So, we got fooled. Certainly, the "Rooney Rule" is going t prevent the top four teams from going wild on top-rate free-agent players come March. That's the purpose.
But it isn't going to keep the Dallas Cowboys from landing a big catch -- Eagles defensive end Reggie White.
Backup quarterback Steve Beuerlein will afford them that opportunity because, like White, he is a plaintiff in one of the many lawsuits settled between the owners and players.
Beuerlein and White will be unrestricted free agents and two of the hottest commodities come March 1, the estimated starting point for free-agent movement under the new labor agreement.
Under the Rooney Rule -- named for its designer, Pittsburgh Steelers president Dan Rooney -- teams that reach the National Football Conference and American Football Conference championship games cannot sign a free agent unless they first lose a free agent. In addition, they can sign a player only under the provision that the contract is equal to or less than the amount secured by the departing free agent.
Beuerlein, the fifth-year quarterback from Notre Dame, is going to get an offer for $2.5 million to $3 million, if the early signs are correct. That's about the same amount White should get as a free agent.
The San Francisco 49ers might be able to sign White if they lost quarterback Steve Young or defensive lineman Pierce Holt. But that isn't likely to happen.
White also is interested in the Dolphins -- another final four team -- who might get an opportunity if wide receiver Mark Clayton excites somebody and leaves. Right now, he may be in for a big disappointment.
So, the Cowboys are in prime position to make a run at White. Which again points out the one-sidedness of the Cowboys-Los Angeles Raiders trade in August 1991. The Cowboys gave up a fourth-round choice for Beuerlein, who led the team to the playoffs in '91 after Troy Aikman went down with a knee injury in late November.
Now, Beuerlein's status as an unrestricted free agent gives the Cowboys a path to acquire a Reggie White. Pretty good deal.
A bunch of teams are looking. Is Beuerlein worth the attention? Sure looks like it. In his last nine regular-season starts, he has completed 125 of 255 passes for 1,852 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. In those starts, he led the Raiders and Cowboys to four come-from-behind victories.
In his last seven fourth-quarter performances, Beuerlein has been at his best, completing 20 of 34 passes for 335 yards, three TDs and no interceptions.
In 21 NFL starts, he is 13-8.
That's a better measuring stick than some rookie provides.
* NOT SO GOLDEN: When Kansas City hired Paul Hackett as offensive coordinator last week, it raised eyebrows around the league.
Hackett has lost the golden-boy image he once had as an assistant in San Francisco and Dallas. Hackett alienated former 49ers coach Bill Walsh, for whom he worked from 1983 to '85, and former cowboys Coach Tom Landry, for whom he worked from 1986 to '88. That should say enough. Hackett's loyalty often has come into question, along with his ability as a coordinator.
Most recently, Hackett was fired as the coach at the University of Pittsburgh. He didn't do any favors for the previous head coach, Mike Gottfried, a man of high integrity who had hired Hackett as offensive coordinator in 1989.
Consistent with what happened in San Francisco and Dallas, Hackett was a self-promoter at Pitt. And he ended up with the head-coaching job at the end of the '89 season after Gottfried was dismissed because of conflicts with the administration.
Questions later surfaced about Gottfried's program. But an NCAA investigation apparently will show Gottfried was clean all along. One investigator says there was "an ax to grind" against Gottfried at Pitt.
But don't feel sorry for Gottfried, who was high on 49ers coach George Seifert's list before Seifert hired Mike Shanahan as offensive coordinator last year. Gottfried figures to be high on the list again, provided Shanahan leaves to take the Denver job.
* On THE SIDELINES: Hammer, the rap-pop star, has gotten into the sports management business and has signed at least two college stars: Notre Dame running back Reggie Brooks and Texas A&M safety Patrick Bates. This is not necessarily a good sign for the business. . . Agent Leigh Steinberg's effective recruiting skills once again have landed him the probable No. 1 draft pick, Washington State quarterback Drew Bledsoe.