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THE GREAT NFL FREEZE-OUT
The NFL is taking a strikingly long time to sign its 1985 first-round draft picks. As of last week, only three of the 28 first-rounders were in the fold—defensive end Bruce Smith (No. 1) and defensive back Derrick Burroughs (No. 14) with Buffalo and linebacker Emanuel King (No. 25) with Cincinnati. Overall, just 45 of the 336 draftees had signed. At the same time last year 13 first-rounders and 164 other picks had come to terms.
The big stalling point, of course, is money. In 1983 the average salary of a first-rounder went up 63%; last year it rose 23%. The total package for first-round picks in '84 averaged $431,000 a year. Management sources say the latest offers are down 20% to 25%.
The owners are hanging tough partly because, for the first time in three years, there's no serious competitive bidding for players by the USFL, which is tottering. But NFL clubs also believe retrenchment is good business. "Sanity is dictating what we do," says Mike Lynn, Minnesota's general manager. "If I took my 15 picks of '85 and paid them what the guys at their draft position got last year—and then renegotiated with my veterans—I'd have had a $6 million increase in my '85 payroll!"
Leigh Steinberg, who represents four unsigned first-rounders, disputes Lynn's Theory of Sanity. "We've gone from the great gold rush of '84 to the great freeze-out of '85," Steinberg says. "We're seeing one offer, and that's it. In some cases, we don't even see offers. The owners are crying poverty while sitting in a bathtub of gold. NFL franchises are worth more than ever. Most teams have raised ticket prices. New TV money will be coming in. On top of that, there is no USFL, and, therefore, no competition."
Negotiations are expected to drag on until training camps open in mid-July. "This is a Bastille Day signing year," one G.M. says. Bastille Day, which marks the liberation of the French, is July 14. That's also the date of the third—and perhaps last—USFL title game.
Baseball seems to be gaining popularity in Britain, and The Times of London recently tried to explain the game for any of its readers who might happen on one in the greenswards of Regent's Park. In a diagram of a ball field, the authoritative Times identified coaches' boxes as "managers' boxes" and called the rubber a "pitcher's plate." The roots and strategy of this quaint colonial amusement were explored with magisterial ineptitude.
"[Baseball] is not easy to pick up in a casual afternoon's watching," noted the writer, Ivo Tennant. "The same can be said for the language. A home run is a dinger. A pitcher does not throw the ball in hard but brings it.... The batter has two-tenths of a second to decide how to dispose of a leather ball travelling at 75 mph, sometimes straight at his head. Skilful if finite execution of stroke can earn the batter more than $1m a year. Hence the hollering over a home run.
"It is also a dangerous pastime—batters have been maimed by pitchers, and pitchers have had their jaws broken by batters, and until coaching and sponsorship become effective elements of the game in Britain, jaws will be in danger.