Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones lost his salary war with Emmitt Smith yesterday, but he may have won the battle to save the team's season.
After insisting for weeks that he wasn't going to pay Smith as much as Thurman Thomas because of the NFL's looming salary cap, Jones signed Smith to a four-year, $13.6 million deal that makes him the highest-paid running back in pro football.
With the defending Super Bowl champions 0-2 and on the verge on unraveling, Jones gave Smith a contract worth an average of $25,000 a year more than the $13.5 million deal that Thomas signed with the Buffalo Bills in July. Smith will average $3.4 million a year and Thomas $3.375 million.
At a news conference in Irving, Texas, last night after Jones had flown from New York to Atlanta to pick up Smith, Jones said it was a "win-win" solution.
Jones signed Smith's $4 million signing bonus check in front of the cameras and said, "I'm glad you're getting this, Emmitt. Are you happy?"
"Very much," Smith said.
"I am, too," Jones replied.
Smith later said, "I got what I wanted. I wanted to be the highest-paid running back in the NFL. But it was the hardest thing for me to do, to sit in the living room and watch my teammates play on television."
Smith, 24, will get $7 million this year -- the signing bonus plus $3 million in salary. Reggie White of the Green Bay Packers, who'll make $9 million of his $17 million deal, is the only NFL player who will be paid more in 1993.
For purposes of salary-cap accounting, the Cowboys must prorate Smith's bonus and count $1 million more in each of the next three years in addition to his salary figures of $2.2 million, $2.4 million and $2.0 million in 1994, 1995 and 1996.
Thomas' contract, which doesn't have a signing bonus, pays him $4 million this year, $2.8 million in 1994 and 1995 and $3.9 million in 1996.
The contract also means that Smith will be in uniform Sunday night when the Cowboys play the Phoenix Cardinals in a game that will be televised nationally by TNT.
"Hopefully, we can get this thing turned around and get back on a winning track," said Smith, who led the league in rushing yardage the past two seasons. "It's definitely going to be different. I think I am in pretty good shape. How much in shape is yet to be seen. . . . If I even play this Sunday, I could be dead tired Sunday night."
Smith added: "[Rookie] Derrick Lassic deserves to start. I'm not sure how far I can go. It's possible I could hurt the team more than help it."
Said Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson: "Emmitt has a tremendous amount of work to do but should be ready for the Green Bay game [Oct. 3]. I will decide prior to game time Sunday night whether he'll be activated.
SG "But if he is, he would be available only on a very limited basis."
The Cowboys' Emmitt Smith, who will make $13.6 million over the next four years, and the Bills' Thurman Thomas ($13.5 million) are the NFL's two highest-paid running backs: Here is
how their contracts are structured:
.. .. .. .. .. Smith .. .. .. .. .. Thomas
'93 bonus .. .. $4 mil. . .. .. .. .. None
'93 salary .. ..$3 mil. .. .. .. .. ..$4 mil.
'94 salary .. ..$2.2 mil. .. .. .. .. $2.8 mil.
'95 salary .. ..$2.4 mil. .. .. .. .. $2.8 mil.
'96 salary .. ..$2 mil. .. .. .. .. ..$3.9 mil.