The National Football League management council has suggested teams negotiating new contracts include a clause that would preclude the player's signing a future contract with a U.S. Football League team while under contract in the NFL.
"We thought in light of the Dan Ross situation it was a good business decision to do that," said Jim Miller, management council spokesman.
Ross, a tight end for the Cincinnati Bengals, last month signed a reported four-year, $1.5 million contract to play for the USFL Boston Breakers starting in 1984. He set a club record with 71 receptions in 1981 and caught 47 last season.
Dick Berthelsen, counsel for the NFL Players Association, said the union is "totally against" the so-called "USFL clause." He pointed out that a U.S. District court ruled in a 1974 case involving linebacker Bill Bergey of the Cincinnati Bengals that someone under a personal services contract has a right to negotiate a future contract with a team in another league.
Safety Tony Peters, one of 14 Redskins free agents, has agreed to a new four-year contract with the Redskins that would include a no-USFL provision. Peters said he will receive "what I figured I'm worth as a player; it's double what I made last season."
Peters earned $115,000 last season, according to figures compiled by the NFL Players Association. He said he had no objections to the new clause, but thought players should be allowed to bargain with a rival league in their option years.
"It wouldn't affect me (because this is likely the last contract Peters will sign)," he said, "But for a player to go out and say, 'I've signed a futures deal with the USFL,' that's bargaining in bad faith from a player's standpoint. I'm sure Dan Ross had good reason for what he did.
"As players we have to deal with management, and they are the enemy in negotiations. But it makes (for) good practice to hold up your end of the bargain."
Peters' attorney, Richard Bennett, also represents wide receiver Cris Collinsworth of the Cincinnati Bengals, who is negotiating a future contract with the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits. Bennett also represents two other Redskin free agents, linebacker Neal Olkewicz and kick returner/safety Mike Nelms, but the subject of the "USFL clause" has not come up because the Redskins are not offering near what the two players are seeking in base salaries.
Asked about the USFL clause yesterday, Bennett said, "It reflects a concern on the part of NFL clubs with the new league, that they may lose good football players who may find it in their interest to sign future contracts with the new league because, in certain situations, the new league will offer a contract that will be more advantageous to the player."
Said Berthelsen: "The players should not be precluded from talking to the only real competition for their services. It would be totally against the players' best interests . . . It's really another example of how the NFL seeks to monopolize the business of pro football in violation of the antitrust laws.
"There will be clubs who will tell players, 'You can't play for us without signing this clause.' Can you imagine a sixth-round draft choice telling the club he won't agree to such a clause? He simply has no leverage to do anything about it."
Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard was unavailable for comment.
Dick Maxwell, an NFL spokesman, said 23 of the league's 221 free agents who had received qualifying offers had signed with their old teams. Since the management council's suggestion was made only two weeks ago at league meetings in Palm Springs, such a clause was not included in the early free agent contracts signed.
According to the NFL Players Association, which has received contracts dated through March 23, none had the USFL clause.
There was no immediate figure available on how many of the NFL's 28 teams were negotiating for a USFL clause in new contracts. But Miller said, "As the legal arm of the owners we make suggestions. That was one of many suggestions. Some (teams) will listen and some won't. Normally, more listen than don't."
Miller pointed out that the management council was not mandating the USFL clause. To do so, would make it a matter for collective bargaining.
Jim Bailey of the Cleveland Browns, an attorney who negotiates player contracts, said the Browns have signed one of four free agents, veteran offensive lineman Robert Jackson, who reportedly also negotiated with the USFL's Michigan Panthers. Bailey said the "USFL clause" has not been brought up with the other three, "but it would be something to consider."
Bailey said that such a clause, agreed to by both sides, would be "legal, binding and enforceable."