With the National Football League draft only four days away, the San Diego Chargers have emerged as the pivotal team in the bidding for the right to select Stanford quarterback John Elway.
Sources say the Chargers and a fast-closing entry, the New England Patriots, are making the most serious efforts to obtain the first pick in the draft from the Baltimore Colts.
It appears that Seattle and Denver, teams that have talked seriously with both the Colts and Elway, are no longer contenders. But no one in the league yesterday was discounting a last-minute bid from the Los Angeles Raiders, who were on Elway's original list of acceptable teams.
San Diego (16) and New England (15) have the most selections in Tuesday's draft. But the Chargers have more picks in the early rounds, and they also are in the AFC West Division. New England is, with Baltimore, in the AFC East.
If the Colts dealt with New England, they would have to play the Patriots and Elway twice every season, not a promising prospect.
However, sources said the Chargers would have to give up both their No. 1 choices in this year's draft, plus, probably, two No. 2s. That has been the Colts' asking price almost from the first and, so far, the Chargers have not agreed to those terms.
This was the scenario that emerged yesterday: the Colts now can use the Patriots' interest as leverage to entice more draft picks out of San Diego, one of Elway's preferred teams. If the Chargers won't budge by Monday, then Baltimore can turn to New England, which already has made a bid that Patriot sources said included three No. 1 choices. But the Colts evidently have turned down that offer because only one No. 1 would be in this draft.
Baltimore, of course, could retain its No. 1 pick and take a chance on signing Elway. But it seems likely he then would sign with the New York Yankees, who own the baseball rights to him.
The Chargers' situation is muddled by the uncertain status of quarterback Dan Fouts. Fouts, a free agent, wants a $1 million a year salary, which the Chargers say they won't pay. If they don't trade for the right to draft Elway, then fail to sign Fouts, they will be left with Ed Luther as their quarterback.