Since Super Bowl XXXII, there have been a bunch of sour Packers fans who figured that their team could whip the Broncos in a best-of-five series. Of course, no one will ever know. But this much is certain: The Packers would be well off just to win the NFC with the team they field now, one that has been robbed of three starters and a key backup by free agency.

In the past week, cornerback Doug Evans, defensive end Gabe Wilkins, punter Craig Hentrich and fullback Edgar Bennett have left the Packers for the riches of an open market fueled by the $17.6 billion television contract.Evans ($4.5 million), Wilkins ($4 million), Hentrich ($1.1 million) and Bennett ($1.58 million) - who missed 1997 with an injury after starting for the Packers' 1996 Super Bowl team - signed deals with huge annual averages. And although Packers general manager Ron Wolf is about $7 million under the $52.39 million salary cap, he refused to make a counteroffer to his departed stars.

Wolf refused an interview request from the Star-Telegram, but earlier in the week he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "I think there's a certain amount of fiscal responsibility that you must exercise here."

Before free agency started, Wolf signed wide receiver Robert Brooks and linebacker Brian Williams to long-term deals. Had Wolf matched the offer that Evans received from Carolina, it would have made Evans the Packers' highest-paid defensive player. Wolf must decide whether he will re-sign safety Eugene Robinson, and how much he should pay offensive guard Aaron Taylor. They are the Packers' remaining unrestricted free agents.

Wolf, no doubt, wants to keep his salary structure in place. And so he waits while other clubs pick off his talent. The question is, will Wolf wait too long before restocking his roster?


The Raiders have been noticeably quiet in the free-agent market, probably because they only have $227,000 left to spend under the salary cap, the worst figure in the league. ... Michigan's Brian Griese is moving up on many teams' draft boards and most NFL insiders figure he'll be the third quarterback selected in the April draft, behind Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning. Griese isn't expected to be drafted until the third round. Other quarterbacks to watch are Florida State's Thad Busby and Nevada-Reno's John Dutton. Ohio State's Stanley Jackson has been working out as a wide receiver. The stock of Notre Dame's Ron Powlus is dropping fast after he showed poor form on certain pass routes at the league's scouting combine and was clocked in the 40-yard dash at 5.1 seconds. ... And finally, newly signed Ravens quarterback Jim Harbaugh, 34, was nice enough to return a call from the Star-Telegram and to declare that he intends to "play until I'm at least 40. I'm going to grow my hair out the back of my helmet like Ken Stabler." The Ravens can only hope Harbaugh plays like Stabler.