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You'll have to forgive us for chuckling over the discomfort that John Elway and Don Mosebar caused the teams that selected them in last week's NFL college draft. Elway, the gifted Stanford quarterback, was chosen by the Colts as the top overall pick, whereupon he reiterated what he'd indicated before the draft—that he'd sign with the New York Yankees rather than play in Baltimore. Mosebar, an offensive tackle from USC, was taken later in the first round by the Los Angeles Raiders, whereupon he and his agent, Howard Slusher, mentioned something they hadn't previously revealed—that Mosebar had undergone back surgery one week before the draft. Both insisted that they would have come clean about the surgery had anybody asked about Mosebar's health, but nobody did.
Elway and Mosebar were both trying to manipulate the course of the draft to their own advantage. But before condemning either of them for that, it's useful to take a closer look at this thing called the college draft. An equitable, even-Stephen relationship between prospective employer and job-seeker it isn't. Rather, it's a one-sided system carefully rigged by the NFL to divide up the labor market and limit the bargaining power of players. Because he's an uncommonly marketable two-sport star, Elway was emboldened to try to gain the upper hand on the Colts, something that ordinarily belongs to NFL teams in their dealings with prospects. Because Mosebar neglected to go public about his surgery, the Raiders wound up shopping for possibly damaged goods. However, any question of deception that may be raised by his and Slusher's non-disclosure is mitigated by this fact: When it comes to selecting an NFL team, college players don't have the right to shop at all.
ANOTHER SPECIAL CASE
It was unclear if the NFL Players Association felt as uncomfortable after the draft as either the Colts or Raiders, but it should have. After Elway repeated his vow to play for the Yankees rather than the Colts, Dick Berthelsen, the NFLPA's staff counsel, took pains to clarify an important point. If Elway were to sign with either the Canadian Football League or the USFL, Berthelsen said, the Colts would retain his NFL rights for four years. But if Elway went with the Yankees, he could become an NFL free agent following the 1985 draft. "The language in the agreement is very specific on that," Berthelsen said. "If he does not play professional football, he would be a free agent after two years."
Berthelsen's keen interest in setting this matter straight is curious. In recent years, the NFLPA has refrained from pushing for free agency for its players and has even negotiated away major gains on the issue that the players had won in court. The union argues that free agency won't work in the NFL because the owners share TV revenues equally and play to virtually full stadiums and thus lack the financial incentive to bid for players on an open market. But what of players like Eric Harris and Tom Cousineau, who, after playing in Canada, were able to enter the NFL as free agents and then signed unusually handsome contracts? Those, the NFLPA ritually replies, are "special cases."
Which is what Berthelsen is now saying about Elway. Conceding that free agency "presumably" would be of considerable benefit to Elway, he adds, "There aren't too many people who would be in the same position, though. As a general proposition, I would say that only one or two percent of the players are in a position to benefit from free agency, players who have the potential to be franchise-makers, like Elway."
But how can one even speak of "a franchise-maker" when, by the NFLPA's own argument, all of the NFL's 28 franchises are already "made"? All talk of special cases aside, the suspicion lingers that free agency in the NFL hasn't worked because it hasn't been tried. And that the NFLPA has done its rank and file a disservice by not pushing for it.
A DOLPHIN GETS HIS FEET WET
SEEING THE LIGHT