STRAPPED
Cap woes may end Terrell Owens's days as a 49er

Since the salary cap was instituted in 1993, no team has done a
better job of crunching the numbers than the 49ers. "We never
cared too much about tomorrow," says former San Francisco
director of football operations Dwight Clark. "We always figured
that would take care of itself."

The man behind the manipulation, club president Carmen Policy,
left his Niners post last July to run the expansion Browns and
took Clark with him. If Policy were still in San Francisco, even
he might have trouble beating the system this year. The 49ers are
$23 million over the projected 1999 cap of $58 million.

The Niners' front office is in disarray--owner Eddie DeBartolo
is awaiting reinstatement by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue,
interim president Larry Thrailkill abruptly resigned last
Saturday and former Niners coach Bill Walsh is expected to
return to the team in an executive role--and the club must find
a way to re-sign several key players, notably restricted
free-agent wideout Terrell Owens. San Francisco would have the
opportunity to match any offer to Owens, but expect a
receiver-needy team (the Dolphins come to mind) to offer him a
front-loaded contract that will be difficult for the Niners to
match.

After a 20-18 NFC divisional playoff loss to the Falcons last
Saturday, Owens said he hoped he hadn't played his last game as a
Niner. "I would love to stay," he said, "but it's up to those
guys in the front office."

Now if he can just figure out who's in charge.

Seahawks Step Up
HOLMGREN GETS THE MOON

Bob LaMonte, the agent for Mike Holmgren, didn't have many cards
to play as he talked with the Seahawks about their general
manager-coach position. While there were several coaching jobs
open, few came with the front-office clout that was required to
get his client out of his Packers contract. LaMonte, however,
held one valuable trump card: the private jet that Ravens owner
Art Modell had sitting on the tarmac at Seattle-Tacoma
International Airport last Friday morning, ready to whisk
Holmgren to Baltimore.

Seattle was the most talented team without a coach, and once the
club's eight-year offer with total football control got north of
$4 million a year, Holmgren's mind was made up. "If you ask for
the world, and they give you the sun and the moon and the stars
as well, why get on a plane?" says LaMonte.

Minnesota Tackle Re-ups
DID STRINGER GET A RAW DEAL?

Vikings tackle Korey Stringer raised a lot of eyebrows around
the league last month when he signed a five-year, $18 million
extension, passing up the opportunity to shop his services
during the off-season for a free-agent deal that might have paid
him more than $5 million annually.

The NFL Players Association recently asked Stringer's agent, Jim
Gould, to explain his role in the payment of concert tickets and
a hotel bill that led to the suspension in September of Michigan
defensive back Marcus Ray. If decertified Gould would be
suspended for negotiating contracts for at least a year. Some
speculated that Gould pushed to get Stringer's contract done so
he could pocket his commission.

Gould denies that he pushed Stringer to close the deal quickly.
"I told Korey if he felt more comfortable with someone else doing
the contract, do it," Gould said last week. "Korey didn't want to
leave Minnesota. He said if I could get him $3.5 million a year,
he'd be happy. You know, winning and a guy being happy is worth
something."

Said Stringer, "My mother always told me, 'If you find a good
thing, take advantage of it.' And this is a good thing. It wasn't
important enough for me to leave for a couple extra dollars. I'm
comfortable with this contract. I'm happy with the job my agent
did. This is exactly what I wanted."

Dispatches
CHARGERS MAKE A STRANGE HIRE

Here are four reasons why the Chargers hired Mike Riley, who was
8-14 in two years at Oregon State, to be their new coach: He
acceded to the organization's wish to keep most of the
assistants on staff; he has the acumen to nurture quarterback
Ryan Leaf; he came cheap (five years, $3.75 million); and he
came highly recommended by general manager Bobby Beathard's son
Jeff, who played for Riley in the CFL....

For the first time this decade, no player reached the 100-catch
mark. (Dolphins wideout O.J. McDuffie led the league with 90
receptions.) Why? Offenses went to more three- and four-wideout
sets, and quarterbacks spread the ball around....

Bengals president Mike Brown watched with bemusement as five of
his fellow owners fired their coaches the day after the regular
season ended. "With every one of those teams," Brown says,
"coaching wasn't the problem. Quarterbacking was. Every one of
those fired coaches struggled with two or three quarterbacks
during the season. If I have a car with no driver, I don't get
rid of the car." Therefore Bengals coach Bruce Coslet, whose
record is 17-24 in two-plus years in Cincinnati but only 3-13 in
'98, will return next season.

The End Zone
THEY'RE BAD TIPPERS, TOO

Dolphins sixth-year wideout Lamar Thomas lives in a North Miami
Beach high-rise occupied mostly by older people. "Lots of times,
while I'm waiting for the valet to get my car, people will pull
up and toss me their keys," he says.

Send your pro football questions for Peter King's Mailbag and
read more from Paul Zimmerman at www.cnnsi.com.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER In his breakout season, Owens caught 67 passes plus the playoff game-winner against Green Bay.[Terrell Owens making catch while defended by Tyrone Williams]

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