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CAP HAS OILERS SCRATCHING THEIR HEADS

Figure this one out.

The Houston Oilers, who finished 2-14 last season, had to cut local favorite Bucky Richardson last week in order to get under the salary cap.The San Francisco 49ers, who won the Super Bowl, continue in pursuit of Deion Sanders, working Carmen Policy's magic to get around the salary cap.

The Niners have become masters of the cap; teams like the Oilers remain befuddled.

But also involved is Leigh Steinberg, the agent, who cost the Oilers a few million in cap dollars when he got quarterback Kerry Collins, the fifth pick in last April's draft, a $7 million signing bonus with Carolina.

That blew up the Oilers' deal with Steve McNair, the No. 3 pick overall. McNair ended up signing a $28.3 million deal that left the Oilers looking for room to jam in Bruce Matthews, their Pro Bowl center, and Rodney Thomas, their third-round pick.

So Richardson, who was due to make $400,000, had to go - at least for the time being.

"This is football in the '90s, and every team in the NFL is going through it," said Floyd Reese, Houston's general manager. "From that standpoint, we're all on an even keel."

Some teams are just more even than others.

DON, DAN AND THE DOLPHINS: The common perception around the NFL is that this is a must-win season in Miami before Don Shula and Dan Marino fade away.

"They're trying to buy a Super Bowl," complained Dwight Clark, San Francisco's general manager, after the Dolphins outbid the Niners for Steve Emtman. A lot of people chuckled over that - the Niners, of course, would NEVER think of signing Deion Sanders, Rickey Jackson, Richard Dent, Charles Mann, et. al., to try to buy a Super Bowl.

But the best indication of Miami's intent comes from Harvey Greene, the team's PR man, who has added 24 pages to the media guide, annually the NFL's thickest. This year it's 516 pages compared to 492 last year.

Shula's space is the same - 12 pages from page 6 to page 18, just as it was last year. But Marino gets 34 pages, up from 27 last year.

Comparison?

Last year's San Diego guide was 208 pages.

But look who represented the AFC in the Super Bowl.

THE DOG DAYS: Two-a-day practices in 100-degree heat have been an NFL staple since World War II, back in the days when salaries were four figures instead of seven and players had to work at off-season jobs to support their families.

Are they necessary now, when many players routinely spend the off-season at their team's training facility, lifting weights, playing racquetball and generally working off the calories?

A lot of people wonder.

"I'm not sure we need all this, particularly for veterans," says Jumbo Elliott, the Giants' offensive left tackle, who reinjured his congenitally bad back during the first week of camp.

By week two, injuries had forced the Giants out of pads and into shorts - they were down to just 11 healthy offensive linemen on their 80-man roster and Elliott, for one, was needed for workouts.

Up in New England, Bill Parcells couldn't find enough inside linebackers to go more than one-and-a-half deep on the depth chart. The rock of the defense, Vincent Brown, underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and was due to miss two weeks of workouts.

But is that all bad?

Over the years, you could pick an All-Pro team from the guys who regularly hold out - Keith Jackson has made it to about two camps in seven NFL seasons and is missing again in Green Bay, and Lawrence Taylor always said he needed just two weeks to get into playing shape.

Wide receiver Mark Ingram, who, like Jackson, is going from the Dolphins to the Packers, showed up this week after missing 11 days and suggested it was no big deal.

"It's basically the same wherever you go," said Ingram.

DOUBLEHEADERS: They almost never play doubleheaders in baseball anymore.

So the NFL is trying it.

No sooner did the 49ers and Broncos finish their exhibition game at Mile High Stadium last week than they began packing up the equipment for the trip to Tokyo, where they met again last night in one of those "American Bowls" the NFL exports.

Next week, the Bills and Cowboys, who met at Texas Stadium last week, finish their home-and-home (sort of) series in another "overseas" game - in Toronto.

Why?

Primarily because the NFL wants marquee teams for its games outside the United States and most coaches don't want any part of it.

George Seifert, whose 49ers made a foreign trip for the sixth time in eight seasons, complained one year because they had to go to Tokyo to play the Rams, who they'd meet twice during the season.

So it takes owners like Jerry Jones and Eddie DeBartolo, who like the international attention, to make the coaches go.

As for the doubleheaders, teams make up their exhibition schedule before the American Bowl games are set. So the NFL had to rely on San Francisco, Denver, Dallas and Buffalo after they had already scheduled each other.

AMERICA'S TEAM? The version of the NFL Fact Book that will be on sale in stores went to the printer with the team called the Raiders dubbed as "Los Angeles Raiders." Once the league gave them approval to move to Oakland, the NFL changed its official designation to "Oakland Raiders" and the regular Fact Book will call them that.

Al Davis and the city of Oakland are still working out the final terms of their agreement and Davis insists the move isn't set in stone yet.

But, Davis was at the Cowboys' camp in Austin this week handing out T-shirts reading "Oakland Raiders."