Contract talks between the National Football League and the NFL Players Association resume today in New York, four days from Tuesday's possible strike deadline, but NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle says the sides still appear too far apart for him to participate in the meetings.
Rozelle, who has suggested he could serve as an "escape valve" in the talks, said he wants to stay out of direct negotiations. He could help, he said, "When the time is ripe and both sides wanted to make a deal, but it isn't in that stage yet."
The NFLPA, which has called a meeting of its executive committee for Monday afternoon, says it plans to strike Tuesday unless there is a significant breakthrough this weekend. Both sides say they are willing to meet Saturday and Sunday if it appears there is progress toward a settlement.
The union is demanding the NFL divert 55 percent of its gross income to a trust fund to pay player salaries on a seniority based scale with performance incentive bonuses. Yesterday the NFLPA executive director, Ed Garvey, said the demand will be modified somewhat, but that the players are sticking to the principle of percentage of gross revenue.
"We plan to make changes in our position. We're going to try to narrow the gap between their position and ours," he told the Associated Press.
But Jack Donlan, executive director of the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm, has insisted all along that the owners will take a strike of unlimited duration before agreeing to a salary proposal tied to a percentage of gross.
"When the strike is over, there will be no percentage of gross. And the offer on the table will be substantially reduced by the amount of money the owners lose in a strike," the AP quoted him as saying.
The Los Angeles Herald Examiner reported yesterday that the Los Angeles Rams were holding secret tryouts for free agents and would try to put a team together in the event of a strike.
Jim Miller, a spokesman for the management council, said trying to play despite a strike is one contingency under consideration. But league officials also have expressed concern that the integrity of NFL competition could be compromised if games are played with inferior players.
The Herald Examiner quoted an unnamed Rams official as saying, "I think a lot of teams are doing it. I haven't talked to them, but management has. We could be ready if there is a strike early in the week. It would be tough if it was on a Friday."
Today's meeting will be the first since Sept. 8, when management negotiators presented the union with a plan under which each player would receive a bonus of $10,000 for each year in the league up to a maximum of $60,000, the bonus to be paid within 15 days a new agreement is signed. But the offer contained a clause reducing the bonus by 25 percent for each game missed because of a strike.
Calling the plan a "no strike bribe," the players turned it down.