The word around the NFL is that Franco Harris is past his prime, not worth the $385,000 base salary he was to have made this season and certainly not the $560,000 the Steelers reportedly offered in order to keep him for 1984.
Says one G.M., "The Steelers were doing Franco a favor by even considering paying him more money. He started out strong at the beginning of last season, then petered out. He's burned out. Who needs him? Franco's like a lot of older pro athletes—greedy in his old age. He hasn't invested as well as he could have, and he needs the money. The Steelers couldn't let sentimentality stand in the way of their future."
During the negotiations, Bart Beier, Harris's agent, admitted, "Franco's past business ventures aren't very good." But later, Beier backpedaled, saying, "I haven't represented him long enough to really comment."
Whatever Franco's business acumen, one thing is certain: He vastly overestimated his worth to the Steelers, who are rebuilding and would rather go with young backs such as 11th-round pick Elton Veals. The 34-year-old Harris no doubt figured he could push the Steelers to the brink because of the publicity he was generating in his chase of Jim Brown's career rushing record. Harris needs just 363 yards to become the NFL's alltime leading ground gainer.
But, as another G.M. pointed out, "The Steelers have been a part of so many records, what's one more?"
Late in negotiations Harris said he'd take the $560,000 deal, which included an option year for a 10% raise ($616,000), only if the Steelers would tell him within two weeks of the end of the '84 season if he figured in their plans for '85. If not, Harris wanted to be free next spring to extend his career in the USFL. The Steelers met that condition.
Then Harris went too far. He demanded that the Steelers—if they decided to bring him back in '85—pay him a portion of his $616,000 salary for that year up front. That way, Harris would get some cash for '85 even if the Steelers cut him in training camp. Pittsburgh said no and put him on waivers.
Raider All-Pro defensive end Howie Long, who stalked out of camp for four days this summer demanding "Gastineau money" ($750,000) rather than the $175,000 his contract called for, recently bought a $1 million insurance policy from Lloyd's of London to guard against injury while he's in contract renegotiations. The policy cost him $10,000.
Bronco coach Dan Reeves is getting heat about his choice at quarterback and his zillions-of-variations-on-a-theme offense, both of which seem to be set in stone.
John Elway was inconsistent in the first two preseason games, while backup Gary Kubiak was 22 of 30 for 253 yards and one TD. Elway finally showed his golden arm in Game 3, a 31-0 rout of the Colts, completing 18 of 29 for 240 yards and three touchdowns. Last week he completed 15 of 25 for 152 yards and another TD in a 24-13 win over Atlanta.