Falcons keep Ray Buchanan from flying out

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - Atlanta cornerback Ray Buchanan signed a $36 million, six-year contract yesterday, one day before he would have been designated a franchise player.

"They came to me with a contract they thought was fair," the former Pro Bowl player said. "There were a couple of wrinkles we had to iron out, but other than that we weren't too far off."

Buchanan's contract, hammered out between his agent, Eugene Parker, and Falcon General Manager Harold Richardson, includes an $8 million signing bonus that matches the franchise record figure that offensive tackle Bob Whitfield agreed to Dec. 26.

Both sides were working against today's NFL deadline that allows teams to designate a franchise player. The tag would have given the Falcons a right of first refusal and compensation if Buchanan signed with another team.

The Falcons also announced the signing of former New York Giants cornerback Conrad Hamilton.

Teams cut down to cap size

Super Bowl hero Mike Jones was one of the first casualties as NFL teams began preparing for the free-agent period with a series of moves.

Among others to go were tackles D'Marco Farr and Ray Agnew, teammates of Jones on the St. Louis defense that turned porous one year after winning the Super Bowl. Linebacker Bryan Cox was one of five New York Jets let go by the team's new administration.

The agent for Ted Washington, Buffalo's 350-pound nose tackle, said the team planned to release him because he refused to take a pay cut for the second straight season.

Washington, which had the league's highest payroll at $92.4 million, will cut guards Tré Johnson and Keith Sims, receiver Irving Fryar and tackle Derek G. Smith. Johnson, Sims and Smith all failed physicals this week and will receive injury settlements.

All the moves came in preparation for today, when teams must designate franchise and transition players for the free-agent signing period, which begins March 2.

Along with Cox, the Jets released linebackers Dwayne Gordon and Roman Phifer. Also cut was defensive tackle Ernie Logan and running back Bernie Parmalee.