Negotiators for the National Football League and the NFL Players Association broke off talks here indefinitely yesterday after four hours of contract discussions that management described as "futile" and the union called "a waste of time."
Ed Garvey, executive director of the NFLPA, said the union will call a special meeting of its nine-member executive committee probably for Sunday afternoon in Chicago to discuss future strategy.
"The players want an agreement. They don't want a strike if it can be avoided, but, if it's necessary, that's what we're prepared to do," said Garvey.
Jack Donlan, the executive director of the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm, said management "will have to reevaluate our position with regard to the opening of the season." He said a lockout before the regular-season opener on Sept. 12 is one option under consideration.
Donlan also said that calling in the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is one of the options he is considering. "We don't seem to be getting anywhere on our own," Donlan said.
But Garvey said, "We're so far apart that no mediator would want to get involved."
Yesterday's negotiations, the first meeting between the two sides since July 23, collapsed shortly before 5 p.m. when management informed the union it had no new proposals and it had no interest in discussing the union's basic demand that the NFL divert 55 percent of its gross revenues to a trust fund to pay players.
Instead, Donlan said, he was expecting the union to respond to its July 13 proposal that would have eased movement of players from one team to another and improved player salaries and benefits.
"They've done nothing but lay the present system on the table, and that doesn't even keep up with inflation," said Stan White, a linebacker for the Detroit Lions and one of the player representatives on the union negotiating committee. "Until they address the problems we have, we just cannot take what they are doing seriously. The next time they have negotiations they won't have to worry about players missing practice or games, because there won't be any games."
White, Mark Murphy of the Redskins and John Bunting of the Philadelphia Eagles participated in the negotiations yesterday, the first since most NFL veterans reported to training camp. The major reason for the lack of talks during the last month was the issue of player participation; the union wanted the discussions held near a training camp site so players could participate, management said it would meet anywhere but at a training camp site.
Murphy said lack of progress "will only make the players more angry and more united."
By asking the players for a counterproposal to what they contend is the existing contract, management "wants us to bargain against ourselves," Murphy said. "We'd be foolish to do that.
"By doing it this way, they're making it much more emotional than it has to be."
Donlan, however, contended the July 13 proposal was intended as "the basis for conversation" and he accused the NFLPA of refusing to bargain on it. "This is disappointing," he said.
Donlan said some owners favor a lockout before the beginning of the regular season "because they do not want to fund a strike the way the baseball owners did.
"We keep hearing and reading in the media about a strike after X number of games," Donlan said. But he also said there are owners who oppose a lockout and want the bargaining process to continue into the regular season.