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Frank Reich was settling nicely into retirement.

After spending much of his NFL career as a backup quarterback, Reich was enjoying his first summer away from training camp in 13 seasons. His golf handicap was getting lower, and his wife, Linda, and their three daughters were getting used to having him home in Charlotte, N.C.

All that ended Monday when he returned for a second season as Lions backup quarterback at the request of coach Bobby Ross -- who coached Reich in his college days at Maryland.

"When I left at the end of May, beginning of June, it was a tough decision," said Reich, 36. "It wasn't because I thought my skills had diminished. It wasn't because I didn't love the game anymore. It wasn't because I was tired of it.

"I made the decision based on some things at home and thought that was the best decision."

Reich's return, coupled with the release of Jim Miller and Chris Dittoe, ends speculation as to who will be Scott Mitchell's backup when the season opens Sept. 6 in Green Bay.

At least on paper, rookie Charlie Batch is the No. 2 quarterback. But that's subject to change as Reich gets back into playing shape.

"In our last game in Tampa Bay, Frank got us back into that ball game and played very well," said Ross, referring to the 20-10 playoff loss. "I'm thankful to have a guy back like him, who has his playing experience. "

Reich played five games last season, including the playoff loss after Mitchell's third-quarter concussion. Reich (11-for-15, 129 yards) engineered the Lions' only touchdown drive in that game.

The plan for Thursday's final exhibition game at Indianapolis might include extended snaps for Mitchell, with Batch and Reich sharing time in the second half.

To stay in shape, Reich worked out with high school quarterbacks in North Carolina.

"I was going through the teaching process with them, which kind of keeps you sharp," Reich said. "Conditioning-wise, there's no problem. I've stayed in shape and I'll continue to work hard at that."

Reich played in Buffalo, Carolina and with the New York Jets before Detroit.

Ross said he called Reich four weeks ago to see how he was doing, but serious talk of a comeback didn't surface until last week.

"When he called me I wasn't expecting the call," Reich said. "But after talking to him and thinking through it, and talking to my wife, we felt it was the right decision to come back."

"Coach Ross just wanted me to know the opportunity was here to come back. He indicated that he felt it would help the team out."

Packers, Levens closer

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Dorsey Leven's agent said the Green Bay Packers have upped their offer to an average of $5 million over five years, and he's optimistic the halfback's holdout could end soon.

Asked if the offer had opened the door to end the contentious stalemate, Hadley Engelhard said: "I hope so. We're definitely closer. I'm always confident."

Packers chief negotiator Mike Reinfeldt acknowledged Monday that the two sides had talked extensively last week, but declined to comment on whether the Packers had increased their offer or to characterize the progress of negotiations.

On the field, the Packers dropped a 34-31 decision Monday night to the Denver Broncos in an exhibition rematch of last January's Super Bowl teams. Jason Elam kicked a 49-yard field goal with 3:10 remaining to give the Broncos the victory.

Green Bay's Brett Favre and Denver's John Elway dueled to a near standoff, each throwing a touchdown pass in the first half.

Meanwhile, Denver coach Mike Shanahan has agreed to a seven-year contract extension that will make him the highest-paid coach in NFL history.

Shanahan, who turned 46 Monday, will earn a base salary of more than $2.4 million per season.

Mirer might be next Bears cut

CHICAGO -- The release Monday of Darnell Autry, Van Hiles and Richard Hogans leaves the Bears' 1997 draft class as one of the worst in recent franchise history. And it may get worse.

Five of the 10 draft choices in 1997 did not make the roster last year. The remaining two picks, John Allred and Marcus Robinson, are not starters. And Rick Mirer, for whom the No. 1 pick was traded, could be a former Bear if he and the team cannot agree on a new contract within the next couple of days.

If Mirer leaves, the Bears are expected to consider quarterback Todd Collins, the Buffalo Bills' second-round pick in the 1995 draft who was released Monday.

The Bears, insistent that Mirer take a cut from his $2.3 million base salary for 1998, have given him two proposals. One would assure a decision by March whether Mirer would return in 1999, and the other would have a reduced base plus incentives, something his current contract does not include.

If neither deal is accepted or a suitable counteroffer is not received from the Mirer camp, he will be cut by Sunday, the day rosters must be reduced to their final 53 players. That would leave the Bears with Steve Stenstrom and rookie Moses Moreno behind starter Erik Kramer.

Chrebet agrees to 4-year deal

HEMPSTEAD -- Wayne Chrebet, an undrafted free agent receiver three years ago from Hofstra, agreed to a four-year, $11.5 million contract with New York.

Chrebet caught 58 passes for 799 yards last season, primarily as a third-down receiver. He moves into the starting lineup this year after Jeff Graham was traded to Philadelphia.

"I am happy I am going to be around here for the foreseeable future," Chrebet said. "This is where I intended to stay, where my family and friends are."

Chiefs talking to Phillips

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Coach Marty Schottenheimer said he has met personally with Lawrence Phillips, but declined to say how close Kansas City might be to signing the troubled running back.

"I've spoken with Lawrence," Schottenheimer said. "We'll make some decision in that regard pretty shortly."

A decision on Phillips, who has a history of off-field problems and has been released by St. Louis and Miami in less than a year, might come after the Chiefs see what running backs are available following this week's roster cuts.

Around the league

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers decisively put an end to Oakland's preseason roll, ripping the Raiders, 41-7. Mike Alstott scored on an 8-yard run and quarterback Trent Dilfer hit Andrew Jordan with a fourth-down 1-yard pass to give the Bucs a 20-0 lead by halftime, dropping Oakland to 2-1.

Cornerback Rod Woodson returned a fumble 25 yards for a touchdown as the Baltimore Ravens remained unbeaten in the preseason with a 23-6 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. Baltimore (3-0) never trailed, allowing only 38 rushing yards in its third straight stellar defensive effort.

Shaun Williams, the Giants' first-round draft pick, has been converted from safety to cornerback in the wake of Jason Sehorn's season-ending knee surgery.

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