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Then there are incentive and performance bonuses. Players who start and play every offensive or defensive or special teams down would get an extra $1,750 for each game. Those who play less would earn less, proportionately. The players also would select the 272 top performers for a season based on position, such as the 10 outstanding centers, the 20 best offensive tackles, the 32 best linebackers, the 10 top kickers. Each of the 272 picked would earn an extra $20,625. There would be team performance bonuses calculated on stats in such categories as total rushing yardage, number of sacks per passing attempt, fewest yards penalized, most field goals blocked and so on. The units that rank 1 to 5 in 11 different categories would get $186,000 to divide among the players "in proportion to downs played with that unit or team." Six special team units would divvy up $114,000.
There would be a playoff pool, too. A wild card team that goes on to win the Super Bowl, as Oakland did in 1981, would divide up more than $4 million in toto, or more than $80,000 per man.
"That's not a wage scale," snorts Donlan. "It's a minimum." The owners point out that there is nothing to prevent a player from holding out for more money. Moreover, the wage scale is an open invitation to a rival league, such as the new USFL, to bid against the NFL for top rookies and other talent. The players' solution to this problem is a discretionary fund of an additional $500,000, which all teams would maintain to take care of bonus payments. The owners say this is no solution at all.
"The wage scale destroys incentive," says Donlan. "You end up overpaying people on your own team. A starting fourth-year linebacker would get less than an eight-year linebacker who isn't playing regularly. It would increase the salaries of the marginal players, and it doesn't reward the guys who are genuine contributors."
The union contends that the NFL has to go along with the wage scale plan because, as Yablonski says, "We have an exclusive right to represent employees for purposes of wages, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment. Donlan's current position that he won't accept a wage scale and incentives is a refusal to bargain collectively with the union. He's saying we have to waive that right. That's illegal." On Monday the union, which had filed eight unfair-labor-practice charges against NFL ownership—the National Labor Relations Board has already issued rulings in favor of the union on two of them—also charged the Management Council with refusing to bargain on wage scale and incentives before the strike. Proving that unfair labor practices forced the strike could be a bonanza for the players, a nightmare for the owners. The union maintains such a finding by the NLRB would mean 1) that the players would be free to play the All-Star games they've lined up with Ted Turner's superstation and 2) that the owners might even have to pay them for the time they spend on strike. Moreover, the players would be guaranteed their jobs back upon the signing of a new collective bargaining agreement.
Another major issue is the matter of drugs. The union submitted on Friday that "There is no longer a major problem in establishing a joint counseling and drug rehabilitation program." Not so, says Donlan. "The union says no testing of players, we say testing." To which Yablonski counters, "Any kind of blanket testing of players constitutes an invasion of privacy. It presumes guilt."
Several hours before Upshaw's announcement on Monday, Donlan was optimistic that though the strike was a foregone conclusion, the two sides would soon reach an agreement. "The reason I am optimistic," he said, "is that a strike doesn't make any sense to me. We're close in the dollar figure. We just have to figure out how to package it. When they strike, the heat will be on everyone. So the question the players will ask themselves is, 'What are we striking over?' Someone will say, 'Well, we want $1.6 billion.' And then someone else will say, 'Isn't that what they offered us?' And then someone else will say, 'Yes.' And then I think the union's going to get a lot of pressure back."
To which Garvey responded, "I think he's crazy."
Bring on the tooth fairy. Please.