The NFL's two expansion teams will have trouble finding any nuggets today when they sift through the sand of the league's first stocking draft in 19 years.
Carolina and Jacksonville can choose up to 84 -- a maximum of 42 each -- of the 168 players the 28 existing teams have left exposed, but they're not likely to select many more than 30 they're required to take.
"We have to be very much aware of the financial aspect of our picks," said Tom Coughlin, the Jacksonville coach.
That means they're responsible for any prorated share of signing bonuses left in the contracts of the players they select, even if they eventually cut them.
It's the first expansion draft since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks took the field in 1976. In that draft, each existing team could protect 30 of the 43 players on the active roster. Tampa Bay and Seattle selected three from each team, although each team was allowed to pull back a player after it lost one. In its first season, Tampa Bay went 0-14 and Seattle 2-12, with one of its wins over Tampa Bay.
Free agency has changed the format. Each team has exposed six players under contract, and their salaries are critical.
Each expansion team must select players worth at least $14 million toward its $36.5 million salary cap.
Every dollar more than $14 million is a dollar the teams can't spend in the free-agent market, which starts Friday.
To prevent the existing teams from loading their list with rejects, each team could put only one player with 10 years of experience and one from the injured reserve list. They couldn't put any kickers and punters on the list.
Dom Capers, the Carolina coach, said: "We'd like to find players we feel can come in and contribute not only next year but at least three years down the road."
Finding them on this list won't be easy. Even the San Francisco 49ers, the best team in football, won't be hurt by this draft. They exposed Harry Boatswain, Dana Hall, Marc Logan, Ted Popson, Mark Thomas and Adam Walker.
The 49ers, at least, don't have a lot of high-priced underachievers. It's a different story for the struggling teams such as 3-13 Washington Redskins. They put three players with million-dollar salaries -- Desmond Howard, Leonard Marshall and Ethan Horton -- on the list.
Of the three, only Howard has a chance of being selected.
Coughlin said, "I think everyone is aware of the strong finish he had. . . . He has a high salary [$1.7 million]. That's the decision."
In the various mock drafts the Cougars have conducted, Coughlin said Howard has been taken "many times."
The Redskins hope he is taken. That would relieve them of the $712,500 of his prorated signing bonus that will count against their cap in 1995. If he's not taken, the Redskins will be charged for that, even if they cut him.
Neither expansion coach says more than half the players selected will make the team. Coughlin predicts 10 to 14 will suit up on opening day. Capers says it'll be between 12 to 15. The one coach who may have done the expansion teams a favor is Buddy Ryan of the Arizona Cardinals, who exposed quarterback Steve Beuerlein.
With a reasonable (for a quarterback) $2.09 million salary, Beuerlein could fill in while a team grooms a younger quarterback, and Jacksonville could make him the first pick. Carolina reportedly is leaning to New England cornerback Rod Smith with its top pick.
High-priced veterans likely to be avoided are two players left exposed by the Cleveland Browns -- quarterback Mark Rypien ($5.11 million) and the list's only Pro Bowl player, Michael Dean Perry ($3.19).
HOW THE DRAFT WORKS
* All NFL teams submitted a list of six players eligible for today's draft by the two expansion teams -- the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars.
* The most any team can lose is three players.
* Each expansion team must select 30 players and may select up to 42 players.
* Each team has the right to pull one player back each time a player from its club is selected.
Note: Draft will be televised by ESPN at noon and ESPN2 at 2 p.m.