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With last week's scouting combine behind them, NFL general
managers and coaches focused this week on the free-agency
signing period, which was set to begin on Friday. In what is the
strongest class in the five-year history of unfettered free
agency, more than 300 players were set to test their value on
the open market.

For a perspective on the opportunities this flood of talent
offers franchises, we asked SPORTS ILLUSTRATED pro football
writers Peter King (above right) and Paul Zimmerman, two of the
finest Monday-morning quarterbacks around, to build 53-man
rosters, drawing from the free-agent pool, as well as from the
list of players expected to be available in April's college
draft, while working under the constraints of a projected $40.95
million salary cap.

King and Dr. Z followed ground rules similar to those used when
the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars entered the
league in 1995. The Kings and the Z's each were granted a draft
pick at the top and at the bottom of each of the seven rounds.
Picks were made based on insiders' projections of which players
would be available at the time the selections were made. Bidding
was conducted for those free agents whom both teams coveted. As
for the other free agents, their '97 salaries were set by two
NFL personnel men.

The rapid rise of Carolina and Jacksonville has created a sense
of urgency in the NFL, which has had 11 coaching changes since
last October. So although King and Zimmerman worked with
essentially expansion models, their project is of interest for
fans of all teams.

King and Dr. Z also agreed to locate their franchises in
NFL-starved markets Cleveland and Los Angeles, respectively.
Hey, whatever we can do to help.

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER [Paul Zimmerman (Dr. Z) and Peter King trading football cards]

THREE COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS: ILLUSTRATIONS BY WORKS NY [Computer-style drawings of football helmets]