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AS THE CAP-CONSCIOUS WHITTLE, BIG SALARIES BACKFIRE ON SOME

SHARE AS THE CAP-CONSCIOUS WHITTLE, BIG SALARIES BACKFIRE ON SOME

As NFL teams got down to their 53-man limits Sunday, it was clear that being well-paid sometimes doesn't pay in the salary-cap era.

Indianapolis, for example, released Craig Erickson, obtained last year to be the Colts' long-term quarterback. He was beaten out last season by Jim Harbaugh, who signed a four-year, $13 million deal this year, making Erickson's $2 million too much to carry."We felt we could not keep Craig on our roster at the salary that was in his contract. That's just the way this game is played now," said Bill Tobin, the Colts' director of football operations.

"We researched the salaries of every quarterback in the National Football League and found out it was considerably higher than other backups."

Only Cincinnati, traditionally one of the league's lowest-paying teams, deviated markedly. The Bengals kept Garrison Hearst and his $2.1 million salary after picking him up off waivers last week from Arizona. Hearst, slated to back up Ki-Jana Carter at running back, has refused to renegotiate his contract to take less.

Hearst said he expects to stay in Cincinnati and would be surprised if he gets cut again or traded. The Baltimore Ravens, among others, were set to try and sign him as a free agent - for a lot less money - when the Bengals claimed him.

The Bengals cut 32-year-old cornerback Rod Jones, in the fourth year of a contract averaging $756,000. Jones started 37 straight games until injured last season but was slated to be a backup.

The New York Jets cut Brad Baxter, their starting fullback the last five seasons. Baxter led the team in rushing in 1992, was seventh overall in team history and had 35 touchdowns. But he also would have cost the Jets about $650,000.

For most teams, Sunday's cuts were only a step along the way to establishing a final 53-man roster for the start of the season.

Some players will be brought back by their previous teams at reduced salaries. Others will be claimed off waivers, and many of the rookies could turn up on five-man practice squads.

Erickson is likely to be signed by someone needing a veteran backup but not at anywhere near what he was due to make.

The cuts also give teams salary cap room to renegotiate with current players whose contracts they want to extend. Or they can sign players cut by other teams. For example, Jerry Evans, a fourth-year tight end cut by Denver, said he had already been contacted by Philadelphia, and Ronnie Bradford, a fourth-year cornerback let go by Denver, had been contacted by Arizona.

Several fixtures were released, including Antonio Goss, San Francisco's special teams captain for five years but a player who rarely got on the field in regular play. He has been cut before and could be back. The 49ers also cut rookie linebacker Sam Manuel, the last player taken in the draft, but kept his twin brother Sean, a tight end taken late in the seventh round.

New England's Bill Parcells cut one of his favorites, Steve DeOssie, once a linebacker but now just a long snapper. He was made expendable when the Patriots obtained tight end Mike Bartrum from Green Bay.

The best-known cut might have been kicker Eddie Murray, who turns 40 on Thursday. Washington kept Scott Blanton, who has never kicked in a regular-season game.

"I'm not ready to quit yet," said Murray, who is only six short of the NFL record of 234 extra points - his last miss was Dec. 11, 1988. Not all teams announced cuts. Some will wait until after the 24-hour waiver period to make their cuts public.