The National Football League Players Association said yesterday that only seven issues separate the union and the owners.
Today's meeting of NFL owners and their chief negotiator, Jack Donlan, in a Chicago suburb could go a long way toward determining if the two sides can compromise those issues. The owners will vote on whether to try to continue to play through a strike by using free agents.
"There's a nucleus of strong feeling in favor of playing games in the event that there's a work stoppage," John Jones, spokesman for the Management Council, said. "I think the reasoning is based on the fact that in '82, when there was a work stoppage that lasted 57 days, the owners simply stopped doing business."
Nearly all of the teams have been offering players cut from the roster "strike option contracts," featuring $1,000 bonuses for players who agree to break a strike.
The players union has set Sept. 22 as a strike deadline. The only issue that union and management has agreed upon so far is the term of the next collective bargaining agreement: three years. Donlan has maintained that there are 200 or more issues to be resolved.
According to the NFLPA, the seven issues that must be resolved are: free agency, guaranteed contracts, improvements in the players' pension plan, protection for player representatives from club harassment, improvement of the existing chemical dependency prevention program, faster and more effective grievance arbitration, and improvements in other benefits.
A recent "proposal for settlement" by the Management Council addressed some of those issues, but not to the union's liking. The NFLPA said yesterday that this latest outline would mean $88.3 million less for the players, or $18,000 per year per player.
The NFLPA does not have a central strike fund but has apparently told players to prepare to stay out the entire season, if necessary.
"We have to be willing to do it for as long as it takes," Doug Allen, an assistant director of the NFLPA, said. "We won't be out one day longer than necesssary if it came to that . . . We don't relish it or have a sense of arrogance about it, either."
Despite the union's assertion that there are only seven issues standing between them and the owners, the two sides appear to be miles apart on two of them: the union wants players to be able to move to another team in an open marketplace of free agency and the owners want a wage scale for rookies and second-year players.
The Management Council's latest position is that all rookies have a base salary of $60,000 (plus bonuses ranging from $500,000 to $5,000 depending on draft position and designated incentives) and all second-year players make $70,000 plus bonuses and incentives.