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Oddly enough, players all over the NFL were lamenting their newly granted free agency last week. Of the 619 players who suddenly could sell their services to the highest bidder because of the limited free-agency plan imposed by the league's owners, a surprising number seemed hurt that they hadn't been included among the 37 "protected" players designated by each club. Perhaps they know that no great fortunes await them on the open market between now and April 1, when their free agency ends and those unsigned turn back into pumpkins belonging to their old teams.
Indeed, although big names like Tony Dorsett of the Broncos, Ozzie Newsome of the Browns and Cris Collinsworth of the Bengals are among the unprotected, most of the affected players, including those three notables, are either aging, injured or of borderline talent. And the plan that set them free is nothing more than a tactical maneuver in the stalemated collective-bargaining negotiations between NFL owners and players. The NFL Players Association, which is suing the league in the U.S. district court in Minneapolis for antitrust violations—including the placing of allegedly illegal restrictions on the movement of players between teams—wants total free agency for all its players. The NFL would never consent to that unless forced to by the court, and it instituted its free-agency plan last week in a calculated effort to avoid just such a fate.
"All we are doing is trying to conform to what we think will be acceptable to the courts," said New York Giants general manager George Young. "A lot of teams aren't really happy about it, but I think we understand that it's a way to avoid getting attacked on the antitrust issue."
The NFLPA isn't buying the owners' half-a-loaf gambit, which grants 60 days of freedom to more than one third of its members; the union has asked for an injunction against the plan. Unless an injunction is granted, teams with sharp scouts and open wallets will be able to strengthen themselves by signing free agents. The Cardinals have already sent out letters expressing their interest to a number of free agents, and the Vikings are organizing an informal try out camp. But the new system does nothing for those who would benefit most from free agency and still don't have it: the NFL's 1,000 or so best players.
TIME DRIBBLES ON
DUNKERS AND DUNKEES
The Seattle SuperSonics are the latest group of athletes to turn to swimming-pool workouts. Trainer Frank Furtado recently bought flotation jackets for the Sonics and had them run in the Seattle University pool. The purpose of such work is to build aerobic capacity while inflicting less wear and tear on sore knees and other joints.
Not all the players felt at home in the water. Kenneth Richardson of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer watched a workout during which center Alton Lister looked as though he were going to drown and guard John Lucas spent most of the time clinging to the edge of the pool, claiming he couldn't swim. "I don't like a body of water bigger than my bathtub," said Lucas. "I own a pool, and I won't swim in it."
Other Sonics jokingly begged forward Michael Cage not to let his glistening, permed locks touch the water. When Cage did, guard Sedale Threatt cried, "Oil slick!" and forward Xavier McDaniel threatened to sue Cage for spilling toxic waste.