen, who since joining the United States Football League has played down the possibility of a bidding war for players with the National Football League, yesterday fired the first shot by signing the Chicago Bears' third-round draft pick.
Allen, coach of the new USFL's Chicago Blitz, signed former UCLA tight end Tim Wrightman to a two-year contract for a reported $400,000.
"This is a historic day. He's the first player with any credibility signed by the league that I know of," said Allen.
"That's an enormous amount of money for a third-round football player," said Bears General Manager Jim Finks.
A Bears spokesman said Wrightman had called Thursday night to inform them of the offer, but that neither Wrightman nor anyone in the Blitz organization would confirm the figure.
Allen and Michael McCarthy, the Blitz director of player personnel, said they were able to sign Wrightman, a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder, because negotiations between him and the Bears had lagged.
"Some of the clubs have been able to sit back and lay back and let the player wait, because he has no other options," said Allen, who developed a reputation in Washington of paying high salaries to top players.
"We didn't have to outbid them. What really happened is that the Bears hadn't talked to Tim for seven or eight weeks," said Allen, adding that Wrightman had been a neighbor of his in Southern California and had wanted to play for him.
Allen also told a Chicago press conference announcing Wrightman's signing that the Blitz would sign a former NFL quarterback within a few weeks, and Wrightman joked that it might be Billy Kilmer, the veteran Redskins quarterback under Allen.
"I might sign Billy if he gets a little more experience," Allen quipped later. Kilmer, 42, retired when he was put on waivers after the 1978 season, ending a 16-year NFL career that included eight years with the Redskins. He now lives in Dallas.
Allen also said he is considering signing college players before they graduate, and that they would be compensated for lost scholarships in the form of tuition stipends. NCAA rules require a player to forfeit his athletic eligibility once he signs with a professional team. NFL rules prohibit signing a college player until the year his class graduates.
Allen said Wrightman will also do public relations work for the Blitz. "He'll go around and give talks. He might even sell tickets," said Allen.
Since the expiration July 15 of the contract between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, Wrightman had been unable to negotiate directly with the Bears. His only option was to sign the team's last offer. The Associated Press reported that the Bears had told him that offer would be withdrawn if he did not report to training camp by noon today.