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LEWIS BOUND FOR CHARGERS AFTER RELEASE BY TITANS

The Tennessee Titans may have done Darryll Lewis a favor on Sunday. They cut the veteran defensive back, making him one of the NFL's most sought-after players, at least for a few hours.

When Lewis' name hit the waiver wire, six teams, including the Buffalo Bills, immediately called his agent, Ken Zuckerman. But NFL sources told The News that Lewis has agreed to terms with San Diego.

San Francisco, Dallas, the New York Jets and Carolina also expressed interest in Lewis.

Lewis, who has 25 interceptions over the last five years, was cut because he lost his starting job and the $2 million he's due to make is too much to pay a nickel back.

"I can't be mad," Lewis said after the Titans cut him. "I'm not the first guy to go through this."

Sunday was cutdown day in the NFL, with most teams getting down to the 53-man limit by getting rid of rookies and free agents who basically served as practice players.

Denver made a notable technical cut -- John Elway, who officially retired in April but was kept on the roster as insurance if he changed his mind and in a move to save salary cap money. And San Diego made a notable non-cut by keeping Ryan Leaf on the roster instead of placing him on injured reserve.

Cleveland linebacker Chris Spielman, who announced his retirement last week, was placed on injured reserve. That means the former Buffalo Bill will be lost for the season, but can receive his full salary and medical benefits. His salary-cap number for 1999 is $1.8 million, including the $100,000 workout bonus he's already received.

"That is the best situation for the player," Browns coach Chris Palmer said. "He's able to get some medical things through the players association and the league. He was very thankful the way we did that."

Leaf, who may not be able to play until November after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder, could have been put on injured reserve, which would have required him to miss the entire season. Instead, the Chargers cut Craig Whelihan, who started last year when Leaf was benched, and will start the season with veterans Jim Harbaugh and Erik Kramer.

Another casualty was former Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam, let go by the Raiders, who kept former New York Giant Tyrone Wheatley instead. Wheatley had been cut earlier in the preseason by Miami.

"We gave him a long look but Wheatley has really caught our eye over the last two weeks, both in practice and games. Special teams play also was a major factor," coach Jon Gruden said.

Among the other veterans released Sunday were: punter Louie Aguiar of Kansas City, linebacker James Francis, oft-injured offensive tackle Kevin Sargent and center Rod Payne, a third-round draft pick in 1997, by Cincinnati; eight-year running back Bernie Parmalee by Miami; kick returner Eric Metcalf by Baltimore; and tight end Eric Moss, Randy's older brother, by Minnesota.

The Jets cut special teams player Corwin Brown, a favorite of coach Bill Parcells in New York and New England. The Dolphins, meanwhile, put wide receiver Lamar Thomas, a starter last season, on injured reserve. The New York Giants did the same with left guard Lance Scott, meaning Luke Petitgout, the team's first-round draft choice, will start.

Arizona did the unusual by keeping both its kickers, Joe Nedney and Chris Jacke. The Cardinals hope to trade one to a team looking for a veteran place-kicker.

Ex-Bill Ballard retires

SEATTLE -- The Seattle Seahawks have announced the retirement of Pro Bowl offensive tackle Howard Ballard.

Ballard, 35, a 12-year veteran, hasn't been able to practice or play since Seattle's exhibition opener Aug. 14 because of arthritis in his right knee. Ballard has played for the Seahawks for the past five seasons, after going to the Pro Bowl with Buffalo from 1991-1993. He started all 16 games last year.

The Seahawks also placed holdout wide receiver Joey Galloway on the reserve-did not report list. Galloway, who has held out all of training camp, can be activated when his holdout ends.

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