National Football League teams earlier this month received from the networks a scheduled television contract payment of $65 million to $83 million, NFL and players union sources have told The Washington Post.
Those sums, which are at least twice as large as has been reported previously, give each league owner at least $2.3 million in what the players believe to be an interest-free strike fund.
In another strike-related development yesterday, Washington Redskins players, frustrated by the lack of progress in negotiations, began preparing for what they believe will be a prolonged strike by deciding to end formal team workouts.
The Redskins' decision, which came after only 24 players attended a practice at South Lakes High School in Reston, was made a day after negotiations between the two sides broke down in New York. However, talks will be resumed in Washington on Thursday between the management council and the NFL Players Association, the same day the House Judiciary Committee holds hearings on the league's antitrust bill aimed at reversing the Raiders' move from Oakland to Los Angeles.
"We said what's the use of practicing for a game Sunday that we know isn't going to be played," said Mark Murphy, the Redskin player representative who warned his teammates to expect the NFL "to announce this week that they will open camps next Tuesday (Oct. 5) for any players who wish to return. And they will sweeten the lure by announcing a new contract proposal that includes big bonuses for all players."
Murphy, a member of the union bargaining committee, told the Redskins players that "the owners aren't even serious yet" about negotiating, basing his claim in part on the amount of television contract money already paid to the owners by the networks.
NFL sources yesterday pegged that payment at $65 million, covering the first four games (whether they are played or not). But the NFLPA put the figure at almost $83 million, based on testimony Commissioner Pete Rozelle gave before a Senate committee in August.
Rozelle said then that each NFL team would receive $11.8 million in television revenue this season. That means the league will receive a total of $331 million in 1982, but he did not say if that sum is divided into four equal quarterly payments.
At some point, an adjustment in the total five-year, $2.1 billion television contract will have to be made, depending on how many games are called off because of the strike. But based on league and union estimates yesterday, the NFL will have grossed from $90 to $108 million from television money by this weekend, even if this week's games are called off, as expected.
On Sunday, Arthur Watson, president of NBC sports, said the issue of paying for games not played "is trying to make something out of nothing . . . nobody's getting anything for free."
He said the network makes four payments to cover the 16-game regular-season schedule. He said the first payment already has been paid, but the second will not be paid if the strike still is on. Previously, the networks had said that a two-game, $30 to $32 million payment had been made to the league.
"With that kind of money, there is no incentive for the owners to get the strike over," Murphy said. "Also, they knew they always had a free weekend (prior to the Super Bowl) to make up one canceled game. Because of that, I told the players that neither side really has lost a game. One game can be made up. This is the week that everything starts getting mixed up.
"They are going to use scare tactics to lure players in. They are going to say the season is over unless players come back quickly. I'm convinced that the owners still feel we are a weak union that can't hold out. This is their attempt to find out whether they are right or not."
General Manager Bobby Beathard said the Redskins have not been told by the league to prepare to reopen its camp. "We haven't heard anything about that," he said.
Murphy, who estimates the strike will last at least a month, said Redskins players will continue to work out on their own. Off yesterday's turnout, it was apparent many already have returned to their home-towns to wait out the strike. Last week, as many as 39 showed up for a practice.
None of the Redskins interviewed yesterday endorsed the owners' $1.6 billion five-year offer that was guaranteed by negotiator Jack Donlan at Sunday's talk.
The league proposal includes $400 million in new pension and other benefits and $1.2 billion in projected salary raises over the next five years. Those raises, estimated to be 15 percent per player per year, would come through individual negotiations between the player and his team. At the end of the contract's last year, any of the $1.6 billion that has not been spent will then be distributed to the players.
The offer was rejected by the union because, according to Executive Director Ed Garvey, "They say it is $1.6 billion. That includes everything: pension, social security, meal money, for all we know . . . But that does not answer any of our concerns. They could spend it all on rookies in the last year. It is, in effect, a slush fund to put the United States Football League out of business before it gets started."
The NFL contends that under the union's wage scale proposal, the league would not be able to bid properly against the USFL for rookies because the salaries for first-year players would not be high enough. The union has countered by adding to its offer a discretionary fund, from which the league could pay bonuses to draft choices.
Murphy: "The offer doesn't eliminate the inequities. The economic incentive is still there to give the No. 1 choices big bonuses and cut the older veterans with their large salaries. And it doesn't answer how we get a fair share of their revenues in the future. By 1987, we estimate they will get $60-70 million per team. There is no way, in their offer, to tap that fund in the future.
"They think the players are greedy, that all we care about is money, and that we will eventually crumble if enough money is dangled like this."
Members of the union's negotiating committee plan to visit every league team this week to report on the progress of negotiations. Murphy also said the Redskins plan on holding at least one team meeting every week.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the NFLPA would hold a press conference here today to announce coaches, dates and sites for its planned 18 all-star games. Barring a settlement, the first game is scheduled for Oct. 10 at RFK Stadium. Ted Turner's Atlanta-based cable network has said it will televise the games.
Rosters will not be announced at the press conference, the report said, because voting by individual teams is not yet complete.