Sixteen years in the NFL, five knee operations and sacked by the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday after pulling down $150,000 for a 1977 season's work of one completed pass out of three --you look at Roman Gabriel and start to say . . . end of the line?

Then you look at resurrected Craig Merton down yonder in Super City and amend, who knows?

Eagle coach Dick Vermeil phoned Gabriel at his Rancho Mirage, Calif. home to say he's free to fend for himself when his contract expires Feb. 1. Gabriel, financially secure with land and hotel holdings out West, says, "I'm not hurting," and also means physically. George Allen's man at the L.A. Ram controls 1966-71 (leage MVP on the 1969 NFC playoff finalists) says he has rigorously gotten into shape --

"Not getting knocked around this year helped," said Gabriel, a fellow alumnus with Sonny Jurgensen of New Hanover High in Wilmington, N.C.

So, while the Eagles go with youth in Ron Jaworski and backup QBs John Walton and Mike Cordova (and owner Leonard Tose reportedly scrambles to refinance a $7 million loan coming due in early February), some other team might recollect 1973, Gabriel's debut with Philadelphia, and consider: he was NFL comeback player of the year, leading the league in pass completions, yardage and TDs.

Cordova's out of Stanford, same as Mike Boryla, whom the Eagles let go last offseason, and like Boryla at Tampa Bay, sat out the season injured. The Buccaneer outlook for Boryla in '78 could have a big effect at the top of the college draft -- whether Tampa, picking first of the 26 clubs, goes for Grambling's passin' man, Doug Williams.

The three Arkansas footballers suspended by coach Lou Holtz (that's coach of the year Holtz, says the Sporting News) from playing in the Orange Bowl have returned for the spring semester. That keeps 'em on the Razorbacks with Stanley Williams, a sophomore out of D.C.'s Dunbar High who made the squad as a walkon and you may have spotted as No. 49 on special teams New Year's Night.

Al Geiberger, who shot that 59 at Memphis last year, is seriously ill and will not compete for some time, says his close friend and fellow former PGA champion Dave Stockton. Internal bleeding -- recurrence of problems, including ulcers, that forced him off the golf-tour in the mid-1960s . . . Hank Aaron, though, is fine. Left the hospital yesterday in Atlanta after chest pains drove him in for a week's stay; no heart trouble --Aaron weighs 220, says he would like to lose 15 pounds, made a New Year's resolution to quit smoking and hasn't had a cig since Dec. 31, and says he'll just have to tell the Braves, for whom he directs minor league personnel, and Magnavox, which he promotes, he can't be traveling any more 150,000 miles a year . . .

Quarterbacks, Rod Gerald, Ohio State's starter these two years since Corny Greene, faces up to the fact, judge, that he probably won't become the greatest QB in NFL history -- has suggested he be switched to wide receiver. While Woody Hayes wa away --seems, by his peers in the American Football Coaches Association -- at the NCAA meetings in Atlanta, Gerald offered to vacate the signal-calling spot his upcoming senior year. Two reasons, he said: (1) to persuade Ohio's Class AAA high school back of the year, QB Art Schlichter of Miami Trace, to enroll and maybe step right in as starter on what Hayes supposedly promised Schlichter's coach would be a passing Buckeye team (!); (2) "It (wide receiver) could maybe benefit me when the pro draft comes around."

And the outstanding college woman athlete of the year, cited with the first Broderick Cup at the AIAW convention in Atlanta, is Lusia Harris Stewart. Maybe the best woman basketball player ever, but uninterested in playing the sport as a professional --draft her last year. The 6-foot-3 Harris (her name then) starred at Delta State for four years and led the 1976 U.S. Olympic team to a silver-medal harvest.