Defensive linemen were at a premium yesterday when the National Football League teams submitted their 37-man Plan B protected lists to the league office.
The Washington Redskins, for example, protected all eight defensive linemen on their roster, including veteran Darryl Grant.
The Phoenix Cardinals protected Dexter Manley, even though they're not sure he can become a full-time player after sitting out a year because of a drug suspension. Coach Joe Bugel said Manley would be given every chance to become a starter next season.
Washington general manager Charley Casserly said teams are reluctant to leave defensive linemen unprotected because there's a shortage of them in the league.
"They're the highest priority on Plan B," he said. "They go at rates above what their ability is."
Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Ottis Anderson of the New York Giants and Scott Norwood, who missed a last-second field-goal attempt that would've won the game for the Buffalo Bills, were among the 518 players who became Plan B free agents when they were not protected by their teams.
Former All-Pros Roger Craig and Ronnie Lott of the San Francisco 49ers also were on the list. Matt Bahr, who made the go-ahead kick in the Super Bowl, and tight end Mark Bavaro joined Anderson among those set loose by the Giants.
Anderson, 33, was exposed for the third straight year. He was left unprotected less than a week after rushing for 102 yards against Buffalo. The Giants also let loose kicker Raul Allegre, who began the season as their regular kicker before being injured, clearing the way for Bahr.
Buffalo left unprotected three players who started in the Super Bowl -- 34-year-old wide receiver James Lofton, strong safety Leonard Smith and inside linebacker Ray Bentley.
But the Bills offered Norwood and Lofton new three-year deals that will kick in if they don't sign with new teams. The New England Patriots left 37-year-old quarterback Steve Grogan unprotected, and the New Orleans Saints exposed John Fourcade, their starting quarterback at the start of the season. The Miami Dolphins set loose linebacker E.J. Junior.
In putting together their list, the Redskins left unprotected only one starter, defensive back Todd Bowles, but they hope he'll stay.
"We were forced to take some gambles," Casserly said.
Noting that Bowles was left unprotected two years ago, Casserly said, "We took that gamble two years ago and Todd came back."
Bowles is valuable in the complicated system run by assistant coach Richie Petitbon because he calls the defensive signals. The Redskins hope that he won't be as valuable to other teams.
Howard Shatsky, who represents him along with Tony Agnone, said Bowles likes Washington, but will entertain other offers.
Casserly said several of the other players the Redskins want back, including offensive linemen Ray Brown, Mark Adickes and Russ Grimm, linebacker Monte Coleman and long-snapper John Brandes, told them they have no intention of leaving.
Besides Bowles, one player the Redskins could lose is wide receiver Walter Stanley. They signed him last year as a Plan B free agent, but felt they could protect only three wide receivers -- Art Monk, Ricky Sanders and Gary Clark.
As expected, the Redskins did not protect veteran offensive lineman Mark May. Casserly said that coach Joe Gibbs told May the Redskins think he should retire because of a knee injury that forced him to sit out all last year.
May's agent, Ralph Cindrich, said May thinks he can still play and he's likely to entertain offers.
Another player who no longer seems to fit in the Redskins' plans is running back Kelvin Bryant. They advised him to take an offer if he gets one. If he doesn't, they'd talk again about his future.
Of the 37 players the Redskins protected, the contracts of four -- quarterback Mark Rypien, offensive lineman Joe Jacoby, cornerback Martin Mayhew and defensive lineman Eric Williams -- have expired.
That means they can shop for offers, but the Redskins can match any offer to keep them. If they don't match it, the team making it has to give Washington draft-choice compensation. In effect, that means those players are unlikely to get any offers.
Their 23 unprotected players are free to sign with any team by April 1 without the Redskins having a chance to match the offer. If they don't sign, they'd revert to the Redskins.
Washington signed 12 players last year from other teams. Casserly said he doesn't expect to sign that many this year, although they could have some "reactive" signings if they lose players at a certain position.
He said he doesn't anticipate signing offensive linemen, wide receivers or quarterbacks unless he loses players at those positions. One quarterback, Jeff Rutledge, was left unprotected, but he's unlikely to get an offer. The Redskins also are set in the defensive line.
That means they'll be looking at defensive backs, linebackers, running backs and tight ends. They'll also check out punters since they left theirs, Kelly Goodburn, unprotected.
Plan B-ig names
Some of the NFL players left unprotected for Plan B free agency:
Redskins: RB Kelvin Bryant, OL Russ Grimm, OL Mark May, LB Monte Coleman, DB Todd Bowles.
Bills: PK Scott Norwood, WR James Lofton, LB Ray Bentley.
Giants: RB Ottis Anderson, TE Mark Bavaro, PK Matt Bahr.
49ers: DB Ronnie Lott, RB Roger Craig, LB Matt Millen.
Protected (37) Quarterbacks: Mark Rypien, Stan Humphries and Cary Conklin.
Running backs: Earnest Byner, Gerald Riggs and Brian Mitchell.
Wide receivers: Art Monk, Ricky Sanders and Gary Clark.
Tight ends: Don Warren, Ron Middleton and Jimmie Johnson.
Offensive linemen: Jeff Bostic, Jim Lachey, Raleigh McKenzie, Mark Schlereth, Joe Jacoby, Ed Simmons and Mo Elewonibi.
Defensive linemen: Charles Mann, Darryl Grant, Eric Williams, Markus Koch, Tracy Rocker, Tim Johnson, Fred Stokes and James Geathers.
Linebackers: Wilber Marshall, Andre Collins, Kurt Gouveia and Ravin Caldwell.
Defensive backs: Darrell Green, Martin Mayhew, A.J. Johnson, Alvin Walton and Brad Edwards.
Place-kicker: Chip Lohmiller.
(Of the 37 protected players, four (Rypien, Jacoby, Williams and Mayhew) have contracts that have expired. They can seek new offers, but the Redskins would have the right to match any offer they get.)
Unprotected (23) Quarterback: Jeff Rutledge
Running backs: Reggie Dupard, Kelvin Bryant, Reggie Branch and Tom Brown.
Wide receivers: Walter Stanley, Stephen Hobbs and Joe Howard.
Tight ends: John Brandes and Ken Whisenhunt.
Offensive linemen: Russ Grimm, Mark May, Ray Brown and Mark Adickes.
Linebackers: Monte Coleman, Greg Manusky and Jon Leverenz.
Defensive backs: Todd Bowles, Clarence Vaughn, Sidney Johnson, Alvoid Mays and D'Juan Francisco.
Punter: Kelly Goodburn.