SAN DIEGO — What if Rod Bernstine runs downfield and falls down? What if he hurts himself? What then?
Defying all sense of frugality, Bernstine is working out with the Chargers these days even though he's still unsigned. No. 1 draft picks generally don't do this, for fear of hurting themselves and their pocketbook. But Bernstine and his agent say they "trust" the Chargers, which means a deal can't be too far away.
Training camp is four days away but nobody's squirming. Welcome to laid-back San Diego, where contract talks are laid-back too. Steve Ortmayer, the Chargers' director of football operations, hasn't signed one draft pick and hasn't even made an offer to tight end Bernstine, his No. 1 pick, or to cornerback Louis Brock, his No. 2 pick. But he's in no rush, and neither, it seems, are the players' agents.
Ortmayer--partly because he used to work with Al Davis and the Raiders--has managed to create a relaxed atmosphere here. For instance, Bernstine's agent, Ralph Cindrich, says dealing with the Raiders is an agent's dream, and he says Ortmayer is bringing the same feeling to San Diego.
"What Ortmayer brought with him was a Raider mentality," Cindrich said Monday. "If you talk with any player in the league, the No. 1 organization that comes up is the Raiders. . . . Listen, what I'm doing with Rod (letting him workout with the Chargers without a contract), it's not like I'd do that with every team in the league. But it'd be that way with Denver, San Francisco, the Raiders and a few others, including the San Diego Chargers."
Most of the National Football League training camps open in the next few days, and rookie contracts will be signed. So, Ortmayer admits he's waiting to see how much money some other No. 1 and No. 2 draft picks get before serious negotiations with Bernstine and Brock.
Meanwhile, Cindrich says he's confident in his client's abilities, which is another reason Bernstine's working out.
"I know Bernstine's a good athlete," Cindrich said. "They (the Chargers) see his work habits, his ability to run with the ball, his ability to be a top pro. With a kid like that, going there early can even help contract talks."
This is no conflict, which happens with a lot of No. 1 picks. Bernstine was drafted April 28 and was living in San Diego about two weeks later. The Chargers immediately put him up at a hotel and gave him food money.
Of course, it's not as if he's partaking in strenuous workouts. Most of the Charger draft picks are here--only ninth-round running back Thomas Wilcher, 11th-round center Joe Goebel and 12th-round running back Marcus Greenwood are missing--and they're not dressing in shoulder pads. They're simply here to get a head start on Charger offensive and defensive schemes.
All this is grand, but Ortmayer also wants Bernstine and the rest of the picks to be suited up on Saturday when training camp opens.
"I don't want any of them missing one day," Ortmayer said of the draft picks. "Once it starts affecting our football team, it becomes a big deal."
So Ortmayer has made offers to every player picked after the second round, and he said Monday that they should all be signed by Saturday. He says he's only a few dollars away with most of the lower picks.
Brock's agent--Marvin Demoff--was unavailable for comment Monday, but Ortmayer said "We go way back." He's not concerned about signing Brock, he said.
And what will Bernstine and Cindrich ask for? They won't say, but Kansas City's Paul Palmer--the draft's 19th player chosen--recently signed a series of four one-year contracts worth $175,000 in 1987, $200,000 in 1988, $250,000 in 1989 and $275,000 in 1990. Plus, his signing bonus was $450,000.
Because Bernstine was the 24th player taken, his contract probably should be a little less.
"You would certainly hope so," Ortmayer said Monday.
Cindrich, meanwhile, said he's optimistic, but he also said: "Who knows? You'll probably hear me whining and crying about how unfair they are come next week. Who knows?"
Ortmayer said: "The reason (he's not concerned) is because I know both agents, and I know what they'll consider ridiculous, and they know what I'll consider ridiculous. No one's interested in high-balling or low-balling the other guy."
Trust seems to be the byword here.
Seven Charger veterans remain unsigned, including linebacker Billy Ray Smith, who made $400,000 last year. Ortmayer said: "He wants a lot more."
Still, Ortmayer said Smith could easily be signed by Aug. 1, when all veterans are due to report to training camp.
The other unsigned players are linebacker Thomas Benson, nose tackle Chuck Ehin, quarterback Mark Herrmann, center Don Macek, center-guard Dennis McKnight and defensive end Earl Wilson.