Chargers Start Talking Contract With Top Draft Pick Miller

Times Staff Writer

If attitudes were signatures, the Chargers would have signed wide receiver Anthony Miller, their No. 1 draft choice, Monday morning.

That's when Miller's agent, Bruce Allen, met with Steve Ortmayer, the team's director of football operations. It marked the first time the two sides have talked dollars.

"When we asked for eight million dollars, Steve got a little upset," Allen joked. "That's when he said, 'You guys are going to have to pay for your own coffee.' "

Allen was accompanied by adviser Ethan Lock, a business professor at Arizona State University and chief counsel for Allen's sports management company. The negotiations took place at the Chargers' San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium offices and lasted most of the day.

Allen said he was optimistic they will reach an agreement before training camp for Charger rookies opens Wednesday at UC San Diego in La Jolla.

"Knowing Steve's intentions and the way he acted, we shouldn't have to hold out," Allen said. "It would be wrong."

"It's all numbers right now," Ortmayer said. "We don't feel there will be a holdout either. But we're still trying to make the numbers work."

Another major sticking point is the length of the contract. The Chargers want to sign Miller to a long-term contract. Allen wants a shorter one.

Unsigned rookies are prohibited by the Collective Bargaining Agreement from participating in summer workouts. As of Monday only two of the Chargers' 11 draft picks--No. 2 pick Quinn Early, a wide receiver, and No. 9 pick Joey Howard, a defensive end--had signed contracts.

Ortmayer said the Chargers have agreed to terms with Wendell Phillips, a 12th-round defensive back. And he said they are "really close" on one of their two fourth-round picks, defensive end Joe Campbell.

Part of the problem in the Miller negotiations is that so few first-round draft choices have agreed to terms. Only four--Atlanta linebacker Aundray Bruce, Dallas wide receiver Michael Irvin, Phoenix linebacker Ken Harvey and New Orleans running back Craig Heyward--have signed.

With so few first-rounders signed, it's hard for agents and general managers to assess the market. Heyward, also represented by Allen, signed for a reported bonus of $512,000 and three years at base salaries of $204,000 for 1988, $223,000 for 1989 and $257,000 for 1990. He was the 25th player selected in the first round.

Bruce, the first player selected in the April draft, signed with the Falcons for $4.1 million over five years. More relevant to Allen and Ortmayer were the reported figures for Irvin--$1.85 million over four years.

Allen wants a shorter contract for Miller than Irvin's. And Lock balked when Ortmayer offered Miller a percentage less than Irvin based on the fact that Irvin was the 11th player selected and Miller was the 15th.

"We have no control over who Michael Irvin's agent is," Lock said. "We have no control over whether he got a good deal or a bad deal. We don't want to be tied to his deal."

Last year's first-round Charger pick was Texas A&M; tight end Rod Bernstine, who signed a four-year deal valued at $1.34 million after a brief holdout. Bernstine's signing bonus was $511,000. His annual base salaries, starting with last year's, are: $160,000, $175,000, $225,000 and $270,000. Bernstine was the 24th pick of the first round.

But Allen says last year's numbers are meaningless when compared to the 1988 market. "There was more of a unified effort by ownership to keep salaries down," Allen said. "This year, a lot of the teams that suffered through holdouts last year wanted to get it done."

New Orleans, Dallas, Phoenix (St. Louis) and Atlanta all lost valuable developmental time for their 1987 No. 1 picks because of contract holdouts. Not coincidentally, those are the four teams that have signed 1988 top picks.

In other developments, Ortmayer said he didn't know how the refusal of a Minnesota judge Monday to grant an injunction that would have enabled free agents to move from team to team without compensation will affect negotiations with free-agent linebacker Chip Banks.

"I thought we were close to an agreement two months ago," Ortmayer said. "The next move? I'm waiting for a call from them, I guess."

Charger veterans are scheduled to report to training camp July 22.

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