A few weeks ago Tim Anderson, who played defensive halfback for Ohio State last year and was San Francisco's No. 1 pick in the college draft, became so depressed by the 49ers' refusal to negotiate on his contract that he sent a telegram to the club (with a copy to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, among other pertinent correspondence) asking to be released so that he might negotiate with other teams.
At about the same time, his Ohio State teammate, Tight End Jan White, a second-round pick, was calling negotiations with the Buffalo Bills "a bad scene, the worst experience I've ever had." White says he may chuck pro football and go for a master's in criminology.
Anderson and White are not alone in their discontent. For example, Steve Worster, the Texas All-America who was the Rams' fourth-round choice, said he was "disgusted" with the way his negotiations were going and signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. Los Angeles' No. 1 pick, Isiah Robertson, the black Dick Butkus from Southern University, complained he was being treated like a free agent but signed anyway. He had little choice. Archie Manning, who is still unsigned, called the New Orleans offer "insulting."
Although the training camps are opening this month, 13 of the 26 first-round picks were unsigned as of June 15. (By that date last year, five out of 26 hadn't signed, as best as can be determined.) And while Congress ponders the question of pro basketball's merger, a great many prospective pro football rookies and their agents are up in arms about the effects of the pro football merger.
Tony Razzano, of Dayton, who has incorporated himself as United Pro Athletes, Inc., is perhaps the most clamorous. For the past six years Razzano was a full-time scout for San Diego and Washington. Now he is an agent who represents, among others, Anderson, White and three of their Ohio State teammates. Running Backs John Brockington and Leo Hayden and Defensive Back Jack Tatum, all first-round choices. As of last week only Brockington, who was drafted by Green Bay, had signed.
"Oh, I know what they're doing, indeed I do," says Razzano. "The teams are playing the old waiting game, giving us the Chinese torture treatment. I know it well—I did it myself—but never have they been so tough. The clubs are waiting and sitting, sitting and waiting until the kids are pushed to the brink of panic. Then, in desperation, the kids will sign. And why not? It's now a oneway street and the clubs own it. They've got it all their own way."
The one-way street has been the route ever since the merger, and without the stimulus of the AFL-NFL rivalry the prices for football talent have been dropping steadily. This year they've plummeted. Presumably, the clubs' offers reflect the state of the economy. However, there is good reason to believe that they also reflect a desire by the teams to discredit agents, to eliminate the need to a deal with a third (sometimes preposterous, often shrewd, always difficult) party. "There were only three or four agents a few years ago," grumbles Gil Brandt, vice-president in charge of personnel for the Dallas Cowboys. "Now there are 150. They get the kids in the summertime, just like in basketball, and give them money and cars and big promises. One of our draftees, not even in the top three rounds, his agent bought him a Lincoln Continental and promised him a no-cut contract. We don't even give our No. 1 choices no-cut contracts."
Razzano, who makes no promises himself, thinks the clubs are using the agent issue as an excuse for penny-pinching. "The money the teams threw around during the football war was unreal," he says. "Now the prices are ridiculous—but the other way."
To support his charge, Razzano cites the contracts given to last year's high-draft choices. One No. 1 choice, a defensive player like Anderson, got a $50,000 bonus and a five-year contract with a starting salary of $26,000 a year and annual $4,000 increases. By contrast, Anderson was offered a $20,000 bonus and a three-year contract, which starts at $17,500 and goes up by $2,500 a year. Basically, it's an $80,000 contract that ties up Anderson for four years (the option clause adding an extra year), which is close to the life-span of the average pro. The club calls it a $144,500 contract. The $64,500 difference comes from the "if" money ("lollipops," Razzano terms them), the contingency clauses that go on and on into cloud-cuckoo land. They include $2,500 if Anderson plays over 50% of each game on offense or defense and San Francisco wins its division; $2,500 more if he plays 50% on offense or defense and San Francisco wins the conference title; $2,500 more if he plays 50%; etc. and the 49ers win the Super Bowl. There are six more contingencies that add $2,000 to $5,000 a pop to Anderson's salary. They cover such eventualities as being picked Rookie of the Year ($5,000); making the official All-Rookie team ($2,000); and being selected and playing in the Pro Bowl ($5,000). The only lollipop Anderson can count on is the $5,000 he gets if he makes San Francisco's 40-man squad. This is safe money since teams are reluctant to admit making a mistake about a first-round choice so early in the season.
As for the rest, they are chancier than come bets at the crap table. For instance, in the 20 years they have been in the league, the 49ers have never won an NFL title. They did win their first division championship last year, so that reduces those odds but the odds against being chosen Rookie of the Year are 600 to 1.