Emmitt Already Shopping Around?

Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, whose ability to run to daylight the last 13 years has made him the NFL's all-time leading rusher, is officially running in place with his career in limbo. Is Eugene Parker, Emmitt's agent, already shopping his services elsewhere?

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on Tuesday delayed an announcement on the running back's future with the team, saying a 3 1/2 hour meeting at his house Monday did not produce a definitive answer.

A second meeting has been scheduled for next week at which point, Jones said, the Cowboys will likely decide what to do about Smith. During that time, Smith, 33, who says he has no interest in retiring, will be allowed to explore options with other NFL teams until the next meeting.

Smith's agent, Eugene Parker, has already been shopping him around. And there does not appear to be a lot of takers for him as a starter, which is what Smith is looking for. "If he'd accept the minimum and the role of a backup, there would be a lot of teams in the NFL interested in him," a league personal man said at the NFL combine. "He still has something left in the tank but not as a starter."

Smith believes he can be a starter, has been saying as much all season and off-season and, if he is going to accept a backup role for minimum money, he is likely going to do so with the Cowboys. But there is a question as whether the Cowboys want him as a backup.

They certainly don't want him as a starter and certainly not for his scheduled $7 million base salary. It all means that the Cowboys will likely release Smith. The question is how do you release arguably the greatest player in franchise history.

"It is unique because Emmitt still is healthy and is playing, and so it's not like a situation where the decision was made for us like with Troy [Aikman] or Michael [Irvin]. This is different," Jones said.

"We are dealing with the greatest rusher of all time, an individual that in his way marks the vision of the Cowboys during the last 12-13 years where we have won more world championships than any other team in football. So we're dealing with that kind of respect."

Aikman had 10 concussions, and Jones struggled to bid farewell to him. So it is not outside the realm of possibility Jones bucks conventional wisdom and brings Smith back in 2003, but it is unlikely. Coach Bill Parcells isn't interested in keeping Smith in any role. But the decision belongs to Jones.

"I don't want to discuss exactly where I am," Jones said, "and I don't want to respond to whether we're negotiating or will he retire or what was said. I'm not going to get into that now."

The other option is the soon-to-be 34-year-old Smith could retire. San Francisco offered wide receiver Jerry Rice $1 million to retire as a 49er two seasons ago, and the Cowboys could do the same with Smith. Jones said he didn't know whether Smith would retire. What Jones did make clear is he doesn't want to force Smith into anything.

The decision, he said, will be a mutual one. "What I have, in visiting with Emmitt, is a sense of responsibility and a sense of the importance of what we do here and how we do it because it involves a lot of his future whether it's on or off the field," Jones said.

Smith departure breakdown
If Smith is released before June 1, 2003, he will count $4.9 million against the salary cap.

If Smith is released after June 1, 2003, he will count $2.8 million against the 2003 salary cap and $2.1 million against the 2004 salary cap.

If the Cowboys reduce his salary to $755,000 in 2003, he will count about $2.8 million – $755,000 + $2.1 million – against the 2003 salary cap.

If Smith plays for Dallas in 2003 and is released before June 1, 2004, he will count $2.1 million against the 2004 salary cap.

If Smith plays for Dallas in 2003 and is released after June 1, 2004, he will count $1.05 million against the 2004 salary cap and $1.05 million against the 2005 salary cap.

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