It could cost Cowboys' Jones if he keeps going against the grain

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It all came too easy for Jerry Jones.

In building the Dallas Cowboys from 1-15 to Super Bowl champion in four years, the Dallas Cowboys owner had several incredible strokes of good fortune.

For example, the Minnesota Vikings gave him a king's ransom for Herschel Walker, he had the No. 1 draft pick in 1989 when Troy Aikman (and not somebody such as Vinny Testaverde) came out of college and Emmitt Smith fell to the 17th spot in the draft in 1990.

Jones was so successful so fast that he thinks he can keep defying the conventional wisdom.

This is a year when many teams are trying to deal with the looming salary cap by paying the price it takes to get their stars signed to long-term deals.

In the past month, the San Diego Chargers extended the contract of quarterback Stan Humphries when it had a year to go and the Seattle Seahawks extended the contract of Cortez Kennedy, the best young defensive lineman in the game, when it had two years left.

The Buffalo Bills, the team Dallas beat in the Super Bowl last January, gave running back Thurman Thomas and defensive end Bruce Smith identical $3.375 million deals when they each had a year left. The Bills then brought in quarterback Jim Kelly last week and front-loaded his old contract so he gets more money this season in the last year without a cap.

Jones has a different idea. He says that to keep Smith and Aikman, he has decided Smith must accept less than what Thomas got.

"If we pay Thurman Thomas numbers to one of our five or six running backs, it's not impossible we would have 25 or 35 percent of our payroll invested in two players [Smith and Aikman]. That won't work for our team," he said.

Not surprisingly, Smith isn't thrilled with the idea of getting less than Thomas, and Jones takes it for granted that he'll miss the Monday-night opener in Washington on Sept. 6.

"That's not a surprise to me," Jones said.

Jones figures he'll eventually force Smith in on his terms and then designate him the franchise player so he can pay him only the average of the top five backs (likely to be around $2.6 million) instead of making him the highest-paid running back.

Even if this strategy works, it could destroy team morale and lead to its downfall.

As Aikman said: "When guys think Emmitt's not being treated in a fair manner, then you've got problems. I think guys start to question the loyalty of the organization."

Wide receiver Michael Irvin, who was a holdout last year, said the problem is Jones is a hands-on owner. "Every time he puts a dollar across that table, he sees that dollar and he's squeezing that George Washington and making him yell, 'Let me go, Jerry. Let me go.' " Irvin said.

Of course, there's always a chance that Jones is bluffing and still eventually will pay Smith what Thomas got.

If he's not bluffing, Jones may find out the road down can be as quick as the road to the top.

The expansion derby

Baltimore tomorrow will become the first city to have an official sellout of premium seats, which should be the final piece of a successful package.

In Charlotte, N.C., where the premium-seat selling idea started, officials are saying it's enough for the city to sell about 50,000 of the 62,000 premium seat licenses it needs to finance the stadium.

Even though it plans to raise the prices on the remaining unsold ones after Sept. 3, officials insist they can sell the rest when they get the team. Now they have to convince the owners that it's a viable plan. That will be a tough sell.

Jacksonville, Fla., has just jumped back into the race, and it's trying to sell 9,000 club seats by next weekend, but optimism is high.

A Florida Times-Union columnist wrote that Jacksonville believes, "the NFL really wants us. And more importantly, the NFL appears to need us. Charlotte's financial deal is shaky. If the alternative means awarding franchises to St. Louis and Baltimore, well, the NFL isn't totally comfortable with exposing itself to negative reaction from Congress about expanding into two old cities."

The reality is the only talk from Congress is that the league should expand by four teams, instead of two, but the NFL has ignored that.

The paper goes on to concede Baltimore has a sellout, but added: "Sources said Baltimore may face problems with some NFL owners because the Washington Redskins are looking to build a new stadium outside of Washington, and a franchise in nearby Baltimore could cause problems."

That's the kind of spin the other cities are using to try to counteract the fact that Baltimore is offering the league the best financial deal.

In reality, the only problem the Redskins will have in a new stadium is dealing with all the irate fans on their huge season-ticket waiting list who don't get seats. And Redskins insiders insist owner Jack Kent Cooke could care less whether Baltimore gets a team.

