Dallas Cowboy running back Emmitt Smith, who held out in an attempt to become the highest-paid player at his position in the NFL, got his wish Thursday, signing a four-year contract worth a reported $13.6 million.
Smith’s signing, two games into the regular season, breaks an impasse between the two-time NFL rushing champion and Cowboy owner Jerry Jones that had inflamed Dallas players and fans. Without Smith this season, the defending Super Bowl champions are 0-2.
Jones said that Smith received a four-year deal that is “front-loaded into 1993.” The deal reportedly will pay Smith $7 million in the first year--$4 million as a signing bonus and $3 million in salary.
The contract allows Smith, entering his fourth season in the league, to supplant Thurman Thomas of the Buffalo Bills as the NFL’s highest-paid running back. Thomas signed a four-year deal worth $13.5 million in the off-season.
"(Being the highest-paid running back) is basically what I wanted to be,” Smith said, “and, with this agreement, that’s basically what I will be.”
Jones and Smith’s agent, Richard Howell, finalized the deal Thursday afternoon in Atlanta, where Howell is based. Smith also was in the city, but did not participate in the negotiations. When the deal was done, Jones, Howell and Smith flew to Dallas on Jones’ private plane to make the announcement.
Smith had made it clear early in his holdout that he wanted “Thurman Thomas money.” Jones had said he couldn’t make such a deal because of the NFL salary cap, which is due to be implemented next year.
Jones said Thursday he was able to deal with his concerns about the salary cap by paying so much of the money up front.
“We now have one of the cornerstones of our team (signed) for the next few years while a lot of the NFL will be in turmoil because of the salary cap,” he said.
Asked why the Cowboys couldn’t have offered Smith such a deal months ago, when Thomas’ contract first became an issue, Jones said: “Offers sometimes can result in negotiations moving apart. Whether we made mistakes in strategy, I don’t know. But there is a difference in what you’re willing to pay and what you’re willing to offer.”
Dallas Coach Jimmy Johnson said he wasn’t sure if Smith would be activated for the Cowboys’ game at Phoenix on Sunday night. “But if he is, he would be available only on a limited basis,” Johnson said.
Said Smith: “I’ve been training. I’ve been running. But I haven’t worn pads since January. I’ll have to see what kind of shape I’m in. If I carry the ball 30 times Sunday, I could be dead tired Monday.”
Regardless of Smith’s performance on the field Sunday, his presence could have a calming effect on a team in turmoil.
The Smith-Jones stalemate appeared to take an ugly turn last Sunday when the Cowboys, forced to use rookie Derrick Lassic at running back, lost to the Bills, 13-10, at Texas Stadium. After the game, defensive end Charles Haley smashed into a locker room wall and screamed, “We can’t win with this rookie running back!”
Other players, including quarterback Troy Aikman, spoke out in support of Smith’s position this week.
“Obviously, when you have a guy like Emmitt coming in, a lot of people look at it as a victory for players in general,” guard John Gesek said. "(Smith’s signing) kind of diffuses the whole situation here.”
Jones denied that the Cowboys’ 0-2 start changed the tenor of the negotiations.
Smith, however, offered a different view.
“I honestly feel that if the team was 2-0, I possibly would not be here,” he said.
Smith even got something extra. When Jones flew to Atlanta to finalize the new contract, he brought along a surprise.
“There was my Super Bowl ring on a seat all by itself,” Smith said. “I was wondering when I was going to get it.”