The National Football League Players Association plans to strike after next Monday's nationally televised football game unless there is a breakthough in contract negotiations with the NFL Management Council, according to sources close to the situation.
A meeting of the NFLPA's executive committee has been called for Monday in New York to set the strike deadline, which had previously been announced as probably between the second and fourth game of the season. The full board of union player representatives from the NFL's 28 teams has already empowered the executive committee to call a strike at its discretion.
Executive Director Ed Garvey called the reports of the Tuesday strike deadline "premature," saying a great deal depends on the outcome of negotiations scheduled to be resumed Friday with the management council, the league's labor negotiating arm.
Mark Murphy, the Redskins' player representative, denied that a specific strike deadline had been set.
"We remain flexible," he said. "We said last week that we will strike on one of three dates: the Tuesday after the second game, the Tuesday after the third game or the Tuesday after the fourth game. That hasn't changed since that announcement.
"A lot will depend on what happens in bargaining Friday. If there is some real progress, and I hope there is, it will affect our decision to strike. But there is a lot of pressure around the league to strike earlier than later, for a number of reasons. I could see a strike announcement Tuesday if negotiations break down; I also could see us put off a strike if progress is made.
"If we already had a strike deadline set, it would be crazy for us to fly to New York Monday night so we can talk about it Tuesday. I'm not saying it couldn't happen on Tuesday, but we've already said that before."
One NFLPA source admitted that the leaking of a specific strike deadline serves an important purpose for the union: it puts even more pressure on the league in bargaining this weekend.
"Don't worry," said the source, "the league is well aware of our thinking. They know what is going on and what to expect from us."
Both sides have said they are prepared to bargain all weekend in an attempt to reach an agreement in the stalled negotiations to replace a contract that expired July 15.
The players association, which is a member of the AFL-CIO, was understood to have informed other unions in the labor movement that it would set the strike deadline unless there was progress in the talks.
Friday's negotiations, only the third time the two sides will have met since July 23, were set up Tuesday after an exchange of messages between Garvey and Jack Donlan, executive director of the management council.
Union negotiators say they will have a point-by-point response to the management offer presented here last week. But they made it clear they considered the offer inadequate and hoped to move beyond it into other areas.
The management offer would have eased movement of players from one team to another in search of better deals. It also would have offered players bonuses of $10,000 a year for every year in the league, up to $60,000, within 15 days after the proposed five-year contract was signed.
But the players association termed that offer a "no-strike bribe," noting that it would have reduced the bonus by 25 percent for every game missed because of a strike.
The management offer would also credit players with $10,000-a-year severance pay for every year in the league from 1983 through 1986 payable the season after retirement from the league.
That offer has been termed an insult by the NFLPA, which has demanded that the NFL divert 55 percent of its gross income to a trust fund that would be used to pay player salaries on a seniority-based scale with performance incentive bonuses.
Management has responded that it will never agree to any settlement tied to a percentage of gross income.