In its third year, the plan for Plan B among the smarter NFL teams has become clear:

When deciding whom to protect, protect prospects. Leave unprotected the aging, the infirm, kickers and highly paid stars who aren't going anywhere.

Take the Giants, for example. Friday, they left unprotected Ottis Anderson, Super Bowl MVP; Matt Bahr, who kicked the winning field goals in the NFC title game and Super Bowl; and tight end Mark Bavaro, who needs knee and shoulder surgery and will make $750,000.

They protected rookie defensive linemen Clint James and Tim Downing and twice-cut cornerback Roger Brown.

"Most of the teams have pretty much developed the same formula," said General Manager George Young. "You save your young guys and your big guys. You take chances with guys in positions you can replenish."

The plan allows each team to protect 37 players, with the rest becoming free agents who revert to their original teams if they don't sign with someone else by April 1.

This year's list of 518 unprotected players looks like an all-pro team -- except for offensive linemen, the "big guys" Young mentioned.

Among the unprotected: Ronnie Lott and Roger Craig, 49ers; Deron Cherry and Mike Webster, Chiefs; James Lofton, Bills; Tim Krumrie, Bengals; Raymond Clayborn, Browns; Steve Grogan, Patriots; Eugene Lockhart, Cowboys; Russ Grimm, Kelvin Bryant and Mark May, Redskins; and Eddie Murray, Lions, and Pat Leahy, Jets, among the premier kickers of all time.

Also unprotected was the Bills' Scott Norwood, who missed a 47-yard field goal that would have won the Super Bowl. But he has just signed a contract, and like many of other unprotected players, doesn't appear to be going anywhere.