A representative for three Redskins free agents, kick return specialist Mike Nelms and linebackers Neal Olkewicz and Rich Milot, said today he has had "general discussions" with United States Football League teams.
Richard Bennett, a Washington-based attorney who handles contract negotiations for Olkewicz, Milot and Nelms, said, "Any player who has played out their options like those guys have is free to talk with the USFL as well their own teams. These guys are doing what any reasonable player would do in their position: they're looking to see what's around before they commit themselves."
Under USFL rules, the Tampa Bay Bandits have negotiating rights to Nelms, the Washington Federals to Olkewicz and the Philadelphia Stars to Milot. Only the talks between Milot and the Stars could be described as serious or specific, according to Bennett.
Earlier this week it was reported that the Michigan Panthers have obtained conditional negotiating rights to fullback John Riggins from the Boston Breakers. Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard said he will meet with the Super Bowl's most valuable player next week. Riggins went home to Kansas yesterday and was unavailable to comment.
"I expect to sign all of them," Beathard said of the Redskins' free agents. "I'm just now making preliminary contacts and doing all the preliminary work, finding out who is responsible for whom. You can't put it off because of all the rumors about the USFL.
"I have not spoken to Milot. I will contact his agent. I expect to get in touch with him very soon."
The Redskins are not the only team in the National Football League in jeopardy of either losing players or being forced to pay them higher salaries. Although USFL officials have said they will create their own stars, the league has held talks with some of the best players in the NFL.
Cinncinati Bengals receiver Cris Collinsworth, a Bennett client who still has two years left on his NFL contract, has had discussions with the Bandits about signing for the 1985 season. The Bandits and Collinsworth discussed a multiyear agreement worth more than $3 million, according to sources.
Of the former University of Florida star, Bennett said, "There isn't a sports figure who is more popular in Florida than Chris. They'd love to have him."
All-pro defensive tackle Dan Hampton of the Chicago Bears reportedly has held serious negotiations with the Stars. Carl Peterson, the Stars' general manager, was not available for comment.
The founding of the American Basketball Association, the American Football League and the World Hockey League all caused bidding wars of varying proportion. In those situations, however, mergers were, in effect, treaties that ended or eased the contention. But with the USFL and the NFL, the situation could be different.
James Gould, president of the Federals and a founding member of the league, has said often that the USFL does not intend to seek a merger with the NFL "even if everything we've ever hoped for goes right."
Gould and others, including the league's commissioner, Chet Simmons, have said that the USFL, as a spring league, would compete for talented college players but was interested in maintaining a separate season.
The decision to play during the spring was instrumental in the league gaining television contracts with ABC and ESPN.
While USFL teams have vied with the NFL for players, they are reluctant to create intracity friction.
Federals General Manager Dick Myers, for instance, acknowledged that he had talked with Bennett about Olkewicz two weeks ago, but denied interest in the Redskins linebacker. "We don't want to assault the Washington fans," said Myers. "I don't think that raiding the Redskins' player roster is a prudent decision."
The Federals also are not interested in every NFL player that contacts them, Myers said, mentioning he had received a call from Dallas Cowboys tight end Jay Saldi. "We just didn't think (Saldi) was good enough to justify the kind of money he'd want, and that was it."
Meanwhile, Federals running back Bobby Hammond, 31, has decided to retire as a player. In five years with the New York Giants and Redskins, Hammond gained 1,401 yards on 332 carries, a 4.2-yard average.
Hammond is expected to join the New York Jets as an offensive backfield coach Wednesday. Although he appeared to have lost speed, according to Myers, Hammond was performing well enough to back up starting halfback Craig James.
The Federals also announced signing Penn State kicker Brian Franco. Franco, who was released by the Stars, will compete with Obed Ariri for the place kicking job.
"We weren't really looking for another kicker, but Brian just happened to have stopped by on the way back from the Stars," said Myers.