It could cost Cowboys' Jones if he keeps going against the grain

PRO FOOTBALL

August 29, 1993|By VITO STELLINO

It all came too easy for Jerry Jones.

In building the Dallas Cowboys from 1-15 to Super Bowl champion in four years, the Dallas Cowboys owner had several incredible strokes of good fortune.

For example, the Minnesota Vikings gave him a king's ransom for Herschel Walker, he had the No. 1 draft pick in 1989 when Troy Aikman (and not somebody such as Vinny Testaverde) came out of college and Emmitt Smith fell to the 17th spot in the draft in 1990.

Jones was so successful so fast that he thinks he can keep defying the conventional wisdom.

This is a year when many teams are trying to deal with the looming salary cap by paying the price it takes to get their stars signed to long-term deals.

In the past month, the San Diego Chargers extended the contract of quarterback Stan Humphries when it had a year to go and the Seattle Seahawks extended the contract of Cortez Kennedy, the best young defensive lineman in the game, when it had two years left.

The Buffalo Bills, the team Dallas beat in the Super Bowl last January, gave running back Thurman Thomas and defensive end Bruce Smith identical $3.375 million deals when they each had a year left. The Bills then brought in quarterback Jim Kelly last week and front-loaded his old contract so he gets more money this season in the last year without a cap.

Jones has a different idea. He says that to keep Smith and Aikman, he has decided Smith must accept less than what Thomas got.

"If we pay Thurman Thomas numbers to one of our five or six running backs, it's not impossible we would have 25 or 35 percent of our payroll invested in two players [Smith and Aikman]. That won't work for our team," he said.

Not surprisingly, Smith isn't thrilled with the idea of getting less than Thomas, and Jones takes it for granted that he'll miss the Monday-night opener in Washington on Sept. 6.

"That's not a surprise to me," Jones said.

Jones figures he'll eventually force Smith in on his terms and then designate him the franchise player so he can pay him only the average of the top five backs (likely to be around $2.6 million) instead of making him the highest-paid running back.

Even if this strategy works, it could destroy team morale and lead to its downfall.

As Aikman said: "When guys think Emmitt's not being treated in a fair manner, then you've got problems. I think guys start to question the loyalty of the organization."

Wide receiver Michael Irvin, who was a holdout last year, said the problem is Jones is a hands-on owner. "Every time he puts a dollar across that table, he sees that dollar and he's squeezing that George Washington and making him yell, 'Let me go, Jerry. Let me go.' " Irvin said.

Of course, there's always a chance that Jones is bluffing and still eventually will pay Smith what Thomas got.

If he's not bluffing, Jones may find out the road down can be as quick as the road to the top.

The expansion derby

Baltimore tomorrow will become the first city to have an official sellout of premium seats, which should be the final piece of a successful package.

In Charlotte, N.C., where the premium-seat selling idea started, officials are saying it's enough for the city to sell about 50,000 of the 62,000 premium seat licenses it needs to finance the stadium.

Even though it plans to raise the prices on the remaining unsold ones after Sept. 3, officials insist they can sell the rest when they get the team. Now they have to convince the owners that it's a viable plan. That will be a tough sell.

Jacksonville, Fla., has just jumped back into the race, and it's trying to sell 9,000 club seats by next weekend, but optimism is high.

A Florida Times-Union columnist wrote that Jacksonville believes, "the NFL really wants us. And more importantly, the NFL appears to need us. Charlotte's financial deal is shaky. If the alternative means awarding franchises to St. Louis and Baltimore, well, the NFL isn't totally comfortable with exposing itself to negative reaction from Congress about expanding into two old cities."

The reality is the only talk from Congress is that the league should expand by four teams, instead of two, but the NFL has ignored that.

The paper goes on to concede Baltimore has a sellout, but added: "Sources said Baltimore may face problems with some NFL owners because the Washington Redskins are looking to build a new stadium outside of Washington, and a franchise in nearby Baltimore could cause problems."

That's the kind of spin the other cities are using to try to counteract the fact that Baltimore is offering the league the best financial deal.

In reality, the only problem the Redskins will have in a new stadium is dealing with all the irate fans on their huge season-ticket waiting list who don't get seats. And Redskins insiders insist owner Jack Kent Cooke could care less whether Baltimore gets a team.

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