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THE NFL
Peter King
September 18, 1989
RETURN OF THE RETREADS
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September 18, 1989

The Nfl

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Rank

Team

Points per possession

W-L

1.

BENGALS

2.36

12-4

2.

OILERS

2.04

10-6

3.

RAMS

1.96

10-6

4.

COLTS

1.95

9-7

5.

VIKINGS

1.86

11-5

RETURN OF THE RETREADS

Like it or not, the NFL's new Plan B free-agency system is headed for a return engagement next February—barring a last-ditch settlement of the NFL Players Association's antitrust lawsuit against the owners. Says Jack Donlan, executive director of the NFL Management Council, "It was not voted in as a one-shot thing."

Indeed, Plan B, which allows each team to protect only 37 players on its off-season roster—which usually has about 60 players—and frees the others to sign with anyone else for 60 days before April 1, was designed to help the NFL's case in court. The league's attorneys figured Plan B would demonstrate that the NFL was willing to permit freedom of movement once a year for marginal players, while allowing teams to retain the guts of their offenses and defenses. The Players Association lawsuit is bogged down in pretrial maneuvering, and Donlan thinks the chances are slim that a verdict will be reached by Feb. 1, 1990, the date teams must name the 37 players they want to protect.

The prospect of a second year of Plan B angers Houston coach Jerry Glanville. "I can't think of anything worse, other than somebody saying, 'You're fired,' " says Glanville. "What this system forgets is that it takes time to develop a player. We worked two years in converting Robert Banks into a defensive end, and spent a lot of money on him. Now he's starting for Cleveland, in our division."

In fact, the Browns" top three defensive ends—Banks, Al Baker (from Minnesota) and Tom Gibson (from New England)—are all in Cleveland thanks to Plan B. "It has helped us overcome a glaring weakness," says Browns executive vice-president Ernie Accorsi.

Of the 229 players who switched clubs under the system, 105 (46%) made opening-day rosters. Of those, 33 (14% of the total) started in Week 1, including five players each with Cleveland, San Diego and the Raiders. Nonetheless, the NFLPA continues to oppose Plan B because it permits only selective free agency. "It wasn't lawful and wasn't adequate for all players in 1989, and it won't be lawful or adequate in 1990," says Doug Allen, the union's assistant executive director. "At some point in every baseball player's career, every basketball player's career, he has the chance to negotiate with any team. Why isn't it fair for NFL players to have that right?"

Until a judge tells the league otherwise, Plan B lives.

NOISE OF SUMMER

The NFL's controversial new antinoise ordinance was railroaded through the league's annual meeting in March, when Minnesota Viking general manager Mike Lynn, a strong opponent of the measure, had to leave the room. The rule requires the referee to take away the defensive team's timeouts one by one and then, when the timeouts are gone, penalize that team for delay of game if the official agrees with the opposing quarterback that the crowd noise is keeping his teammates from hearing him call signals.

Passage of the regulation required the assent of 21 of the 28 teams, and it received exactly that number after Lynn was called out of the conference room to attend a 75-minute NFL Properties meeting. "If I'd had any idea there was going to be a noise vote, I'd have stayed," says Lynn, who believes the rule reduces a team's home-field advantage. Minnesota coach Jerry Burns was unaware of Lynn's objections and cast the critical yea vote in his place.

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