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STATS Inc. kept track of how quarterbacks performed after sacks last year. Of the quarterbacks who played all 16 games, the one apparently most oblivious to pounding was the New York Giants' venerable Phil Simms. Although he turned 37 during the season, his passer rating of 88.3 put him among the league's best. After one sack, his rating was 84.7. After two sacks, it improved to 94.7. After three sacks, it jumped to 101.1.

San Francisco's Steve Young, who led the league at 101.5, also fared well after sacks. He registered 92.0 after one sack, 100.7 after two sacks and 88.6 after three.The Bills' Jim Kelly showed an interesting pattern. At 79.9 for the season as a whole, Kelly was a 73.4 after one sack and dropped to 64.9 after two. But after three sacks, Kelly rebounded to a lofty 95.5, as if to receive a wakeup call.

Who was affected most by sacks? Young QBs, of course.

Seattle's Rick Mirer broke all kinds of rookie passing records despite being sacked an NFL-leading 47 times. That he was able to count himself among the nine quarterbacks to play all 16 games is testament to his toughness. But his passer rating of 67.0 dropped to 64.9 after one sack, 57.9 after two and 41.0 after three.

Green Bay's Brett Favre, a 72.2 passer overall, improved after one sack (78.8) and even after two sacks (83.9) but sunk to the bottom after three sacks (36.5).

Tampa Bay's Craig Erickson, 66.4 overall, improved after one sack (74.3), then slid to 73.8 after two and 56.9 after three.

Denver's John Elway, no youth, also was affected by pressure. He led the AFC at 92.8, but was 92.6 after one sack, 74.4 after two, and 74.7 after three.

BUDDY SYSTEM: Signing Jim McMahon confirmed Buddy Ryan's power in Arizona. Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill wasn't overjoyed with the idea of signing the quarterback who used to rip Bears President Michael McCaskey. The Bidwills and McCaskeys are friends.

But Ryan wanted McMahon from Day One, and to his credit, Bidwill didn't veto the decision of his general manager-coach. McMahon will back up Steve Beuerlein, who finished just ahead of McMahon in NFC passer ratings last season, 82.5 to 76.2. McMahon will be reunited with the coach who benched Randall Cunningham in a 1990 playoff game in Philadelphia in favor of McMahon in what turned out to be Ryan's final game with the Eagles.

GOOD FOR PLAYERS: In response to criticism about the new free-agency system, the NFL Players Association has distributed a list of points titled: "The Free Agency System in the New CBA (collective bargaining agreement) is Good for Players!"

Apparently, players need to be told this. In the wake of a roster shakeup in Buffalo, where all-pros Howard Ballard and Nate Odomes signed with Seattle and veterans Jim Ritcher and Mark Kelso were cut - all blamed on the salary cap - Buffalo guard John Davis blasted NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw: "I feel strongly that Gene Upshaw sold the players out."

The NFLPA points out that older players in every sport, including the NFL under its old system, have played for less money to extend their careers.

The union also shows that 81 free agents signed for annual salaries of between $500,000 and $1.5 million by May 19, dispelling the notion the new system would increase the disparity in contracts because it would eliminate a "middle class." There were 51 who signed for less than $500,000 and 28 who signed for more than $1.5 million.

"The new system prevents salary disparity," the NFLPA wrote.

Players, who traditionally complain about whatever system is in effect, are joined by management in their tendency to blame the salary cap for every personnel decision. The union calls this an unfair knee-jerk reaction, citing the Washington Redskins, who lost Art Monk after asking him to take a salary cut only to sign 32-year-old receiver Henry Ellard for more. Likewise, Indianapolis cut Duane Bickett and his high salary only to replace him with Tony Bennett at a higher salary.

Buffalo's Davis expressed his opinion after signing a contract that will pay him $3.7 million over four years, an average of $925,000 a year. Davis had finished a contract that paid him an average of $397,000 a year.

REALIGNMENT OF WEEK: From Paul Weston, Aurora (changes in caps):

NFC East - Eagles, PATRIOTS, Giants, JETS, Redskins.

NFC Central - Bears, Lions, Packers, Vikings, CHIEFS.


AFC East - Falcons, PANTHERS, JAGUARS, Dolphins, BUCS.

AFC Central - BILLS, Bengals, Browns, COLTS, Steelers.

AFC West - RAMS, Raiders, Chargers, 49ERS, Seahawks.