Super showdown in Dallas: Jones vs. SmithThe Buffalo...

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July 25, 1993|By VITO STELLINO

Super showdown in Dallas: Jones vs. Smith

The Buffalo Bills, who didn't give the Dallas Cowboys any problems on the field in the Super Bowl last January, may wind up giving them fits off the field at the bargaining table this summer.

That's because the $3.4 million-a-year contract the Bills gave running back Thurman Thomas last week upped the ante in one of the NFL's most intriguing contract battles.

Call it the Battle of Dallas: Jerry Jones vs. Emmitt Smith.

This is more than your garden-variety contract dispute. This is a duel that could determine whether the Cowboys are going to be a dynasty in the 1990s.

In one corner is Smith, who may turn out to be the best running back of his time. He is not blessed with great speed, but he finds the holes.

His seconds are a pair of agents, Richard Howell and Pat Dye Jr., who are noted for getting involved in bitter contract disputes. Their negotiations with Jones were so protracted three years ago that the Dallas owner started a policy of coming to terms with early-round draft picks before selecting them.

Smith didn't have much leverage three years ago and had to settle for a deal worth $775,000 per year. Now, he wants to even the score. He argues he is worth Reggie White money: $4.25 million a year.

Jones countered with an offer of $2.25 million a year, but that offer seems obsolete in view of Thomas' new deal.

Jones, though, is hanging tough. He is likely to try to sign Smith to a one-year deal and then slap the franchise-player designation on him so he won't become a free agent.

Interestingly, Jones said he won't try to satisfy Smith.

"Emmitt's never going to be satisfied. This isn't an exercise in satisfying Emmitt. We're trying to make a real business decision that will have an impact on our club for several years," Jones said.

Jones is proud of his business acumen.

He has been a leader of the new guard of owners that prides itself on cutting costs and increasing revenues. He was against the TV rebate to the networks and in favor of cutting commissioner Paul Tagliabue's salary from $3 million to $1.6 million. He even ripped out the press box at Texas Stadium and replaced it with luxury boxes. He also has a bare-bones front office staff and lets coaches double as scouts.

All this has worked because of Jimmy Johnson's coaching and the Herschel Walker deal that brought a bushel of draft choices.

Now it's time to pay the piper.

Jones will have to pay some big money to keep this team together. But he seems to think he can break Smith and pay the team on his scale.

The next big date in this duel comes before the second exhibition game.

That's when Jones is allowed to warn Smith in writing that if he misses that game, he'd automatically miss the season opener -- and a regular-season game check -- against the Washington Redskins.

Will Jones send the letter and find out whether Smith will crack? Will Jones relent and pay Smith more than Thomas to get him in camp?

The answers will be coming soon.

The expansion derby

It was a bad week for the NFL and a good week for Baltimore in the expansion derby.

The price the NFL owners set for the expansion franchises -- officially it's $140 million, but the real figure is closer to $200 million -- blew Jacksonville, Fla., out of the race last week.

The city was a long shot anyway, but the NFL wants to make a big deal out of its expansion decision in October.

It doesn't want to admit that for all practical purposes, the derby was decided when the owners set the expansion fee.

The price was so high that it takes public funding for a new stadium to make it work financially. Only two cities -- Baltimore and St. Louis -- have it.

Memphis, Tenn., has an old stadium without club seats and Charlotte, N.C.'s premium seat plan doesn't match public funding even if it sells all its seats.

Meanwhile, Mother Nature also made it obvious the ticket-selling campaign on luxury boxes and club seats is a meaningless exercise.

That's because St. Louis is having trouble selling its club seats. At the first report last week, it had sold fewer than 1,000. It's a tough time to be selling club seats in St. Louis because of the flooding along the Mississippi River. The fans also figure the city is a lock to get a team anyway, so there's no urgency to buy the seats.

The fans are probably right. St. Louis figures to get a team regardless of whether it sells the club seats. That campaign probably was designed only to keep Charlotte viable because it doesn't have public funding for a stadium.

Assuming St. Louis gets a team without selling most of its club seats, the campaign can't be said to have that much significance.

Still, the fact that Baltimore is selling its seats -- and has the public funding -- makes its bid that much stronger.

The ????? Patriots

The city of Boston may not even make a major effort to keep the Patriots in the state.

Massachusetts Gov. William Weld said last week his convention center plan may not even include a proposal for a domed stadium.

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