For NFL players and teams, it's easy to think of the projected $16 billion the NFL may get from television the next eight years as monopoly money.

But those big bucks could improve the caliber of play by allowing teams now pressed by the salary cap to keep their teams intact. For while it's still unclear how much the salary cap will increase, there's no question the rise will be substantial.

``I think it will promote more team stability,'' said Marv Levy, who stepped down as coach of the Buffalo Bills two weeks ago. ``You'll be able to keep players for longer, and that makes for more cohesive play.''

Will the rich get richer?

Well, it could mean potential free agents Dana Stubblefield of San Francisco, the NFL defensive player of the year, and Dorsey Levens, Green Bay's star running back, could stay put. Both would like to stay where they are.

But money can also allow teams to build.

One of the complaints is that free agency makes it hard for units to remain together. That's one reason teams have been so inconsistent _ some would say ragged _ from year to year and game to game in the free-agent era.

``The idea now is to bring in a free agent or two to supplement the players you already have,'' said Ron Wolf, the Green Bay general manager.

So teams like the New York Giants and Tampa Bay, who improved dramatically this season with young players, have their best signed to long-term deals. The Giants, example, extended the contracts of cornerback Jason Sehorn and fullback Charles Way just before the season.

``We bet on the future, on the idea we'd have more money in '98,'' said George Young, the former Giants general manager who last week moved to the league office.

The salary cap is now $40.8 million, but the increase cannot yet be calculated. Negotiations are continuing with NBC and ABC over the Monday night contract and with ESPN and TNT, who share the Sunday night package.

However, the simple formula is this: For every $10 million in shared revenue a team receives, $6.3 million goes to players. The biggest slice of that money is the TV contract.

With the current projection for an eight-year deal at $16 billion, that would represent nearly double the current $4.4 billion over four years. So it means that by the end of the contract, teams could have twice as much money under the cap as they have now.

But that's unlikely to happen early in the contract. Projections suggest it could go up $10 million to $12 million next year because the league will get less in the early years of the contract. It could be less than that _ commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said in the past there could be some givebacks from teams currently over the cap.

The labor contract, now scheduled to expire after the 2001 season, also figures in.

Talks to extend that deal broke off while the television negotiations were continuing. When the talks resume, perhaps the labor contract will coincide with the TV deal _ through 2003 and perhaps through 2006.

Many teams, anticipating new television money, have already figured the increase into long-term deals in which salaries increase dramatically from 1997 to 1998.

Steve Young of the 49ers, for example, made $3 million this year and is due to make $10 million next season. But Young, whose current deal runs until he is 42, has renegotiated a half-dozen times and would do it again if the team needs the cap room to re-sign Stubblefield.

On the other hand, Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre made $3.9 million in base salary this season and gets $4 million next year as part of his seven-year deal worth $48 million. He also got a $12 million signing bonus up front, which is averaged against the cap for those eight years.

Some players who signed deals under the old contract could lobby for big-bucks extensions.

And teams with more money to spend could continue to make preemptive offers for big-time players. Seattle, for example, spent freely on free agents last season, its football revenue backed by deep pockets of software billionaire Paul Allen, who exercised his option to buy the club last summer.

For the NFL has learned one thing in five years of free agency: The more money is available, the more money is paid out.