The NFL sent a memo yesterday to its 31 teams in an effort to eliminate the throat-slashing gestures made by players to taunt opponents. The gesture is meant to indicate a knife across the throat and also has been frequently seen in the NBA in recent years. The memo will remind teams about the league's unsportsmanlike conduct rules that prohibit taunting, which can result in a 15-yard penalty and a fine by the league office.

New York Jets wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson used it on Monday night last week, and Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre did it against the Detroit Lions this past Sunday. Cameras caught them in the act, and the gestures were repeated in taped highlight shows around the country, projecting an image the league would like to eliminate.

A league spokesman said discussions were underway last week after the Johnson incident and that Favre's behavior, and several other incidents, prompted the memo, which was reported in Tuesday's editions of the New York Times. The spokesman said the league considers it to be in the category of an obscene gesture, and if officials don't throw a flag, the league office will fine players involved.

Sale of Jets Progressing

The sale of the Jets is entering the home stretch, with an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune moving into serious contention to purchase the team from the estate of the late Leon Hess.

The investment banking firm of Goldman Sachs in New York has been handling the sale for the estate, and sources are saying it has essentially come down to three finalists, with Robert Wood Johnson Jr. apparently leading the pack. Also believed to be in the running are Charles Dolan, founder of Cablevision and the runner-up in the Cleveland Browns sweepstakes two years ago, and Sam Grossman, who made several unsuccessful attempts to purchase the Washington Redskins from the estate of the late Jack Kent Cooke.

Goldman Sachs is expected to complete the transaction before the end of the year, and league sources said the selling price could be as high as $650 million, even if the Jets don't have a stadium to call their own and remain tied to a lease to play at Giants Stadium through 2008.

Of the three contenders, Johnson may have the easiest time passing muster with NFL owners, who must approve the sale by a three-quarter majority no matter who purchases the team.

Sources around the league said Dolan and Grossman each have issues that may not appeal to other owners and the league office, another critical factor.

Dolan's brother, Larry, a Cleveland attorney who was the front man for his brother's group in trying to buy the Browns, recently purchased the Cleveland Indians.

The baseball deal is structured in a way that includes the children of both Larry and Charles Dolan in the ownership of the baseball team after both brothers are deceased.

The NFL has a rule prohibiting owners of a team in one city from also owning a professional franchise in another city. If an NFL deal were similarly structured to include the heirs, it could eventually lead to the Dolan family owning baseball and football franchises in two cities.

Charles Dolan's company also owns the New York Knicks and Rangers, another stumbling block in the eyes of some owners.

Grossman, the Los Angeles developer with extensive holdings in California and Arizona, tried to buy the Redskins but couldn't match the money offered first by Howard Milstein (who pulled out of the process before being rejected by league owners) and then the eventual winner, Daniel M. Snyder.

One owner said the Johnson deal would essentially be airtight if he is willing to go to about $600 million. All of the principals have been told to withhold comment until the deal is completed.

Davis to Make His Case

League owners will travel to Atlanta on Dec. 1 for a special meeting to give Oakland owner Al Davis what amounts to his day in court.

The meeting was called to discuss allegations made by Davis that Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and outgoing league president Neil Austrian as well as a total of 60 league employees took improper compensation from the NFL.

Davis has two lawsuits going against the league and one against Oakland and Alameda County, all involving his contention that he still has the territorial rights to Los Angeles.

Following the discovery process in a Raiders suit against the league filed in Superior Court in Santa Clara, Calif., the Raiders are alleging the improper compensation totaling about $100 million.

Tagliabue and Austrian, the principal targets, have vehemently denied the charges and both will address the league owners at the meeting in Atlanta, as will Davis and his attorneys.

K. Collins Keeps Job

Quarterback Kerry Collins was impressive enough in Sunday's loss to the Redskins for Giants Coach Jim Fassel to name him the starter for the foreseeable future. He'll replace Kent Graham, who suffered a concussion against the Redskins, though Fassel said the Giants' offensive problems were the reason for the change, not Graham's injury.