At least two veteran players who started for the Buffalo Bills in 1989 won't be with them next season.
Defensive end Art Still, 34, and offensive guard Joe Devlin, 35, have been told by head coach Marv Levy they are not part of the team's plans for 1990.
Both players also were informed they would be placed on the Bills' list of 21 unprotected free agents Thursday, when the National Football League's two-month Plan B free-agency system takes effect.
Nose tackle Fred Smerlas, 32, is another veteran who is expected to be on the list, but his future with the team has yet to be determined.
Between Thursday and April 1, an unprotected player, regardless of whether his contract has expired, may be signed by another NFL team without his original club receiving draft-pick compensation. If he goes unsigned through that period, his negotiating rights revert to the original team.
Still, a 12-year NFL veteran, had played out the final season of an agreement the Bills inherited when they acquired him in a 1988 trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. Last Friday, during a 15-minute meeting with Levy at the coach's Rich Stadium office, Still learned the Bills would not attempt to re-sign him.
Devlin, who has spent his 13-year career with the Bills, was told by Levy he would not be kept, despite having one season remaining on a three-year deal (which would pay him $380,000 in the '90 season) he signed in 1988. Devlin would not comment on his status.
Last year, Still and Smerlas were removed from the Bills' unprotected list at the last minute after the team's brass decided it couldn't afford to lose either.
Devlin was on the list for two months. He received an attractive offer from the Los Angeles Raiders, but turned it down because he didn't want to relocate. The Bills retained his rights, and, even after he was replaced at right tackle by Howard Ballard, Devlin won a starting job at right guard, which Tim Vogler vacated because of a knee injury.
Presumably, Levy wants to go with a younger player at the position. Derrell Marshall, a 300-pound rookie who spent last season on the Bills' developmental squad, is considered a strong candidate, along with third-year man Tony Brown, another development-squad member.
That he would not be re-signed hardly came as a surprise to Still. Two days after the Bills playoff loss to Cleveland, he said he didn't expect to play for the Bills next season because of the drastic reduction in his playing time in '89. In addition to removing all of his personal belongings from his dressing cubicle that day, Still walked out with his nameplate.
"He (Levy) told me they were going to be playing younger ballplayers," Still recalled of last Friday's meeting. "I told him I understood it was a business, that the bottom line is economics. There was a big difference in the type of salary I was making ($715,000) and the type of salary (backup defensive end) Leon Seals was making ($235,000).
"I understand this is a business, and there's not too much I could do, as an individual, to convince them to keep me. I never want to put myself in a position of begging or trying to justify myself. They evaluate things, and they're the ones in the position of saying who's going to stay and who goes."
On Jan. 8, Still publicly criticized Levy for the way the coach handled the reduction of his playing time. He said he was told at first the idea was to rest him so he'd be fresh late in the game. But, according to Still, it wasn't until he approached Levy at mid-season that he discovered the head coach was dissatisfied with his performance and was trying to phase him out.
Still's negative feelings about Levy, for whom he played in Kansas City and once felt a great deal of loyalty, haven't changed.
"Talking to him, it was pretty clear before the season started that he knew all along this ('89) would be my last season," the defensive end said. "It might have been predetermined before I came here two years ago. But when you're making a salary like that, and they're saying they're going to give you some rest, it doesn't make much sense.
"I like a person who is straight-up with me about things, a person who speaks the truth, no matter if I like it or not. I explained that to Marv when we were talking. He said he didn't want to tell me (before the '89 season), 'This is going to be your last year, so play your hardest.' "
As a two-year member of the Bills, Still said his departure won't have the impact on the team that Devlin's will.
"You're not going to find a better leader than Joe," Still said. "I practiced against him and played against him, and you're not going to find a better all-around offensive lineman than Joe Devlin. When I was in Kansas City, he was one of the players I dreaded playing against.
"He was a hustler. He never slacked off on any play."
Still tried to look on the bright side of his situation.
"I got paid this year, so what more could I ask?" he said. "And I made it through the season pretty healthy."
He did have a shoulder problem that has been treated through minor surgery, and insists his health and skills are good enough for him to play another year.
"Marv told me, 'Sooner or later, you're going to have to do something different (than playing football),' " Still said. "I'm happy for the advice, but I've known that since I started playing. There are other things I'd enjoy doing, and when that time comes, it comes.
"I enjoy playing the game and I know for sure I can still play. But I'll just wait and see what happens in the next two months. I'm not going to bank on anything. And if I couldn't play ball tomorrow, I'd enjoy life just as much as I did when playing football. Maybe more."
Whether or not he plays next season, Still plans to maintain a permanent residence in Western New York. Once he's finished with football, he and his wife and their five children will live on land he owns in Concord.
JOE DEVLIN FILE
Height: 6-5 Weight: 280
Position: Guard NFL Experience: 13
How Acquired: Second-round draft choice in 1976.
Bills record-holder for most active seasons (13) . . . became full-time starter at offensive tackle in 1977 . . . was a mainstay on the line during the Bills playoff teams in 1980 and '81 . . . missed the entire '83 season with a fractured ankle . . . was one of the top vote-getters on the Silver Anniversary (1984) All-Time Bills team . . . named offensive captain in 1987 and '88 . . . switched to offensive guard last season.
ART STILL FILE
Height: 6-7 Weight: 255
Position: Defensive end NFL Experience: 12
How Acquired: Joined Bills in a trade with Kansas City Chiefs in June of '88.
Was second player taken overall in the 1978 draft behind Earl Campbell, selected by then-Chiefs coach Marv Levy, now coach of the Bills . . . played 10 seasons in K.C. . . voted to Pro Bowl four times . . . holds the Chiefs' record for career sacks with 72 1/2 . . . led K.C. in sacks six seasons . . . named to Chiefs' 25-year All-Time team in 1987. . . . had six sacks in '88.