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Tagliabue, Benson talk differently on Saints’ return

Associated Press

The New Orleans Saints will return to Louisiana in 2006, that much seems certain. Exactly when and where they will play games gets a little fuzzier.

The owner said maybe as early as September in the hurricane-ravaged Superdome.

The NFL commissioner said, “It’s too early to say. …”

The two made separate statements from San Antonio about the team’s future, and while both were upbeat, commissioner Paul Tagliabue was far more cautious in setting a timetable – or even a site – for the Saints’ first game back home.

“There are a lot of things yet to be accomplished to make it more than a one-year arrangement,” Tagliabue said after meeting with Saints players and coaches for about five hours. “There are a lot of chicken-and-egg decisions. It’s a complicated situation.”

Asked whether the New Orleans market could support an NFL team long-term, he said, “We think it can, but it’s not a slam-dunk.”

Saints owner Tom Benson said the state agency managing the Superdome told him the stadium can be ready for games by Sept. 15. But because earlier estimates put the target opening in November, Benson acknowledged he needed another 30 days to feel comfortable the September date can be met, adding:

“We might be back here on our bended knee asking to play a few more games.”

On a more definite note, Benson said the Saints will return to their practice complex in Metairie, La., next month. Players have been told they will have access to the facility by Jan. 16.

Tagliabue urged a return to New Orleans to help in the ongoing rebuilding effort following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. But he wouldn’t rule out more games in San Antonio in 2006, a city he said would “be on anyone’s short list” if the league expands.

Browns president defends GM

Browns president John Collins denied that the club was planning to fire general manager Phil Savage, who was hired less than a year ago to help fix Cleveland’s floundering franchise.

“Phil’s not going anywhere,” Collins said. “He hasn’t been fired, and he’s not going to be fired. There is no reduction of responsibility. There is no rift.”

ESPN.com reported that Savage, Baltimore’s former personnel director who was hired Jan. 6 to stabilize a fractured front office in Cleveland, was on the verge of being fired over “philosophical differences.”

Later, the report said Savage was negotiating with owner Randy Lerner and Collins to stay with the club in a reduced role, running the personnel department.

Colts expect Harrison’s return

Wide receiver Marvin Harrison likely will return to Indianapolis’ starting lineup for the season finale against Arizona on Sunday. Running back Edgerrin James might get the day off.

Harrison missed last week’s 28-13 road loss to Seattle with a broken bone in his right hand that he hurt against San Diego two weeks ago.

James is not injured, but might get a rest as the Colts prepare for the playoffs.

Around the league

Jacksonville will wait until game time Sunday before deciding whether quarterback Byron Leftwich will return to the lineup against Tennessee. Leftwich has been out since breaking his left ankle Nov. 27. … Washington coach Joe Gibbs said he expects quarterback Mark Brunell to start Sunday against Philadelphia. Brunell sprained his right knee in last week’s victory over the New York Giants. … Tight end Jeremy Shockey (ankle) and linebacker Reggie Torbor (hamstring) will sit out the Giants’ game at Oakland today because of injury.

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