Emmitt closes in on record

Published: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
By STEPHEN HAWKINS The Associated Press SAN ANTONIO - Jerry Jones isn't ready to talk about what happens to Emmitt Smith after this season, when the Dallas running back should be the NFL's career rushing leader.
The Cowboys owner, who before last season cut three-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Troy Aikman, talks somewhat evasively on Smith's future.
"What we're interested in is what happens this year, and Emmitt's under contract for next year," Jones said. "We don't need to get into what's going to happen next year at this time. I'm not going to do it."
Jones knows it's a sticky subject. Smith, a former Florida Gator, is just 539 yards shy of the late Walter Payton's record of 16,726 career rushing yards. He also has an NFL-record 11 straight 1,000-yard seasons and played with Aikman in those three Super Bowls in the first half of the 1990s.
Going into his 13th season, the 33-year-old Smith remains one of the most popular players ever to wear the silver and blue.
When Aikman was cut because of health and salary cap concerns on March 7, 2001, he was coming off a season in which he played just half of the games because of at least two more concussions and chronic back pain.
Plus, Aikman was due a $7 million roster bonus and a contract extension through 2007 if he was still on the roster past that date.
There is no such deadline or potential extension in Smith's contract. But it would count about $10 million against the team's salary cap in 2003.
Smith knows some people, including perhaps Jones and the Cowboys, see the record as the capping of his career. He doesn't.
"It doesn't just start and end with the record," Smith said. "My love for football is still there. My desire to go to the Super Bowl is still there.
"It would be hard for them to say cut him if he's doing his job and doing it effectively. That would be hard to do," he said. "That's my focus. My focus is about performance."
When Aikman was let go, the Cowboys didn't have a successor prepared.
But Smith's replacement may already be on the roster.
Troy Hambrick, a big back (6-foot-1, 233 pounds) with deceptive speed, had 579 yards rushing last season. That was the most by any Cowboys back other than Smith since Herschel Walker in 1988.
Hambrick also averaged 5.1 yards per carry (third-best in the NFL) and started 11 games - two at tailback when Smith was injured and the rest at fullback after Robert Thomas' season-ending injury.
There has been plenty of speculation that Hambrick's role will increase substantially once Smith becomes the NFL's top career rusher. But, publicly, the team denies that.
"I don't think you can put it in those terms. We're trying to win games, we're not just out there to get Emmitt the record," said coach Dave Campo. "I think Emmitt is going to get the record winning us games. What I've said before is that whatever the best combination is for us to win, that's what we're going to do."
New offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet says Smith will be an important part in his West Coast-style offense. The running back has to be productive for the system to work.
But Coslet also likes a big back, and Hambrick is similar in size to Corey Dillon, who was the featured back for Coslet in Cincinnati.
Hambrick, in his third season, hasn't been shy about his desire to get more time and eventually replace Smith. But he also realizes the delicacy of the situation.
"I have goals of my own," Hambrick said. "But I don't mind sitting back for him. I am happy I get to learn from him. And hopefully one day it's going to be me."
COWBOYS on Page 3C Continued from 1C Season to forget?
  • A closer look at Emmitt Smith's totals from last season:
  • CARRIES: 261.
  • RUSHING YARDS: 1,021.
  • CATCHES: 17.
  • RECEIVING TOUCHDOWNS: 0. COWBOYS: Hambrick opened some eyes in 2001
    Quote book
  • "What we're interested in is what happens this year." - Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
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