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NFL Clubs Cut To The Chase

As expected, Chicago Bears quarterback Rick Mirer is among the casualties as NFL teams reduce their rosters from 60 to 53 players Sunday.

Another quarterback who might be leacing his current team is Jeff Blake of the Cincinnati Bengals, who lost his starting job to Neil O'Donnell in preseason. The New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and St. Louis Rams are believed to be among the teams interested in Blake.

Veteran cornerback Larry Brown, who has struggled since he was the surprise MVP of Super Bowl XXX, was among the early cuts. Brown was released Sunday by the Minnesota Vikings with an injury settlement. He has been hampered by a nagging hamstring injury.

Unable to find a taker for Mirer and his $10 million contract, the Bears cut the 1993 second overall pick Sunday as they pared their roster to the league-required 53 players. The Bears also cut nine other players.

"Cuts are part of the business you really don't like," said Mark Hatley, Chicago's vice president of player personnel. "It's something that has to be done. We've gotten through it.

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"I hope everything goes good for Rick, wherever he ends up," Hatley added. "I hope he has a successful career. It just didn't work out here."

Several teams expressed interest in Mirer after the Bears announced Wednesday they couldn't agree on a pay cut, but his contract was just too big to make any deal practical. Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, any team that signed Mirer would have had to pay him at least $1.425 million.

Now that he's been released, however, he can sign for a lesser amount.

"(The salary) made it pretty difficult to get much done," Hatley said. "You had to have quite bit of cap room to get the deal done."

By cutting Mirer, the Bears save $2.3 million against the cap this season.

The Bears hoped they were getting a franchise quarterback in Mirer when they gave the Seattle Seahawks a first-round draft pick for him, but the trade turned out to be among the worst in team history. Besides giving up the draft pick, the Bears gave Mirer a $2.6 million signing bonus.

He was a failure from the start, losing his starting job to Erik Kramer in training camp. At one point, he sank to No. 3 on Chicago's depth chart and didn't play for a month -- a $10 million clipboard holder.

Mirer's presence also disrupted Chicago's continuity last year as the Bears went 4-12. Kramer, who injured his neck in 1996, had the support of the offense, but coach Dave Wannstedt alternated between him and Mirer as Chicago started the season 0-7.

Kramer finally got the starting job for good and signed a three-year, $9 million contract in the offseason. Chicago told Mirer he'd have to take a pay cut to play this season, but the Bears wouldn't give him the long-term security he wanted.

Chicago also released defensive tackle Carl Simpson, who had the second-most tackles on the defensive line last season. The Bears drafted Simpson out of Florida State in the second round in 1993, and he started 32 consecutive games over the past two seasons.

But Simpson has been inconsistent, getting just eight tackles in the preseason, and the addition of Shawn Lee made him expendable.

"We just decided to go another direction," Hatley said. "He played as hard as he could play, but we felt the eight we kept were better."

Also released were fullback Tremayne Allen; tight end Hayward Clay; linebacker Chris Draft; defensive end Martin Harrison; cornerback Clyde Johnson; wide receiver Eric Smith; safety Greg Williams; and guard Mike Zandofsky.

Chicago also signed Jim Schwantz, a linebacker and special teams player. Schwantz, a former Bear who made the Pro Bowl in 1996 when he played for Dallas, was waived by San Francisco last week.

Bake, the Bengals starting quarterback the last four years, appears to be on his way out of Cincinnati. He was not used in Friday's preseason finale at Atlanta, giving a strong indication that the Bengals will use Paul Justin as the backup to O'Donnell.

The 27-year-old Blake started 52 consecutive games for the Bengals before he was demoted last year due to ineffective play and replaced by veteran Boomer Esiason. But when Esiason retired after the season to join ABC's Monday Night Football crew, Blake regained the starting job.

However, after the New York Jets released Neil O'Donnell in training camp, the Bengals handed the veteran quarterback a four-year contract worth $17.25 million. O'Donnell then outplayed Blake in the preseason and was named by coach Bruce Coslet as the team's starter.

In 1995, Blake passed for a career-high 3,822 yards and led the AFC with 28 touchdown passes. The following year, he threw for 3,624 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Brown was signed by the Vikings on June 16th, less than two weeks after being released by the Oakland Raiders. He earned Super Bowl XXX MVP honors for the Dallas Cowboys when he intercepted two passes in the Cowboys' 27-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in January of 1996 and then cashed in a month later as a free agent when he received a stunning five-year, $12.5 million deal from Raiders owner Al Davis.

But Brown struggled in Oakland's man-to-man defensive scheme and was relegated to third-string status. Last year, he was suspended for a month by then coach Joe Bugel for slacking off in practice.

The New York Giants today placed fourth-year reserve guard Rob Zatechka on injured reserve, ending his season, and announced the retirement of veteran cornerback Robert Massey. Zatechka underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery on Friday. Massey, who will be retained as a defensive assistant coach, joined the Giants in August of 1997 after being released by Jacksonville and was used as a backup and on special teams.

After reducing their rosters to 53 Sunday, teams can establish five-player practice squads on Monday. The regular season begins September 6th.

© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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