If anything, Cooke might wind up favoring Baltimore simply because commissioner Paul Tagliabue is said to be lobbying against the city. Cooke opposed Tagliabue's election in 1989 on the grounds that he was just another Washington lawyer with no qualifications for the job. Their relationship worsened when Tagliabue made his controversial ruling on the Wilber Marshall trade.

In Washington, they're curious whether Tagliabue will show up for the opener between the Redskins and Cowboys. Tagliabue has sat in Cooke's box in the past, but he's likely to get a frosty reception if he comes again since he took away a first-round pick from the Redskins in the Marshall deal.

Riggo's travails

John Riggins, who always marched to the beat of his own drum, is apparently living in an industrial storage warehouse in Chantilly, Va.

"I think it's kind of a novelty," said his ex-wife, Mary Lou. "In New York City, it might even be considered fashionable. John is not an everyday kind of guy. If you apply everyday standards to him, you're going get spun around."

When he's not in the warehouse, he's spending a lot of time in court. A lawyer is suing him for $20,870 in unpaid bills and he's suing his ex-wife, a real estate agent, for selling their former home for $745,000 with an ad reading, "Come see John Riggins' former home."

A mistrial was declared in the latter suit last week, but not before a lawyer asked Riggins: "Being kind of a wild and crazy guy was part of your image, wasn't it?'"

Riggins replied: "I resent that remark."

When the lawyer asked him if the real estate firm might not want to be associated with Riggins, he said: "They'd be the first."

Meanwhile, his ex-wife said Riggins is up to date on his child support for their four children and that they're comfortable visiting him at the warehouse.

"I'm not mad at him," she said. "It's hard to understand what his motivations can be. There's always a chance that he may sincerely believe that he's been wronged."

Reader beware

Former Maryland defensive lineman Darren Drozdov is getting a lot of attention as a free agent in the Denver Broncos' camp, but you might want to skip this item if you're reading this while enjoying your Sunday morning breakfast.

If you're still with us, Drozdov has an unfortunate habit of vomiting during games. He did it on the ball last week before a play. Officials changed footballs and then ordered him out of the game for a play.

Drozdov said: "I get sick a lot."

He said he only got through a couple of games at Maryland without doing it.

Drozdov, who also sports a punk haircut, matching earrings and seven tattoos, was cut by the New York Jets in minicamp because they were over the 80-player camp limit. He's expected to make the Broncos as a backup to Greg Kragen.

"He's a good person, he's just different," said coach Wade Phillips.

Bob Ferguson, the team's director of football operations, said: "He's a real character. He's crazy."

Ex-Terp 2

Stan Gelbaugh is the backup quarterback to Rick Mirer in Seattle because Dan McGwire cracked a bone in his wrist last Saturday night. Last year, he got to play because McGwire and Kelly Stouffer, who's no longer in the league, got hurt. He also got to play in Phoenix when Chris Chandler was hurt.

The ex-Terp said: "Guys I play with seem to get hurt."

Ex-Terp 3

Offensive lineman Ron Solt of the Indianapolis Colts underwent the ninth surgery of his 10-year career last week when he had shoulder surgery for the second time. He also has had six knee surgeries and one on his wrist.

Solt said he underwent a bone scan earlier this year in which a dye is injected into the bloodstream to highlight previous injuries. When it runs across inflamed areas, it shows up red on the testing screen.

"My whole body came up red," Solt said.

Going home

Billy Joe Hobert, the former University of Washington quarterback whose $50,000 loan started the investigation at the school that led to Pacific-10 sanctions and the resignation of coach Don James, isn't keen on returning to Seattle on Sept. 12 with the Los Angeles Raiders.

His family received a death threat last year and one of the cars he got with the loan money was stolen and when it was found there were bullet holes in it. On one side of the car was written: "You can't afford this, Billy Joe."

Of the game at the Kingdome, Hobert said: "I'm going to be wearing a lot of pads."

Norman speaks out

In Philadelphia magazine, Eagles owner Norman Braman answered his critics.

He called Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell an offensive term in Yiddish because the mayor included Braman's name in a poll to show the owner was one of the most unpopular public figures in town.

Of the fans complaining about the departed players, he said: "Fans fall in love with players. I understand that, but you can't let fans run your business."

Of departed Reggie White, he said: "He did a super job of marketing himself. I give him credit. But I was not going to become part of a circus. And the press fell for all that crap about God."

White said he would would sign where God wanted him to. Braman gets a chance to see White on Sept. 12 when the Eagles play their second game in Green Bay.

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