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NFL Notes : Free-Agent Plan Still Falls Short for Players

The Washington Post

The final numbers on Plan B free agency are in: 229 players changed teams, but only 111 are on active rosters and 34 are on injured reserve. More interesting, however, is the pattern of movement. As far as the NFL Players Association is concerned, the management-implemented Plan B contradicted all the arguments the owners have used in negotiations to keep the league from adopting full free agency.

Mike Duberstein of the NFLPA said two-thirds of the players who changed teams went to teams that had records of .500 or lower, refuting the notion that players would only go to good teams, and make the rich richer. The Bears and Bengals, conference finalists, didn’t sign a single free agent.

Duberstein’s research also showed teams in “rustbelt” cities, such as Green Bay and Cleveland, signed 81 free agents while losing 81, refuting the notion that players would flock to warm weather, California cities in particular. “That’s down the drain, as well as the theory that players won’t go to the low-market (television) cities.” The Packers signed 20 free agents, but cut 13.

The 229 players who changed teams increased their salaries an average of 60 percent, while the players who re-signed with their teams got an average raise of 33 percent, Duberstein said. The 170 restricted free agents -- those who couldn’t change teams without compensation-right of first refusal -- re-signed for an average increase of 75 percent.

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The union feels that in a completely free market, there is no chance star restricted free agents such as Bruce Smith, Darrell Green and Irving Fryar would get only 15 percent increases.

John Jones, speaking for the management council, said no conclusions should be drawn this early in the season and the fact that two-thirds of the players moved to mediocre or losing teams means nothing, because it wasn’t the marquee players who moved. “I don’t think you can assess that based on players 38 through 59,” he said. Each club could protect 37 players.

Who says the oddsmakers are never correct? One Las Vegas book listed the Vikings (6-to-1), 49ers (6-1), Bengals (6-1), Bills (7-1), Rams (7-1), Bears (7-1), Giants (10-1) and Saints (10-1) as the teams with the best chances to win the Super Bowl. Each team won its season opener except the Bengals, who lost to the Bears. The same bookmaker made the Jets (40-1), Cardinals (50-1), Dolphins (50-1), Steelers (75-1), Falcons (75-1), Chiefs (100-1), Cowboys (100-1), Buccaneers (125-1), Chargers (125-1), Detroit (150-1) and Green Bay (200-1) as the long shots. Each of those teams lost, except the Buccaneers who beat another long shot, the Packers.

Before Monday night’s loss to the Giants, former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, now an analyst for ESPN, picked Washington to go all the way. “The number one thing in the NFL now is health,” Theismann said, “and the Redskins are deep. Also you’re talking about a 12-4 (caliber) team playing a 7-9 schedule (based on last year’s record and order of finish). The Redskins are playing the same schedule as the Cowboys, even though the two teams are miles apart.”

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The latest on the commissioner front: Pete Rozelle has sold his home, is living and working from a New York hotel and may be there awhile. Some league observers feel the “Young Turks,” the newest owners who blocked Jim Finks’s election, would approve of District of Columbia-based attorney Paul Tagliabue as a “compromise candidate.” Finks has not taken himself out of the running, even though his supporters around the league are furious that a man of Finks’s stature should wait. It doesn’t appear the matter of Rozelle’s successor will be resolved soon.

During pre-season in Thousand Oaks, Calif., new Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson said he could get excited about Herschel Walker, but over little else in his veteran personnel. That, however, could change in a hurry. Walker, a non-complainer if there ever was one, complained about being primarily a decoy and blocking back in the season opener at New Orleans and apparently will ask for a trade if he doesn’t get a lot more than the eight carries he got Sunday.

Cincinnati receiver Eddie Brown ended his holdout. He led the AFC with 1,273 receiving yards last season (53 receptions, nine touchdowns) and was paid $350,000. He said he signed a contract for $800,000, $850,000, $925,000 and $1.025 million for this season through 1992.

Miami, a team that certainly could use some good news, has gotten a double dose. Mark Clayton, whose 86 receptions last year set a club record, signed this week. And Sammie Smith, the club’s first-round draft choice from Florida State, became the last first-rounder to sign, on Monday. His four-year deal is estimated to be worth $2.5 million.

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