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Cowboys Pay Big for Smith : Pro Football: After two losses, Dallas finaly gives running back what he wanted: 'Thurman Thomas money.'

September 17, 1993|From Associated Press

IRVING, Tex. — Emmitt Smith and Jerry Jones ended their contract feud Thursday. The cost: millions of dollars out of Jones' pocket and two lost football games.

Smith, who had watched on television while the defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys lost both games they played without him, reached an agreement with Jones that could make him the highest-paid running back in the game.

Smith's agent, Richard Howell, scooped Jones on releasing the news. While Howell's office in Atlanta was confirming to the Associated Press an agreement had been reached, Jones' office in Dallas withheld confirmation for another 90 minutes.

Howell's office said Smith and Jones were on their way to Dallas for a press conference.

Cowboy public relations director Rich Dalrymple finally confirmed "there has been an agreement in principle but the contract has not been signed."

Cowboy Coach Jimmy Johnson responded: "I'll believe it when I see it."

Dalrymple said the contract was expected to be signed before an 6 p.m. PDT press conference in the Texas Stadium club. Jones and Smith both will attend. Jones flew from New York to Atlanta to pick up Smith after the tentative agreement had been reached over the telephone.

No contract terms were immediately divulged, but Smith had said he wouldn't sign unless Jones paid him "Thurman Thomas money."

The contract was expected to be a four-year deal for approximately $13.6 million, which would be more than Buffalo pays Thomas. Smith also has the advantage of not having to pay state income tax, whereas Thomas does.

Smith had said he wanted a four-year contract worth $15 million.

Thomas is the NFL's highest-paid running back at $13.5 million over four years.

Smith believed he should not only be the highest-paid running back but also be compensated in the NFL's top 10.

"I was underpaid the first three years," Smith said in a recent telephone interview. "Now it's time for me to be paid what I'm worth."

Jones fought to the very end against paying Smith top dollar, saying he needed to pay Smith as little as possible to position the Cowboys under the salary cap that will take effect in 1994.

"I have all the confidence in the world that what I'm doing for the future is the right thing to do," Jones said before the agreement. "I'm not trying to win a popularity contest. But I feel now by putting the Thurman Thomas dollars out there I've met responsibilities to the fans and the players in the locker room."

Smith had the option to sit out the season and become a restricted free agent next year.

Asked what would happen if Smith was offered $4 million per year by another team, Jones said the Cowboys would match it. "We'd pay $4 million. Emmitt Smith is going to be a Cowboy."

Jones has admitted the loss to Buffalo Sunday complicated matters.

"The leverage pendulum swung because of the loss," Jones said. "We wouldn't have the talks we're having now if we had won."

Jones has tried to sell his side of the bargaining to the media while Smith has remained relatively mum.

However, it hasn't worked in the Cowboy locker room, where players have openly sided with Smith. Defensive end Charles Haley was the most vocal and violent, slamming his helmet into a wall and saying "we can't win with a rookie running back."

Fans also have turned on Jones, who became so sensitive to their catcalls that he hid in the Texas Stadium tunnel during Sunday's 13-10 loss, shunning his usual fourth-quarter jaunt along the sidelines, then hurried out of the interview room area before the doors were opened.

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