SAN DIEGO — Chargers owner Alex Spanos aggravated an old back injury while playing golf Sunday morning at Fairbanks Ranch.
With all the aggravation he has had in dealing with players' agents and fathers recently, it seemed possible the aching back might leave him in a foul mood and prompt an ultimatum or a reduced contract offer.
But such was not the case. After being treated by the team's head trainer, Spanos was in a rather mellow mood before Sunday afternoon's practice at UC San Diego.
Spanos--usually an impatient man--seemed content to wait for his unsigned draft choices. How long he will wait is uncertain, but as long as other National Football League teams aren't signing their players and getting an edge on the Chargers, he seems willing to sit on his checkbook.
There was no significant progress in negotiations with first-round choices Leslie O'Neal and James FitzPatrick. And there were no verbal broadsides against Jeff Walker and Ty Allert, who earlier agreed to terms only to change their minds and skip the the first drills of summer camp.
"This is happening all through the league," said Spanos, his lower back supported by a cushion. "Other teams are having problems, and I'm satisfied my offers are as high or higher than most. I won't (play hardball) as long as we're in communication with the agents."
Of all the unsigned players, Spanos seemed most bothered by the case of Walker, who agreed to terms Thursday night, then changed his mind a day later when offered a sweeter deal by the Memphis Showboats of the United States Football League.
Spanos said he won't make up his mind about how to handle Walker until the team is able to contact him. Spanos said the player's change of heart, however, might cause him to lower his existing offer.
Walker's agent, Joe Courrege, said he hopes Spanos doesn't issue any more ultimatums and doesn't lower his offer.
"It would just muddy it up worse if there was another ultimatum," Courrege said. Last week, he had been given a deadline for accepting the team's offer, a deadline which was extended for a day and led to the player's initial agreement with the Chargers.
"This isn't an agent's ploy to get more money," Courrege said. "When you get right down to it, Jeff and his father have the prerogative to step back and think about both offers. I hope Mr. Spanos doesn't jerk his offer off the table."
Courrege drew a sharp contrast between the Chargers' efforts to sign Walker via phone and the Showboats' hometown courtship, which he likened to intense recruiting by college coaches.
"The Showboats are really giving him the red carpet treatment," Courrege said.
The agent said he has stressed the downside of the USFL, which could go out of business if the league loses its lawsuit against the NFL. "Any contract signed with Memphis prior to the lawsuit ending would have a contingency clause giving the Showboats the right to sell the contract to San Diego," Courrege said.
Meanwhile, Chargers General Manager Johnny Sanders said he had not been in contact Sunday with the agent for Allert, Travis Roach. Sanders had come to terms with Roach Thursday night before Allert's father apparently intervened and backed off from the deal.
"We gave Allert what he wanted," Sanders said. "Well, not everything, but most everything. All that can take place now is for him to show up and sign."
Sanders had a long discussion Sunday with an associate of Leigh Steinberg, who represents FitzPatrick. Later, Steinberg said the parties are not endlessly apart.
"I'd be very surprised if this goes on much longer," Steinberg said. "We're not having the problems other teams are having."
Sanders said he expects to confer today with O'Neal's agent, Marv Demoff, and added that he had passed along to Spanos a new proposal from the agent for running back Lionel James.
James, who made $90,000 last year, reportedly wants a raise to the vicinity of $325,000. The Chargers' offer--"a good offer to a class kid," Spanos said--is believed to be $225,000 for this year and $250,000 for 1987.