On the hot seat

Running back Dorsey Levens and center Frank Winters probably will be released by the Green Bay Packers sometime this week as the team prepares to meet the March 1 NFL salary cap deadline. Besides those two veterans, the Packers also will be asking a handful of others to restructure their current contracts or look for work elsewhere.<p>

The Packers will have nearly a dozen veterans become unrestricted free agents on Friday, including fullback William Henderson, offensive lineman Mike Wahle and Earl Dotson, nose tackle Gilbert Brown, defensive tackle Jim Flanigan, return specialist Allen Rossum, and wide receivers Bill Schroeder and Corey Bradford.

Veterans whom the Packers will probably ask to restructure current contracts include wide receiver Antonio Freeman, safety LeRoy Butler, Winters, defensive end John Thierry and defensive tackle Santana Dotson.

Green Bay's salary cap limit for 2002 is $71.1 million. The Packers have to be at or below that figure beginning this Friday. Packers negotiator Andrew Brandt said recently that the Packers were above that mark because of incentives that were paid out to Flanigan and Dotson after the last season.

Levens likely will be released this week because he is scheduled to receive a $500,000 roster bonus due on Friday. If the Packers release Levens before Friday, they will create $2.5 million in cap room. He took a pay cut from $6 million to $1.4 million last year and played behind Ahman Green. He also stepped in as the team's kickoff returner in place of the injured Rossum late in the season.

If Levens is released, he probably will try to sign a bigger deal with another team in free agency, according to various reports.

Winters probably will be released as well, but Winters' agent, Tony Agnone, has indicated that his client wants to play one more season in Green Bay. If so, Winters, who is scheduled to receive a $1.5 million base salary this season, will probably have to play for near the veterans' minimum of $500,000.

Santana Dotson will count $3.3 million against this year's salary cap, and Thierry is scheduled to be paid $3.5 million. Butler says he wants to finish his career in Green Bay, the only place he has played since getting drafted in 1990, and will restructure his deal to help the team. He is scheduled to receive a $2.25 million base salary this season. Last year, Butler took a $1 million pay cut.

If Freeman does not accept a reduction in salary, he probably will be released on or after June 1. If the Packers released Freeman before June 1, they would not create any room under the cap. By releasing him after June 1, they would trim $4.3 million in cap room, plus $4.284 million (three years of prorated signing bonuses) would be pushed to 2003 instead of counting in 2002.

Earl Dotson, entering his 10th season, reportedly is third on the pecking order of offensive linemen on Green Bay's wish list to re-sign. The Packers probably will make every effort to retain Wahle, who started every game at left guard last year. The team also likes backup Barry Stokes, an unrestricted free agent, who started three straight games for the injured Chad Clifton last November.

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