That bull market expected for baseball free agents next month dropped another notch yesterday when -- four days since Cy Young candidate J. R. Richard opted to stay with Houston, long-term -- Brian Downing signed to stay an Angel for five more years. Catcher Downing was supposed to be eager to leave California in favor of DH-ing or first-basing someplace, but he settled for $1.8 million of Gene Autry's bucks over the life of the new contract. Angel exec Buzzie Bavasi added that Manager Jim Fregosi and staff have been informed they'll be back. Next move on the AL West champs is up to free-agent pitcher Nolan Ryan...

Lonnie Perrin, McKinley High's gift to Illinois and the NFL, lands on his feet from Redskin release -- in the state of his college glory. Yep, picked up by the Chicago Bears, and with their fullback corps decimated by injury, he could be Walter Payton's running mate pretty quick.

Joe Pisarcik never has gotten over the pounding by the Redskins that shutout Monday night in September, and yesterday the N.Y. Giants citing his banged-up physique, put early season regular QB Pisarcik on injured reserve -- and cut the famous Gordon Gravelle (or was that Gus Coppens?). Offensive tackle Gravelle, who feuded with Howard Cosell over knocks during the Washington-Giants telecast stemming from misidentification, was benched last week as culmination of a season in which he didn't report until ending "retirement" two weeks into the season and was fined $15,300 . . .