Non-Union Players Are Happy for the Chance

Times Staff Writer

Rookie lineman David Diaz-Infante spent the past few weeks playing racquetball, going to the beach, hanging out at a bar and hoping the NFL players would go on strike.

"It's a cold business," said one of many players who was cut during the Chargers' training camp but was signed to a contract Tuesday to play while the roster players strike.

"I'm sure your friends will still be your friends," Diaz-Infante said. "It's a chance to be evaluated again. If you look at most NFL rosters, a lot of guys didn't make it the first time. It's not like we're a lot of bums."

Unknowns is more like it.

Rookie linebacker Fred Jones, also cut by the Chargers during training camp but signed Tuesday, said he felt like he was back in college because the press was talking to him again.

Jones felt good--not guilty--about crossing a picket line.

"You don't worry about that in this business," Jones said. "I feel kind of funny doing it, but I'm looking for a break. You take whatever you can get. No one gives you anything."

What if Jones should possibly remain with the Chargers after the strike is settled?

"I will just have to get in front of everyone and tell them, 'I don't have nothing. They have everything. I'm hungry.' Guys who came in here for a half million dollars had it easy. They don't know the other side."

In addition to Jones and Diaz-Infante, Charger director of football operations Steve Ortmayer said the team will bring in between 30 and 40 players by Thursday. At last count Tuesday night, the Chargers had signed 18 players, including former San Diego State linebacker Randy Kirk and defensive end Duane Pettitt, former Kearny High wide receiver Paul Day, and kicker Jeff Gaffney and punter Joe Prokop of Cal Poly Pomona. Of the 18 players, eight were cut by the Chargers in training camp.

"They're (newly signed players) sprinkled with enough people we had in training camp that I think we can move very rapidly," Ortmayer said. "By the end of the week, I think that this replacement squad will know better than generally what we want to do and how we want to get it done."

No quarterbacks had been signed by the Chargers as of Tuesday night, but the team has been talking with Tom Flick and Rick Neuheisel--both in camp this summer.

No really big names or even relatively big names joined the Chargers Tuesday.

"But I hope a lot of people come out to see the games," Diaz-Infante said. "Tell them it's a college all-star game."

The Chargers plan to give physicals today, practice this afternoon and start two-a-days by Thursday. When they arrive at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, the non-union players will find the players who belong to the union holding picket signs. And maybe saying things to them as they pass by.

"I don't know what to expect," Jones said. "But sometimes you can't listen to what you hear."

The practices for the non-union players will be reminiscent of training camp. And the games involving non-union players will probably be reminiscent of exhibition games.

"You saw a group of players play against the Dallas Cowboys (a 29-0 Charger victory in their exhibition opener)," Ortmayer said. "Many, many of them are not here today and they played pretty well that night. Quite a few of those guys will be back."

The non-union players--some of whom signed $1,000 strike option agreements with the Chargers when they were cut--will receive $450 a week for rookies, $500 a week for veterans and a per diem that is similar to that received in training camp. Arrangements have also been made to put the players up at a local hotel for at least a week.

Monday and Tuesday were busy days for the Chargers.

"This is like national letter of intent day," Ortmayer said Tuesday. "It's become like college recruiting. If you're not on top of any given situation, you're liable to find your guy in Pittsburgh an hour from now."

There was a touch of irony to Tuesday's signings.

While one of the NFL Players' Assn.'s primary objectives in striking is to attain free agency, non-union players being contacted by NFL teams to replace the striking players are roughly in the position of free agents. Both Diaz-Infante and Jones said they had been contacted by two teams in addition to the Chargers.

"To a degree it's become a little bit of a bidding war," Saunders said. "Players have more than just one option in terms of where they're going. Players have a lot of opportunities to do a lot of different things based on where they want to go and what they want to accomplish. A lot of them are looking down the road to see what teams they might possibly have a chance to make if there's a roster adjustment in terms of going from 45 to a larger roster."

Said Ortmayer: "I think we have told a couple of guys that we would re-sign them for next year's training camp were they not to make our roster coming out of this situation. We have certainly also told several players that we think that there is a chance when the strike is settled that roster limits might increase and therefore there may be more positions on this squad. But to say that anybody is guaranteed a spot wouldn't be correct."

If a non-union player is added to the roster when the strike ends, it could create a conflict between him and the union members.

"I'm not sure how they'll be received," Saunders said. "If these games count in the normal standings, I think our players would want to have the best team we could possibly have. It would not behoove our football team to have an unsuccessful strike season if these games count."

How does the Charger team of non-union players shape up? Ortamyer said he had trouble getting tight-ends, but was happy with the one he did sign, Kevin Ferguson, a rookie out of Virginia who was cut by the Chargers during training camp.

"A lot of that (non-union team's success) will be predicated on how many players you get that come back that are already familiarized with your system," Saunders said. "Some teams, I'm sure, will be much more advanced in terms of what they can do than other teams--both offensively and defensively."

In the midst of the serious signings and strike talk, there was some lightheartedness Tuesday.

Hank Bauer, former Charger player and coach, was at a press conference where Saunders was speaking. Saunders was asked if he'd take Bauer back during the strike.

"Hank isn't washed up," Saunders said. "That was an elective wash-up. He's still ready to roll. He's got some more hair, a few less wrinkles. We'd love to have Hank, but he probably wouldn't play."

Both Bauer and Saunders smiled at the idea.

And what did Saunders think some of the other clubs might be doing Tuesday? Who might be playing for the Raiders?

"They'll probably have the same guys they had last week," Saunders said. "Just under different names."


Pos. Name LB Ralph Caldwell WR Paul Day LB Randy Kirk S Walter Harris RB Jeff Powell S Darrel Hopper CB Ed Berry G David Diaz-Infante P Joe Prokop K Jeff Gaffney DE Willard Goff CB Lyle Pickens CB Todd Avery TE Kevin Ferguson CB Elvis Patterson LB Fred Jones DE Duane Pettitt LB Tony Caldwell

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