The National Football League Players Association has come out of the 24-day players strike in better financial shape than it emerged from a 57-day strike in 1982, according to Dick Berthelsen, the player union's general counsel.

"We're in good financial shape," Berthelsen said. "In '82, we were in debt."

He declined to give exact figures, but one source said the union was about $500,000 in debt following the '82 strike. Now, the source said, the union has no debt.

One way the union saved money this time, according to Berthelsen, was not flying a number of players around the country to participate in bargaining sessions when it became evident to the union that the owners were not going to negotiate, Berthelsen said.

The expansion of roster limitations to 85 active players to include the replacement teams, who play their third games today and Monday, nearly doubles the pool of possible dues-paying players because, according to the recently expired collective bargaining agreement, all NFL players who do not join the union must still pay "an annual service fee" equal to dues in states that don't have right-to-work laws.

Berthelsen said that since there no longer is a collective bargaining agreement, players are no longer obligated to pay dues, but may do so voluntarily.

The owners' Management Council has said the 1982 collective bargaining agreement will remain in effect.

But Berthelsen questioned whether management will selectively choose which of its provisions it will continue to observe.

For example, Berthelsen said the clubs have not automatically deducted and sent to the union players' union dues since last season, as the expired collective bargaining agreement stipulates.

Jack Donlan, executive director of the Management Council, said that club management has not deducted union dues since the contract expired Aug. 31. "We didn't want to give them money for a lawsuit," Donlan said yesterday.

Meanwhile, replacement squads prepared for their third and final games. Several squads are bolstered this weekend by the addition of regular players; at least 85 players crossed picket lines Wednesday, making the owners' deadline to be eligible this weekend.

One of those was all-pro linebacker Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants. But Coach Bill Parcells wasn't optimistic about Taylor helping the Giants get their first victory of the season when they meet the Buffalo Bills.

"No, I don't think so," Parcells told the Associated Press. "I think you witnessed that on Monday night. Howie Long and Bill Pickel {two Los Angeles Raiders who crossed the picket line} didn't make that much difference. I think Howie Long's probably the best defensive lineman in the league, certainly in the top two or three."

The Giants' two reserve quarterbacks, Jeff Rutledge and Jeff Hostetler, also crossed the picket line with Taylor and should bolster a team whose replacement quarterbacks completed less than 40 percent of their passes.

In San Francisco, fans should be able to watch something closely resembling regular NFL play when the 49ers' offense tries to move against the St. Louis Cardinals' defense.

Star quarterback Joe Montana and regular running backs Roger Craig and Joe Cribbs lead an experienced offense for the 49ers. St. Louis will counter with a defense that has plenty of roster players.

"It's going to come down to our veterans versus theirs," San Francisco Coach Bill Walsh told United Press International. "We are going to go with our regulars from the start. We are going to do anything it takes to win."

For St. Louis, regulars available Sunday include strong safety Leonard Smith, linebacker E.J. Junior, defensive tackle Mark Garalczyk and defensive end Curtis Greer.