Veteran Changover

Quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys last June, is one of several veteran players who because of age, philosophy and/or poor play could playing their last five games with the team. <BR>

Others on the list include running back Eddie George, linebacker Dexter Coakley, defensive end Marcellus Wiley, safety Tony Dixon, guard Matt Lehr, receivers Dedric Ward and Randal Williams.

And that's not even including 13-year veteran safety Darren Woodson, who is contemplating retirement after spending the entire year on the physically unable to perform list with a back injury.

Woodson, 35, said he won't make a decision on next year until he is fully healthy. However, he acknowledges that he has a lot of things to consider.

With base salaries of $3.5 million and $4 million the next two years, Woodson also knows the decision might not be his alone. He might have to agree to a pay cut if he decides to return to avoid getting cut.

"I know that will be something that will have to be looked at," Woodson said. "That is part of it. My focus is on getting healthy so I can make the best decision for myself."

Money is the root of any potential departure by Coakley. A three-time Pro Bowler, Coakley has been a mainstay at weak-side linebacker since his rookie season in 1997.

However, coach Bill Parcells has given some of Coakley's playing time away this season to second-year linebacker Bradie James.

Coakley has remained the starter and is actually the team's third-leading tackler. Yet the Cowboys likely don't plan on paying base salaries of $3.3 million and $4.5 million in each of the next two years to a part-time performer.

With $502,000 roster bonus due in March, the team will have to make a quick decision on Coakley. So look for James to get even more playing time over the last month to determine whether he can handle the job full-time.

The nine-year veteran George, who signed with the Cowboys as a free agent in July, knew he was one and done in Dallas well before Julius Jones' emergence the last two games. He has already termed this season a disappointment because of his poor play and his belief that the Cowboys didn't give him ample opportunities to succeed. But George is not thinking about retirement and hopes to continue his career somewhere else next year.

Wiley, also a disappointing offseason free-agent signee, has another three years left on his contract. Still, he realizes one and done is a possibility because of his high salary and lack of production. Wiley got a $4.5 million signing bonus to upgrade the Cowboys' pass rush. He has delivered one sack and often is taken out on passing downs.

While Wiley and George's struggles have gotten most of the attention, Dixon, who has been benched in favor of Lynn Scott, probably most epitomizes the team's woes in 2004.

The Cowboys didn't make a lot of moves in offseason because they counted on improvement from within. They took a chance on players like Dixon being better in their second year under Parcells.

Dixon, a career backup, became a starter when Woodson got hurt in July. Instead of looking for a proven replacement, Parcells trusted that Dixon could do the job. It was an opportunity that Dixon welcomed because it was his opportunity to show the coaches he could handle the job long term in case Woodson was unable to return.

Now the Cowboys will head into the offseason possibly looking for two safeties -- a starter to play alongside Roy Williams and a primary backup because Scott is not considered a long-term answer, either.

"I wonder about next year," Dixon said. "I love being in Dallas. But I have to be realistic. There is a possibility I am not going to be here. There is a possibility they don't want me here. Had they been happy, I'd still be playing."

Ward is in his eighth year. Lehr and Williams are in their fourth year. That they have been mainstays on the inactive list and are not being allowed suit up for games says everything that needs to be said about their chances of returning to Dallas next year.

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