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NFL ROUNDUP : Most of These Cuts Are Really an Illusion

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Final cutdown day in the new NFL would be self-explanatory but for two minor details.

Most of the cuts aren’t really cuts, and nothing is final.

This was most apparent Monday when Dennis Green, coach of the Minnesota Vikings, began talking about newly acquired running back Barry Word.

“Barry will fit in real well with Roger Craig . . . " Green said.

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Moments later, Green paused and made another announcement.

The Vikings had cut Roger Craig.

With maneuvers that created a whole new set of galloping ghosts, teams pared their rosters to 47 in preparation for adding six players today to reach the mandated total of 53.

Like Craig, most of the players added will be the ones that teams cut Monday. To ensure that they will get those players back, teams cut many veterans with four years of experience or more.

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This is because such players, under the new basic agreement, are free agents who can sign anywhere. Teams are relying on handshakes and winks from those veterans, unspoken promises that they will stay.

If a younger player is cut, he must be placed on waivers and can be easily lost to another team.

“Basically, clubs are using this new rule to their advantage,” said Jim Miller, New Orleans Saint vice president. “If they have a veteran who they like, and who likes them, they can expose him to free agency for a day because they know he’s coming back.”

This makes for situations such as the one in Washington, where the Redskins certainly hope that Kelly Goodburn, who was released, is coming back.

He is their only punter.

The Atlanta Falcons cut starting defensive end Tim Green and linebacker Jesse Solomon, who combined last year for 169 tackles. Other phony cuts include kicker Mike Cofer, cornerback Don Griffin and linebacker Mike Walter of the San Francisco 49ers; tackle Keith Van Horne of the Chicago Bears and center Jim Sweeney of the New York Jets.

“As far as I know, I’m just getting ready for Denver,” Sweeney said of New York’s opener against the Broncos.

The Green Bay Packers, however, cut veteran backup quarterback Ken O’Brien for real. He played so poorly during the preseason that he was beaten out by Ty Detmer and rookie Mark Brunell.

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And one would assume that receiver Wesley Carroll, the Saints’ top pick in the 1991 draft, was cut for real. He ran from the locker room, threw his clothes in his car, and sped away.

“I’m gone. I’m leaving for good. Goodby,” he shouted.

Also dropped without a net was Pepper Johnson of the New York Giants, an All-Pro linebacker in 1990 when the team won the Super Bowl.

Johnson, 29, who led the Giants in tackles last year, reported late and had complained about being taken out on third downs in the new defense installed by new coach Dan Reeves.

And Johnson couldn’t even use the impending salary cap as an excuse. He was scheduled to make $1.2 million. He will be replaced by Carlton Bailey, who signed as a free agent for $1.755 million.

Another no-joke cut was Reggie Roby, the Miami Dolphins’ punter for 10 years. He was beat out by former Ram punter Dale Hatcher less than two weeks after Roby filed personal bankruptcy papers.

Roby, 32, had been seeking free-agent status by using his financial woes as a way out of his five-year contract (two years remaining at a reported $445,000 per year).

Roby, a Pro Bowl selection in 1984 and ’89, said, “They were a little scared by the bankruptcy. What if they kept me and in a month I was a free agent?”

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Hatcher, 30, who has had an inconsistent career since making the Pro Bowl in his rookie season with the Rams in 1985, wasn’t in the league in two of the past three years. He averaged a net 40.1 yards compared to Roby’s 34.6 during the exhibition season.

Marv Levy, coach of the Buffalo Bills, wins the award for the most unusual approach. He was so worried about losing his players, he didn’t even tell the ones who had been cut that they were cut.

“But you watch, somebody will still lose a player this way,” said the Saints’ Miller. “Some player will get a better offer and go. It’s still a risk.”

The Packers pretended only a little. Shortly after linebackers Jeff Brady and Keo Coleman and guard Terry Beauford were cut, they were seen practicing with the team.

“We’re exploring right now to see if we are doing it the right way,” said Ron Wolf, the Packers’ general manager. “If we end up doing it the wrong way, we don’t do it this way again.”

The Cowboys didn’t fool anybody by cutting backup quarterback Hugh Millen. Even though he lost his second-string job to free agent Jason Garrett, Millen will be back today.

If he is not, then why was all of his equipment still in his locker?

Bill Bates, the Cowboys’ veteran safety and folk hero, was openly happy to be released.

“It just gives me a day to play golf,” Bates said.


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