NEW YORK (AP) _ If the attitude of Cleveland's mayor is a barometer, the NFL brass might be just as anxious as he is to keep the Browns where they are.

Mayor Michael R. White met Thursday with commissioner Paul Tagliabue and other top league officials and emerged to say that he's more hopeful than ever about keeping the team in the city that's been its home for 50 years.

``I was very pleased by the tenor of our meeting,'' White said after the nearly four-hour meeting.

``It was a serious, thoughtful discussion. It was the first time we were able to get our story on the table. I'm more hopeful. This was a step, although one meeting doesn't bring a team home.''

White also may have another alternative.

As he was meeting with Tagliabue, television stations in Cleveland and Baltimore were reporting that if the Bucs moved on to Baltimore, the Tampa Bay Bucs would fill their vacancy.

Both White and league officials denied that, although it's known the Bucs have been looking around, primarily at Orlando and Los Angeles.

``I've had no discussion with Tampa Bay,'' said White, who met with the media on the sidewalk outside the NFL's offices. ``There are no calls that I am aware of from the owner or the mayor. If I received a call, I would talk to them.''

NFL owners will meet Jan. 17 to decide whether to approve Modell's move of the Browns. Before they vote, they will get a recommendation from Tagliabue.

But they are faced with a dilemma.

While many deplore Modell's move, privately if not publicly, they also note that the courts, beginning with the Raiders' move from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982, have upheld the right of teams to make their own decisions, regardless of the objection of the league office and other teams.

That is blamed for the current period of ``franchise free agency'' in which four teams have relocated or plan to relocate in span of a year.

Ironically, one of them is the Raiders, who moved back to Oakland this year.

The Rams' move from Los Angeles to St. Louis and the proposed moves of the Browns and of the Oilers from Houston to Nashville are the others. The Rams' move is one barometer - the owners first rejected the move, then approved it in the face of antitrust suit both by the team and the state of Missouri.

Tuesday's meeting was held largely to discuss Cleveland's ability to either build a new stadium or improve the present antiquated facility. The day after Modell announced his proposed move, Cleveland's voters approved a ``sin tax'' designed to provide $175 million for improvements to Cleveland Stadium.

But that pales with the deal Modell will receive in Baltimore: A new $220 million stadium with luxury suites, as well as $75 million in relocation expenses and full revenues from concessions and parking.

Several owners say that while they deplore the concept of the move, they understand why Modell took the deal from the city that lost the Colts to Indianapolis in similar fashion in 1984.