NEW YORK, NOV. 19 -- Dexter Manley was reinstated today by National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, marking the first time in league history a player has been allowed to resume his career after only one year of "lifetime" banishment as a three-time drug offender.

The Washington Redskins immediately announced that they were waiving Manley, a 32-year-old defensive end who had been with the team since 1981. A number of teams expressed interest in signing Manley, one of the most popular and colorful figures in the Redskins' history, when he becomes eligible for waiver claims on Tuesday. Any number of teams may make claims, but the one with the worst record will be awarded his rights.

"I'm grateful, very grateful," Manley said of his reinstatement. "I want everybody to understand that." Still, he was saddened by the end of his Redskins career.

"I'm experiencing a sense of loss," he said when reached by telephone in the Washington area. "This has been nine years of my life. This has been my home. So I'm not in a great talking mood right now."

Manley appears to be headed for the 2-8 Phoenix Cardinals, who are coached by former Redskins assistant Joe Bugel. Bugel said today he'd like to have Manley, and Larry Wilson, the Cardinals' director of personnel, said he'd make an announcement on Tuesday.

"I know what he can do," Bugel said. "He's an impact player, and he made Charles Mann, believe me. I think highly of this guy. I've been around Dexter and I know the problems he has had. I've seen a lot of guys with problems probably worse than Dexter's, and they're still playing in this league."

In a statement released from the NFL's Park Avenue offices, Tagliabue cited Manley's "total avoidance" of drugs and alcohol along with his participation in a structured support program as reasons for his decision to let Manley back into the league. Manley tested positive for cocaine use last November but has since spent considerable time at a drug treatment center in Houston.

Also, sources said last week that a Friday meeting of Tagliabue, Manley and the player's Boston-based attorney, Bob Woolf, was a positive one and that Tagliabue was convinced of Manley's sincerity about staying away from drugs.

The Redskins' decision to release Manley came as no surprise. Privately team officials had been saying for weeks that they would do so if he were reinstated.

Coach Joe Gibbs said today it would be unfair to other Redskins defensive linemen if Washington brought Manley back. "We got seven other guys who fought their guts out to make our football team," Gibbs said.

"They have been working with us all year," Gibbs added. "I just didn't think it would be fair {to them}. I wasn't willing to take one of those guys and sit him down. A lot of other things went into the decision and I'm not going to elaborate on all of them."

"I am most grateful to the commissioner for the faith, trust and confidence he has placed in me," Manley had said in a statement through Woolf. "I will make every effort never to violate that trust."

According to the conditions of Manley's reinstatement, he must wait until Dec. 9 to play his first game, though he will be allowed to practice with his new team immediately. He also must be enrolled in a structured support program before he can begin playing.

Manley could remain on the waiver list until 4 p.m. Wednesday. During the 24-hour claim period, teams are allowed to stake claims on a player. The team with the worst record, the 1-9 New England Patriots, will have the first shot at selecting Manley once he is officially put on waivers, but Patriots General Manager Patrick Sullivan said today his team has no interest.

That leaves the 2-8 Cleveland Browns and the Cardinals as the teams next in line. The Browns also said they have no interest in Manley, but Bugel was very much in favor of signing him. It was a question of convincing Wilson and team owner Bill Bidwill to go along.

"I think very highly of Dexter," Bugel said during a news conference in Phoenix. "He's paid his dues. He's paid a deep, deep price. People in Washington loved him; some came just to see him. He can sell tickets; he's a great promoter. How much does two sacks a game help you? He's not an every-down guy now; he's a pass rush specialist we'd like to use on third down, maybe 15 plays a game."

If Phoenix decides not to claim Manley, several other teams, including the Los Angeles Rams (3-7) and the Philadelphia Eagles (6-4), have expressed interest.

Any team that signs Manley would have to pick up his $480,000 base salary prorated, which is $120,000 for the final four games. Should no one claim Manley in the first 24 hours, he would become an unrestricted free agent able to negotiate with any club.

Asked if he knew how soon he would be signed, Manley said: "I sure hope it's tomorrow."

Manley tested positive for cocaine use a few days after the Redskins' 37-24 loss to the Los Angeles Raiders on Oct. 29, 1989. It was his third positive test for substance abuse since joining the Redskins in 1981; at one time he took treatment as an admitted alcoholic. He made numerous all-star teams in his nine years with the Redskins, but his best year was in 1986 when he had 18 sacks and made the Pro Bowl.

He is the fourth player to return to the NFL after a lifetime ban. Hal Garner, a former linebacker with Buffalo; Charles White, a former Los Angeles Rams running back; and former New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins running back Tony Collins were allowed to return after lifetime bans for substance abuse. Only White and Collins played again.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) chairman of the House select committee on narcotics, criticized Tagliabue's decision to reinstate Manley. "The leaders in professional sports are always talking about how they want to set an example and make a strong statement against drug abuse," Rangel said. "Yet . . . they talk tough and carry a very soft stick. What kind of message are we sending to our young people . . . ?"

Staff writer Michael Wilbon contributed to this report.