If John Elway does not play professional football for the next two years, he would become a free agent, eligible to sign with any National Football League team to play in 1985.
Elway and his attorney, Marvin Demoff, have been in contact with the NFL Players Association to discuss the Stanford quarterback's options if he does not sign with the Baltimore Colts, who made him the first pick in yesterday's NFL draft.
According to the 1982 collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the players union, if Elway does not sign with the Colts by next year's draft, he would go in the 1984 draft pool and any of the other 27 teams could choose him.
If Elway did not sign with the team that drafted him in 1984, he would become a free agent at the time of the '85 draft and able to play that season with any team. According to the collective bargaining agreement, any NFL team could negotiate for him, "without any compensation between clubs or first refusal rights of any kind."
All of this assumes that Elway, 22, plays baseball. One scenario has him signing with the New York Yankees for two years, giving him and the Yankees, who own his rights, time to see if he is a major league prospect. At the end of two years, he would have the option of staying in baseball or coming to the NFL as a 24-year-old rookie.
Elway says he does not want to play in Baltimore and will pursue a career in baseball instead. Last year he played Class A baseball in Oneonta, N.Y., batting .318 as an outfielder for the Yankees' farm club. He reportedly was paid $140,000, and the Yankees say they are prepared to enter a bidding war with any NFL team that drafts him.
Yesterday, Elway said he has discussed a five-year contract with the Yankees that would give him the option of breaking it after any of the first three seasons; his salary would average out to about $500,000 a year.
Elway also has been sought by the Oakland Invaders of the U.S. Football League, who reportedly offered him a lucrative package that included partial ownership of the team. If he decided to play in the USFL or the Canadian Football League, his options would change.
The language in the collective bargaining agreement says that if a player drafted by an NFL team signs with another professional football league, the NFL team that drafted him will retain his rights for four years.
If he comes back after four years, the team that drafted him originally has the right of first refusal for him, though there would be no compensation if that team allowed him to play for another NFL team.
"The language in the agreement is very specific on that," said Dick Berthelsen, staff counsel for the NFLPA. "If he does not play professional football, he would be a free agent after two years."
In recent NFL history, former Ohio State punter Tom Skladany decided not to sign with the Cleveland Browns after he was drafted in 1977. He sat out the year in a contract dispute and was traded to the Detroit Lions the following year.