Loss to Bills pays off now for Smith, in the long run for Cowboys

PRO FOOTBALL

September 19, 1993|By VITO STELLINO

Football coaches like to say that nothing good ever comes out of a loss.

The Dallas Cowboys proved them wrong last Sunday.

They saved their season and possibly even the direction of the franchise by losing to the Buffalo Bills.

That's because the loss persuaded owner Jerry Jones that he had to make Emmitt Smith the highest-paid running back in pro football to get him to end his holdout.

If the Bills had won, Jones would have refused to do that and Smith would have continued his holdout.

Eventually, even if Jones had forced Smith in on his terms, he would have lost because he would have had an unhappy star. Smith could have become another Eric Dickerson, who wasted away his prime years in contract disputes.

It was somewhat embarrassing for Jones to cave in publicly, but that will be forgotten.

What counts is that he got Smith signed for this year and three more years. Now he can give Troy Aikman a new contract and have his franchise set for several years.

Even if the Cowboys don't recover this year -- they still have to overcome an 0-2 start -- they'll open next year as the team to beat.

Jones is right about one thing. He can't keep all his players when he's paying Aikman and Smith between $8 million and $9 million a year. That will be more than 25 percent of his salary cap.

But this system is geared toward star players. Teams will have to lock up their top players and risk losing some of the lesser ones.

When you start with Aikman and Smith, it's not difficult to fill in the supporting cast.

Jones also got himself out of a potentially ugly racial situation. When he said that he had to pay Aikman big money because that's what quarterbacks get, he was talking about positions. But Charles Haley, who left a hole in the locker-room wall after slamming his helmet last week, was the first to note that Jones was willing to pay a white quarterback and not a black running back. If this had persisted, that theme could have caused problems.

All it took was the loss to Buffalo -- on the heels of the loss in Washington in the opener -- to get Jones out of this fix.

What we'll never know is whether Jones believed he couldn't pay Smith because of the salary cap or whether he was just using it as an excuse to save money.

Another startling thing is that Jones apparently believed the Cowboys could beat the top teams without Smith. He didn't understand how Smith's ability to control the clock makes the Cowboys' defense better.

The important thing is that the 0-2 start persuaded Jones to admit he had made a mistake.

The expansion derby

The spinmeisters in the NFL office have come up with a new strategy in their attempt to argue Baltimore should be bypassed in the expansion derby.

They're now willing to concede Baltimore has the best offer. But they argue that for the long term, they can't pass up the Charlotte, N.C., market.

Greg Garber of The Hartford Courant gave it that spin when he wrote last week, "A survey of league owners and officials suggests St. Louis and Charlotte [will get the teams], though in some immediate ways Baltimore is a more attractive option."

He said the "forward-thinking owners" describe the Carolinas as a "sleeping giant," although he conceded that Baltimore "will pay more immediate dividends."

All this shows why the presentation Baltimore officials will make to owners on the expansion and finance committees Tuesday is so important. It's the first time Baltimore can make a formal presentation of its deal directly to the owners without having it go through the filter of commissioner Paul Tagliabue's office.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer is likely to make a presentation, and that is critical, too. He knows how to relate to businessmen, and this is a business deal.

Meanwhile, despite the predictions that Charlotte and St. Louis will get the teams, both cities continue to have problems.

Charlotte had to add investors last week in order to shore up its shaky financial situation caused by the lack of public funding for its stadium. It also agreed to pay Clemson University $3 million to use its stadium in 1995 if it gets a team. Clemson is 45 miles from the nearest airport and 135 miles from Charlotte.

Louis also has late-developing problems. The city had announced it sold out its club seats, but when the league auditors arrived, it didn't have checks for 750 of the 6,252 club seats. Fans hadn't honored their commitments. They also failed to sell 17 of 100 boxes. Even Jerry Clinton, now heading the St. Louis effort, is getting concerned.

"It's embarrassing that these other cities have sold out and we didn't get it done with a smaller number of seats to sell," he said. "The other cities know they have to beat us out and we're letting them do it. We're sitting here reading headlines, 'St. Louis is a lock.' Well, we're not a lock. If the people want a team, now is the time to show it."

He's hoping for a late drive to sell out the seats.

While all this is going on, Baltimore's presenters are rehearsing their presentation.

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