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1985 Bears Coverage: Bell’s agent employs brinksmanship tactic

Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.

Bell’s agent employs brinksmanship tactic

Kevin Lamb

Originally published Aug. 29, 1985

Howard Slusher carefully screens his clients to make sure they can weather the heat of long contract negotiations, says Bear wide receiver Brian Baschnagel, a longtime Slusher client.

Slusher represents Bear safety Todd Bell, who has missed all of
training camp without a contract. Baschnagel, whose agent was Slusher
until he negotiated his own contract, can be fairly certain about how
Slusher has prepared Bell for the long holdout.

“He likes to sign players who are going to be patient,” Baschnagel
says. “He sits down and explains that he’ll try to avoid holding
somebody out, but he likes to have players who understand that
sometimes it’s necessary.”

Slusher’s brinksmanship is not only a negotiating tactic, it’s an
essential time-saver. He’s a busy attorney with international clients.

During the off-season, his negotiations were at a standstill for a
while because he hadn’t bothered to have the Players Association
recertify him. His frequent trips out of the country stymie
negotiations every year, often just before training camp.

“Slusher has so many bigger clients, he devotes very little time
to negotiations,” says one NFL executive. “Then he creates a crisis and
gets the job done in a short time.”

Tactically, Slusher sees withholding services as the athlete’s
only leverage in a league without free agency. He either stonewalls
negotiations – a prerogative general managers are accustomed to
reserving for themselves – or makes outrageous demands, as in the
$950,000 a year for Bell that would far exceed any NFL defensive back’s
salary.

He does not allow clients to leave their teams while they’re under
contract.

“He’s a firm believer that if you sign a contract, you play up to
it,” Baschnagel says. “When your contract is over, then it’s time to
make up for it.

“I’m sure that’s what’s happening with the Bears. He’s telling
Todd, `The Bears owe you something. You were fair to them. You didn’t
ask to renegotiate. You played. Now let’s see if they’ll be fair to
you.’ ”

Bell, who made the Pro Bowl last season, was vastly underpaid the
last two years, at $70,000 and $77,000. Many teams would make up two
years’ lost income with a signing bonus, but Bears president Michael
McCaskey does not allow signing bonuses for veterans.

Slusher probably is looking for a contract similar to the one he
negotiated last year for Dennis Smith, a safety with Denver. Smith’s
three-year deal was for $1.66 million, but $750,000 of it was a signing
bonus.

To match Smith without a signing bonus, the Bears would have to
nearly double Smith’s salaries of $250,000 to $360,000 or give Bell
lucrative and reasonable performance incentives.

“I know what we’re willing to pay Bell and it’s a pretty handsome
amount,” general manager Jerry Vainisi has said, “but at some point we
may just have to play without him.”