NFL Players Soften Stand on Free Agency

The NFL Players Assn., which last week rejected the club owners' proposal, Tuesday presented a contract counterproposal in Washington that softened the union's bid for unrestricted free agency but still demanded guarantees for player representatives and second-year players.

The counterproposal was presented one week before the union's Sept. 22 strike deadline. Jack Donlan, executive director of the Management Council, said he needed time to study the union's counterproposal.

The union withdrew its demand for unfettered free agency for those players in their initial four years in the league. Instead, the NFLPA suggested that a veteran free agent, who has not completed his fourth year, should be subject to first refusal rights of his old club.

There would be no compensation to the club if the player jumps to another team. After his fourth year, a veteran not under contract would be free to go to another team, and that team would not have to compensate the player's old club.

In its proposal, the union also asked that player representatives who have been released or assigned (picked up on waivers by another club, for example) since Jan. 1, 1987, be retroactively guaranteed their salaries for the seasons remaining in their contracts.

Further, the union proposed that player representatives not be traded or assigned in the future without their consent and, if they are cut, the team would be fined an average salary ($230,000), which would be paid to the player.

The union, which previously had demanded across-the-board guaranteed contracts, asked such guarantees to go into effect once a player has made the active list in his second NFL season.

Other issues include:

--A drug program similar to the one used by the National Basketball Assn., in which players are disciplined progressively for each violation.

--A limit of 80 players at training camps.

--A regular season roster of 52 players.

--The removal of artificial turf from outdoor stadiums by 1989.

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