Only a few months after the National Football League signed contracts with five television networks that will pay more than $3 billion over the next four seasons, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said yesterday the NFL is closely monitoring any indicators that may suggest oversaturation.

In a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Post, Tagliabue spoke in detail on the possibility of Dexter Manley returning to the NFL after one year of his drug-related suspension; on his desire for the Washington Redskins' new stadium to be located in the District of Columbia; random testing for steroids and the support it has among players, and the imminent implementation of a practice squad and expansion.

It is now possible to watch NFL programming Sundays from noon until midnight, with games also scheduled on Mondays and, later in the season, Saturdays.

"One of the problems is that we have so much on television now," Tagliabue said. "In the early '60s there was no NFL game on television at all if the home team was playing at home. That was until 1964 or 1965. Now we have three or maybe four {in every city except sometimes Los Angeles and New York}. And the cable game on Sunday night.

"We're very concerned -- maybe concerned is a bit too strong -- but we are looking very closely at the amount of television we have. I think baseball {now with more than 200 games on national TV} is going to have to take a look at where they are, frankly. You've seen the numbers on ESPN and how much money they're going to lose on baseball. You've seen the ratings; they're 40 percent below what {ESPN} projected and the revenue is 40 to 50 percent below what they projected."

The NFL signed contracts last winter and spring with CBS, NBC, ABC, ESPN and TNT to televise all 224 regular season games plus the playoffs. Those networks, in turn, will play the league more than $3 billion.

"We're not reassessing, because we think what we set up will work," he said. "But we're looking at it closely and monitoring it on a monthly basis. . . . So far the public has made it clear they're interested in NFL telecasts in a way that has no parallel in sports and few parallels in television. But that doesn't mean it's going to be that way forever."

Asked if he could forsee a time when the networks have to cut back on the amount of NFL programming, Tagliabue said: "That may have to happen at some point. At some point there will be over saturation and it will not be sensible from the fans' standpoint or the league's standpoint to keep going."

One of Tagliabue's more immediate concerns is what to do with Manley, the banned Redskins defensive end, assuming he applies for reinstatement in October. If Manley demonstrates he has been drug-free since his suspension in November, Tagliabue could lift what is called a lifetime ban. Manley has been at a rehabilitation facility run by former NBA star John Lucas.

"I'm going to talk to Bob Woolf {Manley's attorney} in October and ask him him 'what has he been doing? Give me an up-to-date status report in terms of his participation in the Lucas program in Houston,' " Tagliabue said. "The other thing we need to look at together is his contract status. It's complicated. What I hope to do is get on top of it in October and be prepared to deal with it without a lot of delay. I have reinstated a couple of players this year; Tony Collins {recently cut by the Dolphins} is one. In each case, where I had an application for reinstatement, I had medical evaluations, I had my own examination as to what they were doing in terms of employment, in terms of what they were doing in rehabilitation and treatment. And I also tried to focus on what effect coming back into the National Football League would have.

"This is a tough area. I'm clear that some of these players will do pretty well outside the pressures of participating in the NFL, but when you subject them again to those pressures they have problems. It's a real dilemma. . . . I don't yet have a scientific basis for letting them back in. To this point I think I've leaned over backward to let them back in, recognizing that it's a big penalty if I don't let them back in."

As for the new Redskins stadium, Tagliabue, a longtime Redskins season-ticket holder, said he would like to see Jack Kent Cooke finalize a deal to build it in the District, as opposed to Loudoun County, which has expressed interest in being the team's new home.

In other matters, Tagliabue said NFL management representatives and the NFL Players Association has agreed to reestablish a practice squad of three to five players. Players would be unrestricted free agents if another team wanted to sign them onto an active roster, and salaries would vary.

On the subject of entering a third season without a collective bargaining agreement, Tagliabue said he knows there is some sentiment around the league that an agreement is not necessary because the league is thriving. "I don't agree with that," he said, "because I feel we could be more productive if we could work together in more areas." Courts can tell you what you did wrong in the past, but for the most part they don't give you much of a prescription for the future."

Tagliabue says it would make more sense to work out a contract now because of the $3 billion from television. "In 1987 there was no opportunity to do anything new or creative if there was a dollar sign attached to it." The commissioner said he has been having only "off-the-record" talks with the two sides and that things are moving "slowly."

On the topic of the Raiders not moving to Oakland, he said: "I think everybody has regrets about the way the city was dealt with by the team. . . . I always said it was the best-supported franchise in the league at the time and it was by almost any measure. They came to us late and they had a lot of problems getting their own community together. I think there are a lot of people in the league who still feel that Oakland is very, very deserving of a team."

Tagliabue said one school of thought in the league is that Oakland, Baltimore and St. Louis, all of which have lost teams in the 1980s, are deserving of a second chance. Another group prefers the "fresh-market" approach of the Carolinas, Memphis, Jacksonville, Fla., to name a few.

"There is concern," he said, "that the net effect of a team move is negative in terms of fan interest. The cumulative effect has a lot of people concerned that you lose the tradition, you lose the continuity, you lose the committment in the community and all that is very fragile."

On the league's drug-testing programs, he said, "the big problem we have on the street drugs is we only test once a year {as dictated by an arbiter's decision} and as a result we really don't know about problems until they surface with law enforcement authorities. On steroids we're testing virtually every week on a random basis, and I think that will be a tremendous deterrent to the use of steroids.

"Congressman Charles Rangel {D-N.Y.} and others have talked to me about, in effect, ignoring the arbitrator's decision and going ahead and testing four, five or six times a year or on a random basis for street drugs. I've decided I would revamp the steroid program first -- the players are extremely supportive of the steroid testing -- so I decided I would revamp it there, go to random testing there, develop credibility, develop trust and then see where we go as a next step on the street drugs."