Ellis an Unhappy Camper

Greg Ellis says his marriage needs work. Not his marriage to his wife, Tangie – his marriage with the Dallas Cowboys. The team's first-round draft choice in 1998 has been a model of stability and dependability since his arrival in Dallas, having started 108 of 112 games in his career.

But as he enters his eighth professional season, Ellis finds himself in what he calls "uncharted waters."

When players arrived in Valley Ranch for this weekend's veteran mini-camp, Ellis was told by head coach Bill Parcells that his role with the team would change. Parcells told Ellis that he wants to start using the North Carolina alum as an outside linebacker in certain situations within the team's 3-4 defense. Ellis does not like the idea, and says he wants some assurance from the team that he will not be cast away if the experiment does not work.

An anchor at defensive end with the team's former 4-3 defense, Ellis felt unsure of his future at the beginning of last season with the switch to the 3-4 was made. Defensive ends in the 3-4 traditionally are bulkier than the 6-foot-6, 271-pound Ellis, and he worried where he fit into the team's plans.

"When we went to the 3-4, I wanted out of here," Ellis said, "not because of any disrespect toward the team, or Jerry Jones or Bill Parcells, but just because I didn't know either of the (defensive end or outside linebacker) positions (in the 3-4)."

Ellis has made his living as a classic defensive end, playing with his hand down on the line of scrimmage, able to rush the passer and play the run. In the scenario Parcells envisions, Ellis will spend some time standing upright as an outside linebacker, a position in which opponents could create some mismatches that could weaken the Dallas defense.

"There are times I'll have to drop into coverage, on a running back or a tight end or even a receiver coming over the middle," he said. "Imagine me on T.O. We'll try to stay away from those situations, of course, but those are the situations other teams will try to create – that's what they get paid for."

Known for his unending work ethic, Ellis said he will continue to work extremely hard and do everything asked of him. However, he also said he is aware that the game is a business, and said he wants contractual assurance that the team will not get rid of him if the transition to the new position does not progress as quickly as planned.

"I want to say this to you (the media) and to the world," said Ellis, who is entering the fourth season of a seven-year contract. "I'm not asking for more money – that will never come out of my mouth. I don't want a raise. I'm under contract, and I'm satisfied with my contract. I just want to know they're not going to throw me away.

"I'm not asking for more money. You can ask Bill (Parcells) – I told him that. If I don't make it to the end (of the contract), I want it to be because I've fallen off, not because they throw me away."

At this weekend's mini-camp, most of the snaps with the first team went to second-year defensive ends Marcus Spears and Chris Canty. Ellis said he's OK with that.

"I told Bill ‘don't start me. Don't give me more money, or an extension – it's not about that.'" Ellis said. "I just want to be shown the same commitment from the other (management) side of the building that I think I've shown the team. There are a lot of ways to show commitment. Unfortunately, they're all contract-related."

Ellis reiterated that he is not looking for a raise. Instead, what he'd like to get is a restructured deal, in which more money is pushed forward into a bonus or at least guaranteed.

That scenario is not without precedent in Dallas. In 2004, the Cowboys signed free agent defensive end Marcellus Wiley away from the San Diego Chargers with a multi-year deal that included a multimillion-dollar signing bonus. In one season with the Cowboys, Wiley mustered 31 tackles and just three quarterback sacks, and was cut.

It's hard to imagine Ellis playing in a uniform other than his silver and blue No. 98 jersey and the blue star on the side of his helmet. But if the current situation doesn't improve, Ellis said it's a possibility in the future.

"I know I could make more money going somewhere else, but I don't want to do that," he said. "If they can show me that they're committed to keeping me here, that's what I want. If not, maybe y'all won't be standing in front of me holding microphones next year."

Ellis said that had he known he would be asked to play in a new defensive alignment and learn a new position down the road, he would have been more hesitant to sign his new contract before the 2003 season.

"If I knew about the change, I wouldn't have signed," he said. "Nevertheless, we are where we are."

Ellis admitted that the team was not alone in its questionable decisions, as he missed portions of the team's offseason conditioning program. He said Parcells was upset.

"I know the offseason is important," he said, "and I apologized for not participating in all of it."

Ellis also said he realizes he doesn't have a lot of leverage with which to bargain, but said he had hoped the new contract already would be completed. He said he doesn't want to hold out of training camp for a new contract, but he also didn't offer a declaration that such a move was out of the question.

"I'm not going to say I'll hold out," he said. "I don't know. That goes against everything I believe in. I don't foresee that."

He reiterated that he intends to give everything he has to do what's asked of him, but admitted that the uncertainty surrounding his status could affect the end result.

"I've always given everything I have, and I'll continue to do that," he said. "But when you don't feel the same commitment, you're heart's not the same. I always give my best, but it's easier to give your best you get their best.

"If you're married, and your wife is not committed to you, you might not feel like you're committed, either. When that happens, you don't have much of a marriage."

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