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NFL MEETINGS

It's a Deal: Smith Is Now a Cardinal

March 27, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX — For Emmitt Smith, everything is new but his jersey number.

The former career Dallas Cowboy and NFL all-time rushing leader has signed with the Arizona Cardinals. Details of the contract were not released, although ESPN.com reported it's a two-year deal worth $7.8 million.

"I'm extremely pleased now to be the head coach of a football team that Emmitt Smith is going to be a member of," said Cardinal Coach Dave McGinnis, whose team finished 15th in the league in rushing last season.

Smith, who turns 34 in May, is due to arrive in Arizona today. He will keep his No. 22 and will replace Marcel Shipp as the starting running back. McGinnis said there's still a significant place for Shipp as a backup but that Smith is too valuable to keep on the sideline.

"This to me in no way inhibits Marcel Shipp," McGinnis said. "I'll go back to my early years in this league, and I watched many young running backs learn from Walter Payton.... This can only enhance what [Shipp] can do."

The Cowboys recently released Smith after 13 seasons in a cost-cutting move. His salary-cap figure for next season would have been $9.8 million. Despite breaking Payton's rushing record last season, Smith had only two 100-yard games and gained fewer than 1,000 yards in a season for the first time since he was a rookie. He finished with 975 yards and a per-carry average of 3.8 yards, second-lowest of his career.

"In my mind, I think I'm a 1,300-yard back, and I will be out to prove that," Smith said after being released.

Arizona is believed to be the only suitor ready to make Smith a starter.

"I know what Emmitt has conveyed to me," McGinnis said. "He knows what he has left, and he believes that he can be a contributor."

Smith broke Walter Payton all-time rushing mark of 16,726 yards on Oct. 27, 2002, against Seattle. He has 17,162 rushing yards in his career.

*

The overtime debate is over, at least for this year. A proposal to alter the NFL overtime system, changing it from sudden death to one that gives each team at least one possession, was voted down Wednesday, the final day of the league meetings. The measure needed 24 votes to pass but received only 17.

Opponents argued the two-possession system would not only make the overtime games longer but probably would increase ties, a possibility the extra period is supposed to reduce. The competition committee was split, 4-4, on the proposal, which was amended to be a one-season trial.

A compelling argument against a modified overtime came from a member of that committee, Indianapolis General Manager Bill Polian. He brought up the case of a snowy overtime game at Denver last November that the Colts won with a long field goal. He said they might not have pulled off the upset had each team gotten a possession, because the Colts surely would have played more conservatively and punted if they knew a sudden-death field goal wouldn't have clinched the victory.

"It would have been, punt the ball, hope you get them down on the five-yard line and play field position," Polian said. "That was the choice."

A record 25 games were decided in overtime last season, and Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said the suspense of sudden-death finishes was a good thing for the league.

"I guess the short of it was people felt we have the best rule right now and there's a lot of excitement," he said. "We've been bragging all year about overtime games, and we'll continue to be bragging next year."

The owners didn't vote on a proposal to expand the playoff field from six to seven teams per conference. That vote probably will take place at the meetings in May. The competition committee wants to further research the ramifications of an additional wild-card game, particularly as it relates to the exaggerated advantage of only one team per conference getting a bye versus the TV money that would be generated by another game.

A proposal to change the instant-replay system so coaches could re-use successful challenges failed.

*

Not only did the league extend the G-3 stadium loan program but it zinged the Raiders in the process. There is a provision that precludes a team from receiving a G-3 -- a loan from the NFL for as much as $150 million -- if that team is suing the league. The Raiders are suing the league over the rights to the Los Angeles market.

Tagliabue said the decision to extend the program was unanimous "except for one team," obviously the Raiders.

Teams that assist others in suing the league or other clubs also are banned from receiving a G-3 loan. For instance, that would have applied to the Rams, who once were a party in a case against the league that eventually was dismissed.

"It's like that old Biblical saying, don't bite the hand that you want to feed you," Tagliabue said.

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