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SAINTS' SWILLING MAY BECOME HIGHEST-PAID LINEMAN

Free-agent linebacker Pat Swilling would become the NFL's highest-paid defensive player if the New Orleans Saints decline to match the Detroit Lions' contract offer, according to a published report.

Swilling, who led the NFL with 17 sacks last season, has accepted a first-refusal offer sheet from the Lions, which gives the Saints seven days to match the offer, Lions executive vice president Chuck Schmidt said Monday.Details of the offer were not released. But the Detroit Free Press reported today that the Lions and Swilling reached an agreement on a three-year contract for $5.6 million. His annual salary of $1.86 million a year would be slightly higher than the $1.83 million reportedly paid to linebacker Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants, the newspaper said.

If New Orleans doesn't match the offer, Swilling would be contractually committed to the Lions. In return, the Saints would get Detroit's first-round draft choices in 1992 and 1993.

Locally . . .