NFL Rushes Spring Roster Cleaning : Pro football: Rams seeking a quarterback, Raiders a running back from more than 400 free agents.


Proving once again that it adheres to no laws but its own, the NFL will declare Friday the first day of spring, setting loose more than 400 free agents into the hands of teams seeking rebirth.

It will be a time for worry for the Dallas Cowboys. Potential losers of 16 players who helped them win their second consecutive Super Bowl, they are already on the verge of losing defensive leader Ken Norton Jr.

Sources say Norton has decided to negotiate a contract with the Miami Dolphins.

But for everyone else, it is a time to hope.

For the Rams, it is a time to find their new quarterback.

They can try to sign oft-injured Chris Miller of the Atlanta Falcons, who told his agent he wants to play here.


Or they can pursue a trade for either Warren Moon of the Houston Oilers or Jeff George of the Indianapolis Colts, both of whom are being shopped here, according to sources.

With four draft choices in the first three rounds available for dealing, and with room available under the impending salary cap after Jim Everett is traded to one of several quarterback-hungry teams, the Rams could make either acquisition.

“We are exploring a lot of options,” said John Shaw, Ram vice president.

Ram Coach Chuck Knox once attempted to acquire Moon while coaching the Seattle Seahawks. And Knox is known to admire George’s natural ability, despite his off-field problems.

“I have said there are no untouchables on this team, and Jeff George is a member of this team,” said Bill Tobin, Colt general manager. “We are willing to talk about anybody.”

For the Raiders, it is a time to find their new running back.

They can attempt to sign Lorenzo White of the Oilers, the best of a weak free-agent bunch. They are also known to be interested in Minnesota’s Barry Word.

Or they can look over their shoulder and find Christian Okoye, former Pro Bowl running back of the Kansas City Chiefs who missed last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.


Okoye, who lives in the Southland and is working out daily at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, said this week that he tried out for the Raiders in December. But his knee had not yet recovered.

“The knee is fine now, and I would play for the Raiders before I played for anybody else,” said Okoye, 32, who gained 1,031 yards in 1991. “I want to stay home.”

Because of the impending salary cap and restrictions caused by the “transition” and “franchise” designations that organizations have placed on their best free agents, most believe that there will not be as much movement as there was last spring. During the wild first months of the labor agreement, 120 players changed teams.

But because the lucrative recent television deal has set the cap at a level that is considered manageable, $34 million, and because there is a salary floor, $30 million, that causes the cheaper teams to increase their payroll, the players are still not stuck.

“The difference this year will be (that) teams will pick one or two or three guys to sign and that’s it,” said Bob Ackles, assistant general manager of the Phoenix Cardinals. “There will still be movement, but there will be an awful lot more players out there who will be upset.”

The Cardinals are the expected destination of this year’s top free agent, linebacker Seth Joyner of the Philadelphia Eagles.


Buddy Ryan, the Cardinals’ new coach and general manager, has told employees that he is eager for a reunion with his former Pro Bowl player.

Joyner heads an impressive list of available linebackers that includes Norton, Tony Bennett of the Green Bay Packers and Dante Jones of the Chicago Bears.

Eric Hill, the top young Phoenix linebacker, is also a free agent and should be in great demand. But the Cardinals recently named him a transition player.

This means that Phoenix has the right to match any offer for him, and the offer must be the average of the top 10 players at that position.

Translated, he probably isn’t going anywhere. Only two transition players changed teams last year, and in both cases the contracts contained loopholes that are no longer allowed.

Other free-agent stars who instantly became unattractive this week because of similar designations include Deion Sanders and Michael Haynes of the Falcons, Anthony Miller of the San Diego Chargers, Tim Brown of the Raiders, Clyde Simmons of the Eagles, Eric Green of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cris Dishman of the Oilers.


There are no franchise or transition quarterbacks in this year’s free-agent group. With only three potential impact starters on the list--the Falcons’ Miller, Erik Kramer of the Detroit Lions and Scott Mitchell of the Miami Dolphins--quarterback has become the hottest position.

Mitchell, who showed potential while relieving injured Dan Marino last season, will make his first visits to New Orleans, Chicago and Minnesota.

The Bears are more serious about Kramer, who will also be heavily wooed by his current team, which will have no quarterbacks under contract beginning Friday. The Lions are content to allow reserves Rodney Peete and Andre Ware to go elsewhere.

Also seeking quarterbacks are the Falcons, who have decided that Bobby Hebert is too damaged, and the Washington Redskins, who have the third pick in the draft and will address their problem there.

The Rams, due to select fifth, would also love one of the top two collegians available--Trent Dilfer of Fresno State or Heath Shuler of Tennessee. But both will probably be gone by the time the Rams choose.

And for the losers in the free-agent quarterback sweepstakes--those who cannot acquire George or Moon? Jim Everett is waiting.