The NFL owners and players moved a step closer to labor peace yesterday when they agreed to a seven-year collective bargaining agreement that changed the controversial franchise designation rules.
The agreement, which was announced by commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw, the head of the NFL Players Association, still must be ratified by a vote of all the players.
Although the NFL owners and players reached a legal settlement on Jan. 6 that was ratified by federal judge David Doty last Friday, the NFLPA had to recertify as a labor union and then the two sides had to reach a collective bargaining agreement to make it official.
As part of the agreement, the two sides made modifications in the franchise player designation. Under the original rule, a franchise player couldn't negotiate with any other team and had to be offered a salary equal to the average earned by the five highest-paid players at his position.
The eight players given that designation, including Wilber Marshall of the Washington Redskins, are fighting that rule in court. Marshall has threatened to sit out the season and the Redskins are trying to trade him to the Houston Oilers. Marshall was in Houston yesterday to negotiate with the Oilers, but
couldn't come to terms with them.
Under the change in the rule, a club now must exercise one of two options on June 15 for franchise players.
Either the club must offer the player the average salary of the fivehighest-paid players at his position through contracts signed of May 6, or it can maintain its original offer and the player can then receive offers from other clubs through July 15.
If a team declines to match the offer from another club, it gets two first-round picks as compensation from the signing club. In future years, the club must chose between similar options before designating a franchise player on March 1.
The change makes it easier to defend the rule on appeal in court. In return, the NFLPA made it more difficult for players to hold out. Teams will be able to levy fines against holdouts in certain situations.
Redskins general manager Charley Casserly said the team won't announce which option it will take on Marshall before June 15, if he's not traded before that time.