"I really had given up hope for this year," former Maryland quarterback Mark Manges said yesterday, hours after signing a multiyear contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Manges, who piloted Maryland last season, had been cut previously by the Los Angeles Rams and had not survived a tryout with the New York jets. But he impressed Coach Bud Wilkinson at a one-day tryout yesterday, and the Cardinals signed him for the rest of this season and the following two years.

First-string quarterback Jim Hart received a separated shoulder Sunday, leaving second-year veteran Steve Pisarkiewicz of Missouri the lone quarterback. Pisarkiewicz, who has never played a down in a pro football game, will start Sunday against the Jets.

"Right now," said Manges. "I don't know the system, so Steve will probably handle all of it. I told him that whatever you do, don't get hurt Sunday.

"Since the Rams cut me Aug. 15, I've been answering the phone on the first ring, and I really began to think I'd be spending the rest of the year at Maryland (finishing undergraduate studies.)

"This is the first step, and I'll be glad to do whatever I can to help, to give the defense a good look, while I learn the system. I hope I make the best of it.

"I feel pretty good physically. My arm is in shape. I told them I'm not the greatest advocate of running, and I'll be taking off a few pounds."

Wilkinson, who returned to coaching this year after a 15-year layoff and 17 seasons at Oklahoma, told Manges this was the first time he had been around a team that didn't have an option quarterback. Manges ran the sprint-out option offense at Maryland and his mobility impressed Wilkinson.

The 0-7 Cardinals also signed linebacker Curtis Townsend and cut veteran safety Mike Sensibaugh and 10th-round draft choice Randy Gill.

Manges said he was "very pleased" with his contract, although he didn't receive a bonus.

"My bonus," said Manges, "is being here."