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WITH TV NETWORKS PAYING MORE, PLAYERS GET MORE, TOO

NFL players should be very happy about this week's announcement of the extension of the television contract between the league and its two Sunday afternoon network partners.

The six-year, $8 billion contract with Fox and CBS is a 25 percent increase over the average per year paid out by the two networks from 1998 through 2005. Fox and CBS will combine to pay $1.35 billion a year under the new extension, which runs from 2006 to 2011. They're combining to pay $1.1 billion a year under the old deal.

It's still too early to pinpoint the overall percentage increase of TV revenue under the new package. The current eight-year deal is worth $17.6 billion. The Monday Night Football and Sunday night packages have yet to be settled, and it might take awhile. The Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC and ESPN, has the right to negotiate exclusively until October.

Nevertheless, the prospects look good for a big annual increase for each team over the course of the new deal.

Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports who is a sports TV consultant, was quoted this week as saying: "Most pundits were expecting an increase of around 10 percent. For the NFL to get a 25 percent increase shows just how strong the league is."

That means the salary cap is going to shoot up starting in 2006, a fact not lost on Buffalo Bills cornerback and NFL Players Association President Troy Vincent.

"It's not a gradual progression," Vincent said of the pool of money designated for players. "The arrow is pointing straight up."

The league still needs to reach an extension of the collective bargaining agreement with the players. It won't be a slam dunk. But increased TV revenue will make it somewhat easier. The TV networks would not be opening the vaults if they had any fear of a lockout.

Brunell busting

The Redskins wrote an $8.6 million bonus check for quarterback Mark Brunell as part of a $43 million contract. So far he has struggled even worse than he did at the end of his Jacksonville tenure. Brunell is hitting just 51.1 percent of his passes -- worst among NFL starters.

In three of the last four games, Brunell has thrown for fewer than 100 yards. Yet Washington won two of them, thanks to defense and the running of Clinton Portis.

Nevertheless, coach Joe Gibbs has steadfastly dismissed the notion of turning to Patrick Ramsey.

Colts see red

If the Colts drive inside the 20, it usually means a touchdown. Coordinator Tom Moore and quarterback Peyton Manning made red-zone offense a point of offseason emphasis. The Colts lead the league with 23 touchdowns in 30 red-zone trips.

"I would say it's almost exceeded our expectations a little bit," Manning said. "The fact that we can run the ball, even though we haven't had many touchdown runs, we can move the ball down closer and closer and the threat of the run has given us some good coverages to throw the ball. We've had a lot of passes reach the end zone."

Gold standard

Pats coach Bill Belichick was asked this week about the top tackle-breaking running back he ever has seen. His answer was Jim Brown.

"When we showed those films in Cleveland, he would run those tosses to one side and run through half the team, then cut it back and run through them twice -- and then he would usually outrun the couple of safeties that were down there. I think on one play, we had him with 13 (broken) tackles, so two or three guys had a shot at him twice and everybody else missed him along the way, too."

Fish stories

Miami remains the picture of dysfunction. The day after coach Dave Wannstedt stepped down, General Manager Rick Spielman said he was assured by owner Wayne Huizenga he would return next year. But the next day Dolphins President Eddie Jones refuted Spielman's statement and said there was no guarantee the GM would be back. Jones already has announced he's retiring in March. The Dolphins already went through an exhaustive and disjointed GM search last winter before sticking with Spielman. It's hard to imagine them reinterviewing some of the same candidates this offseason. The likeliest scenario is Huizenga will try to hire a big-name coach, give him most of the power, and remove Spielman.

Quotable

Miami defensive end Jason Taylor told it like it is in defending Wannstedt the day he stepped down as Dolphins coach. Said Taylor: "Let's get this straight: Dave didn't quit. Ricky Williams quit. Dave stepped aside. There's a big difference. Anybody who watched Dave on Sunday saw how much it hurt him. That's not a man who quit. That's a beaten man, a man who has been through a lot the last two or three years."

Terrell Owens' quote of the week: "The media is so strong in so many ways, but God is stronger." Amen.

Onside kicks

The Chargers have back-to-back 40-point outings. It's the first time in Marty Schottenheimer's coaching career a team of his has gone for 40 two straight games.

In the last four weeks, there have been 33 100-yard rushers. Their teams are 32-1.

Washington has yet to score 20 points in any of its eight games. According to STATS Inc., the 1992 Seattle Seahawks are the only team over the last 25 years to go the entire season without scoring at least 20 points in a game.

Antoine Winfield leads the Vikings in total tackles and solo tackles.

Based on first-half records, New England and San Francisco have the easiest second-half schedules in the league. Their foes stand 25-40. The Bills' foes stand 31-34. Over the final seven games, San Diego (6-3) meets only two opponents with winning records -- Denver and Indianapolis.

Short weeks have been death this year. The winners of the first eight Monday night games stand 1-7 the following Sunday. The Colts, who beat the Vikings on Monday, meet Houston today.

Said K.C. free safety Jerome Woods after last week's skewering at the hands of Tampa: "A couple of times out there, I can honestly say we were lost."

Why the need for a flexible Monday night television schedule the second half of the season? The first three games in December are Dallas (3-5) at Seattle (5-3), Kansas City (3-5) at Tennessee (3-5) and New England (7-1) at Miami (1-7), all of which could be dogs.
e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com