Raiders Sign Mosebar, Release Steve Smith : Pro football: Team retains veteran center, loses one fullback and obtains another.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The door at Raider headquarters was swinging both ways Tuesday.

Back was center Don Mosebar.

Gone was fullback Steve Smith.

Back was fullback Derrick Gainer . . . . for the fifth time.

The club signed Mosebar to a multiyear contract, terms not disclosed, released Smith and obtained Gainer from the Dallas Cowboys in a trade for past considerations.

The retention of Mosebar, an unrestricted free agent, was crucial. Only the third regular starting center in the team's history, following stalwarts Jim Otto and Dave Dalby, the 32-year-old Mosebar, an 11-year veteran, has been the anchor of the Raider line since becoming a starter in 1984.

He had talked with the Cincinnati Bengals but apparently didn't find the big offer there he had been expecting.

"Mosey's a guy who's been around here a long time," Coach Art Shell said. "It's important to have him here. He showed he wanted to be here and we're glad to have him around."

Smith's release raised a few eyebrows. If there is one word that describes the seven-year veteran, it is dependable . Throughout all the uncertainty that hovered over the Raider backfield in recent years, between the quarterback and tailback positions, Smith was always there, blocking, rushing and even catching a few passes when needed. He had played in 96 consecutive games for the Raiders.

But his fate is becoming a familiar story in this age of the salary cap. Smith, who will turn 30 this summer, was heading into the second year of a three-year, $3.6-million contract that would have paid him $1.05 million this season.

By cutting him and picking up Gainer, who was recently signed by the Cowboys to a one-year deal, the Raiders save about $850,000.

"We're going in a different direction," said Shell of Smith. "We released him at this time in order to give him the opportunity to catch on somewhere else."

Although the Raiders would not be specific about the nature of the past considerations in the Gainer deal, sources in Dallas said it was thought to be basically a favor done by the Cowboys. The Raiders wanted Gainer, the Cowboys didn't. So, Dallas signed him and sent him to Los Angeles.

That's nothing new for Gainer, who has needed a travel agent as much as a negotiating agent since joining the Raiders as an eighth-round draft choice from Florida A & M in 1989.

He spent most of his time on developmental squads and on the sidelines with the Raiders during his previous four tours of duty. He had two carries with the Raiders, both in 1992, and 30 with the Cleveland Browns in 1990.

Gainer spent the last two years as a Cowboy reserve.

Now, with his weight up to 242 pounds and the fullback spot suddenly vacant, Gainer has a shot at a starting job.

"He always had the ability to run, but he's bigger now," Shell said. "But he did not lose any speed. He's a good blocker and a good receiver. He's a jack of all trades."

Gainer's biggest competition figures to come from Napoleon McCallum, who will be tried primarily at fullback now after alternating between there and tailback last season.

Gainer still must show he can hold the job. But the precedent is there. A year ago, the Raiders found themselves handing the starting tailback job to another eighth-round draft choice. Greg Robinson responded by leading the club in rushing, gaining 591 yards, before going down in the Raiders' 12th game with a knee injury.

This time, it's Gainer who has the chance. But he didn't know it until Tuesday afternoon.

Gainer didn't realize Smith was gone until a reporter told him at the team's El Segundo training headquarters where Gainer is already on the job. "Really?" Gainer said. "If they're looking for me to be the guy, I'll be the guy. It's good to come back home. I just hope I can stay."

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