Plan B signings drop for third year Teams protecting younger players

April 03, 1991|By Vito Stellino

When running back Ottis Anderson of the New York Giants was left unprotected on the Plan B list the past two years and didn't get any offers, he said he was on Plan C.

Anderson got the last laugh when he won the MVP award in the Super Bowl last January while leading the Giants to a 20-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills with 102 yards rushing.

All that didn't change the fact that Anderson was left unprotected on Plan B for the third straight year and didn't get any offers.

"Who wants an old, beat-up running back like me who's past his prime?" said Anderson, who's 33 but still hopes to help the Giants.

This year, though, Anderson had more company on the list on unprotected players who weren't signed.

Despite a flurry of about 60 signings over the last weekend before the midnight deadline Monday, the National Football League announced yesterday that only 139 players changed teams.

That's a drop from the 229 players who moved in 1989 and the 184 who switched last year.

One of several reasons for the drop is that there are more Andersons on the list. Teams put promising young players on their 37-man protected list and exposed their aging veterans with high salaries who weren't likely to be in demand.

Few of those veterans moved, although the Los Angeles Raiders did sign two of the biggest names on the list, safety Ronnie Lott and running back Roger Craig of the San Francisco 49ers.

The 49ers also lost linebacker Matt Millen, who had spent two years with the team, to the Washington Redskins because he wanted to end his career closer to his Pennsylvania home.

It's uncertain whether the 49ers cared if Lott and Craig left or felt that at age 30 and 31, they no longer fit into their plans for the future.

Coach George Seifert of the 49ers called their departure a "natural process" as the 49ers look to younger players.

Poring over the Plan B list, teams found a lack of such players as cornerback Martin Mayhew and defensive lineman Fred Stokes, who were signed by the Redskins the past two years and made valuable contributions to the team.

The Redskins, who signed 15 and 12 players the past two years, signed four this year after making offers to seven.

"I think the talent level was the weakest of the three years," said general manager Charley Casserly.

He also said that there's simply not room on the roster to sign a dozen every year unless the players from the previous year are flops.

Another factor in the decline was that teams gave the unprotected players they wanted to keep what Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, called "April 1 bonuses" for players who were still on their roster on April 1.

It's legal for teams to make those deals as long as they're done before the signing period starts Feb. 1 although most clubs didn't want to advertise them.

When Casserly was asked if the Redskins passed out bonuses, he said, "I don't want to get into that."

The players don't complain about the deals because most of them care more about getting more money than switching teams.

Some of the agents and the National Football League Players Association found another reason for the decline. They feel the owners decided to stop bidding.

"Plan B was a joke this year," said agent Tony Agnone, who signed three of his players with new teams. "There was no question there was some collusion."

Mike Duberstein, the director of research for the NFLPA, said: "The only reason the owners began the Plan B system was to escape antitrust challenges by our organization. Now they feel that the threat is over since we have decertified as a union."

After losing a fight for free agency in the courts as a union, the NFLPA decertified and filed another free-agency suit that is slowly winding its way through the courts.

The Green Bay Packers signed the most players (13), while the Chicago Bears were the only team not to sign any. The San Diego Chargers lost the most (11).

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