The chief negotiator for National Football League team owners, calling the players' latest proposal "very, very discouraging," said Wednesday in New York that a strike next week is "a very good possibility" without federal mediation.
Wednesday night, Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the NFL Players Assn., went a step further and said that a strike was "inevitable."
Jack Donlan, executive director of the NFL Management Council, said at a news conference that the proposal submitted by the players would cost owners $200 million above the owners' latest offer. And, he said, that is without taking into account the union's demand for free agency.
He also said he would like to resume negotiations, but only with a mediator or face-to-face with Upshaw. The union has set a strike deadline of next Tuesday.
Upshaw said he was disappointed in Donlan's response and would meet Friday with Lane Kirkland, president of the AFL-CIO and other national labor officials. He also again dismissed the call for a mediator.
"A strike is inevitable," Upshaw said, "because they (management council) have had an agenda from the word 'go' that they were going to continue (playing) under any circumstance. They're trying to fulfill their own prediction.
" . . . We're willing to negotiate. Why are they calling for a mediator?"
The Management Council also disclosed it had filed with the National Labor Relations Board an unfair labor practice complaint against the union, accusing it of refusing to bargain in good faith. Council officials conceded, however, that the action was little more than a token gesture.
On Tuesday, the union had moderated its demand for unrestricted free agency to one that would make players free agents after they had played in the league for four years. But Donlan suggested it looked like the union proposal was inviting a strike.
"A cursory look at the proposal showed that it was little more than a restatement of their opening proposal with a few cosmetic changes," Donlan said. "It was a very, very discouraging proposal. In laymen's terms, it's a cynical thing."
Asked if a strike is likely, Donlan replied: "There's a very good possibility."
NFL owners, meanwhile, say they plan to play with "whatever players are available."
League sources say that only about 100 players have been signed to the $1,000 retainers being offered by teams, indicating that some owners are hoping to convince their roster players not to walk out.
Under the owners' plan, the teams would miss a week, then resume play with the fourth week of the schedule.