The NFL pays its players billions of dollars a year and fans pack its stadiums every week. But even the deep-pocketed league is shedding jobs.

Commissioner Roger Goodell said yesterday that the league is cutting more than 10 percent of its staff in response to the downturn in the nation's economy that could put a dent in ticket sales for next season.

Goodell announced the cuts in a memo to league employees. The NFL is eliminating about 150 of its staff of 1,100 in New York, NFL Films in New Jersey and television and Internet production facilities in Los Angeles.

"These are difficult and painful steps," he wrote in the memo. "But they are necessary in the current economic environment. I would like to be able to report that we are immune to the troubles around us, but we are not. Properly managed, I am confident the NFL will emerge stronger, more efficient and poised to pursue long-term growth opportunities."

The NFL long has been regarded as one of the most wealthiest pro sports leagues on the planet. In September, Forbes called the NFL "the richest game" and the "the strongest sport in the world." The league has revenues of approximately $6.5 billion of which an estimated $4.5 billion goes to players.

But now it joins the NBA, NASCAR teams and the company that runs Major League Baseball's Internet division in announcing layoffs. The NHL hasn't laid off workers, though it is in a hiring freeze, a spokesman said.

The cuts will take place over the next 60 days, running past the Super Bowl, which will be played Feb. 1 in Tampa. Employees who volunteer to leave will be offered what was termed "a voluntary separation program."

The layoffs are separate from the cuts in front-office and other personnel being made by the 32 individual teams.

Noteworthy

* The NFL Players Association filed a grievance challenging the suspension and fine given to Plaxico Burress by the New York Giants after the receiver accidentally shot himself in a nightclub more than a week ago.

The union said the team violated the collective bargaining agreement last week when it placed Burress on the reserve-non football injury list, suspended him for the final four games of the regular season and fined him an additional week's salary for conduct detrimental to the team.

Placing Burress on the non-football injury list also will keep him out of the playoffs.

Union spokesman Carl Francis said the grievance will be heard by an arbitrator after the season ends.

* Detroit center Dominic Raiola's offensive gesture toward heckling Lions fans will cost him $7,500.

The team announced the fine against the 8-year veteran 2 days after Detroit fell to 0-13 with a 20-16 loss to Minnesota at Ford Field. The money will be donated to a local charity.

Also, the team released Brian Kelly after the veteran cornerback had complained recently about his lack of playing time.

* The NFL upheld Jacksonville receiver Matt Jones' three-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, meaning Jones will sit out the final three games without pay.

* The NFL and its union will pay a combined $100 a month toward the Medicare costs of retired players under a new plan.

The program begins Jan. 1 for ex-players over 65 who are vested in the league's pension plan. The money will got to the monthly premium of the player's coverage. *