An attorney for running back Kelvin Bryant said yesterday "it's entirely possible" that the U.S. Football League's No. 2 all-time leading rusher will be a member of the Washington Redskins this fall if he wins a lawsuit filed earlier this week against the Baltimore Stars.
But the Redskins and the National Football League are not so sure. And the Stars say he is going nowhere.
General Manager Bobby Beathard said he had no plans to negotiate with Bryant's attorneys. The Redskins own the NFL rights to Bryant because they selected him in the seventh round of the 1983 draft.
"I'm not meddling in the deal," Beathard said yesterday. "I'm trying to keep from being curious about it."
Dick Maxwell, National Football Conference director of information, said the league's "prohibition on negotiating with or signing players currently under USFL contracts remains in place . . . .
"This is strictly between Kelvin Bryant and the Baltimore Stars."
Stephen Ross, the new majority owner of the Stars, said the lawsuit is "not valid.
"I've got to believe it's an agent trying to stir up trouble after getting the impression we would not have the financial backing to be playing this year," Ross said. "Bryant has an ironclad contract. I wouldn't look for the Washington Redskins to be signing him too fast."
Charles Holton, the Durham, N.C., attorney representing Bryant in the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Greensboro, N.C., said he is seeking a preliminary injunction to permit Bryant to begin negotiations with the Redskins while the lawsuit, which charges "numerous breaches of contract" by the Stars and the USFL, is pending.
A hearing on the injunction is likely to occur within two to three weeks, Holton said.
But a source within the NFL said it was unlikely the Redskins would plunge into negotiations even if an injunction were granted. Beathard has said he will not discuss a contract with Bryant or his attorneys until Bryant becomes a free agent.
The NFL became quite cautious in its dealings with the USFL when the newer league filed a $1.3 billion antitrust suit against the NFL.
Many believe the future of the USFL depends on a victory in the trial, scheduled to being in mid-April.
The Bryant lawsuit, which seeks to have his contract with the Stars voided, is the latest in a curious series of negotiations and stalemates between the running back and the NFL.
Although Bryant, 25, has two years left on a five-year contract, the Stars last month gave his agent, Perry Deering, permission to hold preliminary discussions with NFL teams.
About two weeks later, after Ross purchased a majority interest in the team, the Redskins received a letter from the Stars saying that permission to talk to Bryant had been rescinded.
The lawsuit, reported Wednesday in the Washington Times, contends that someone within the USFL called the Redskins and told them to discontinue talks with Bryant. But Holton said he does not know who that person was.
"We are not sure of the name," he said.
Beathard said allegations that someone called the team to break off talks with Bryant "are absolutely not true."
The suit alleges that Bryant is "no longer under contract" with the Stars because, among other things, he has not been paid, the league is no longer playing in the spring and the Stars do not have adequate training facilities.
When the USFL moved to a fall schedule, its players association decided that players would be paid either 30 percent of their salary or $10,000, according to USFL spokesman Bob Rose. Holton said Bryant has declined the Stars' offer to pay him under these guidelines.
Ross said, if that's true, Bryant is doing so to make his case stronger.
A source within the USFL said the suit is "confusing."
"I don't know why Bryant feels his contract is different than anyone else's," the source said.
Bryant, who played his college football at North Carolina, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
"He contends he is no longer under contract," Holton said. "I think it's entirely possible that even if this goes all the way through the courts, he will get the release he needs in time to play for the Redskins this fall."
Said Ross: "It's a misunderstanding, that's all. We'll get this cleared up."