Parcells Still Excited to be in Dallas

The 2003 playoffs are still going on. The Super Bowl is at the end of the month. Yet Cowboys coach Bill Parcells are is already pointing to the 2004 season. The truth is Parcells didn't want to stop in 2003.

And not just because of the playoff opportunity that was lost in Saturday's 29-10 wild-card setback to the Carolina Panthers. But because of his excitement over how far the Cowboys came in his first year as coach.

Although he told them to get their expectations up when he took over following last season's third consecutive 5-11 campaign, he didn't expect a 10-6 record and the team's first playoff berth in four years. Certainly not with Quincy Carter at quarterback.

But Carter and the team's ability to play beyond expectations in 2003 has stoked Parcells' competitive juices.

And with two good nights of sleep behind him for the first time in months, he said he's re-energized and ready to continue the process of making the Cowboys legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

"I am not tired," said Parcells during his season-wrap news conference on Tuesday. "I am ready to go. I am certainly committed to doing the best job I can. Quite frankly, I have a better attitude about next year. I'm more excited about it than probably in several years past."

Despite the team's success this year, the Cowboys have many questions to answer. Parcells knows the Cowboys can't simply pick up where they left off and that they will have to start over "with another draft, another free agency, another training camp and another regular season" just to get back to the playoffs in 2004.

"But that's what the game is about, having to re-energize, rededicate, recommit yourself," Parcells said.

However, he said the Cowboys don't have as far to go to be good next season. Building from 10-6 rather than 5-11 is certainly a good start. Another plus is a positive salary cap situation. According to a team source, the Cowboys are roughly $18 million under next season's projected cap figure of $79 million.

"I think we have gone from a lower echelon team, certainly into the middle of the pack," Parcells said. "We are young. We have a lot to do. We are going to have some money. We are going to have some latitude. We are going to be able to be active. If we can add a few good players and have a good draft, I think we have a chance to be a better team."

That process includes looking to upgrade every position on the team, including quarterback.

Parcells said Carter made a lot of progress in 2003, rebounding from the 2002 benching to win 10 games and lead his team to the playoffs. Parcells believes Carter has a chance to be better, especially if he improves his accuracy, cuts down on his mistakes (21 interceptions) and the team gives him a running game to work with.

"Quincy Carter is my starting quarterback," Parcells said. "'But if an opportunity comes along where I feel like I can get somebody that's going to improve that position, I am going to do it. I am going in with the idea of improving him. I need to get this guy playing better. But if Dan Fouts comes along."

Dan Fouts is retired and not coming back. But if Drew Bledsoe is a salary cap casualty in Buffalo, it would make for an interesting decision for Parcells, considering their time together in New England.

But there's a price tag that comes along with Bledsoe. And despite the team's cap room, Parcells said the Cowboys are not likely to pursue any big-ticket players, instead focusing on filling a number of holes. He said the roster could be overhauled by at least 25 percent.

If the Cowboys do go for a quarterback, a moderately priced Mark Brunell, who stands to be a cap casualty of the Jacksonville Jaguars, could be the answer as insurance for Carter.

Parcells said his biggest off-season focus is improving the team around the quarterback, saying "the more you can be less reliant on your quarterback to win games, the more success you have."

Topping that list is the running game, as in a new running back or running backs, and upgrading the offensive line. Running back Troy Hambrick's days here are not over but look for Duce Staley of the Eagles, Corey Dillon of the Bengals and Curtis Martin of the Jets to draw free-agent and trade interest.

Upgrading the pass rush, the special teams -- especially punter and kick returner -- have also been identified as major areas of focus.

The team's five unrestricted free agents -- center Gennaro DiNapoli, defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban, cornerback Mario Edwards, defensive tackle Leo Carson and kick returner Michael Bates -- could all return at the right price.

Parcells said financial decisions have to be made on several veterans, who could possibly be released or have their contracts restructured.

Receiver Joey Galloway's 34 catches in 2003 do not equate to his $8 million cap figure for 2004. If the Cowboys release him before June 1, he would count $5.3 million against the 2004 cap, saving them roughly $2.8 million. If they release him after June 1, he would count just $1.8 million in 2004, saving them $6.3 million.

Galloway could return if he agrees to a salary reduction, which he already said he was willing to consider.

Offensive lineman Ryan Young, who lost his starting job at right tackle and finished the season as a reserve guard, is due $1.1 million next season and has a $2.1 million cap figure. He is also due a $400,000 roster bonus in March. If the Cowboys cut him, they could save roughly $900,000 off next season's cap. However, a salary reduction is more likely in order.

And then there's Larry Allen, who is no longer worth his $5.3 million cap figure. Allen bumped heads with Parcells all season but might be too costly to let go. Getting him to buy into the program and getting him in shape by training camp is the priority -- if he doesn't retire.

Parcells shockingly invoked the name of 12-year veteran safety Darren Woodson on Tuesday when he began talking about future decisions. Woodson, who is the last remaining link to the three Super Bowl title teams of the 1990s, counts $3.55 million against next year's cap and is due a $1.2 million roster bonus in March. Right now, however, the only sure thing is Parcells' enthusiasm to start working.

"I'm genuinely excited," Parcells said. "I'm really happy to be here in Dallas. I like coaching here. I like the organization. I just want to get going and do the best I can. I'm committed to doing that."

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