Cardinals intend to make Emmitt their featured backPosted: Wednesday March 26, 2003 6:59 PM
Updated: Thursday March 27, 2003 5:22 PM
PHOENIX (AP) -- The NFL's career rushing leader believes he still has some yards left in those 33-year-old legs. The Arizona Cardinals sure hope so.
Released by Dallas last month, Emmitt Smith agreed to terms with the Cardinals on Wednesday, moving from one of the league's most storied franchises to one of its most downtrodden.
"Emmitt will start," head coach Dave McGinnis said, adding that he will also help break in Marcel Shipp, who led the Cardinals in rushing last season in his second year.
Smith will wear the same No. 22 he wore with the Cowboys.
"From a personal standpoint, I want nothing but the best for Emmitt and his family, of course," Dallas owner Jerry Jones said, "but in my mind, I'll always see the star on Emmitt's helmet.
"I know after he finishes his career, there will be a means for him to contribute again to the Dallas organization."
Asked if this brought home the reality that Smith is no longer a Cowboy, Jones said: "It was not unexpected. I knew he wanted to carry the ball, so from that standpoint it was something we were prepared for."
A starting job was one of the things Smith had sought and one of the things the Cowboys couldn't guarantee when they released him Feb. 27 after 13 seasons and 17,162 yards.
The Cardinals said Smith got a two-year contract, but did not disclose terms. It was believed to be worth about $4 million a year.
But Smith's other desire -- winning again after three Super Bowl victories in Dallas -- may not be so easy. Arizona finished 5-11 last season and has been one of the NFL's consistently losing franchises -- it has one playoff victory since 1947.
Smith contributed to the Cardinals' woes over the years. He scored 25 career touchdowns against them, his highest total versus an opponent.
Overall, Smith ranks No. 1 in NFL history with 153 rushing TDs.
Smith, who will turn 34 on May 15, failed to reach 1,000 yards this season for the first time since his rookie year in 1990, gaining 975 yards.
Smith rushed for over 100 yards in only two games, including the one with Seattle on Oct. 27 in which he broke Walter Payton's career rushing record of 16,726.
The Cardinals plan to formally introduce Smith on Thursday at their practice complex in Tempe.
"I've always been very confident in my abilities," Smith said right after being released by Dallas. "I think I'm a 1,300-yard back, and I will be out to prove that."
"I am not a guy that is afraid of competition," he said. "I walk up and face it full throttle. I will help someone's organization get to the Super Bowl, get back to the Super Bowl or win the Super Bowl."
Rod Graves, the Cardinals' vice president, said he did not know if any other team was interested in Smith.
Graves and Bill Bidwill, the team's owner, said they believed that Smith's presence alone would enhance the image of the Cardinals, both locally and nationally.
If nothing else, Smith should help boost attendance -- the Cardinals have rarely sold out since moving from St. Louis after the 1987 season. And when they have, it often was against Dallas, which still retains a solid fan base that existed before the Cardinals arrived.
Contract terms were not immediately disclosed, but Graves suggested that it was a unique contract, perhaps involving marketing. Smith already does several national television commercials.
"We recognize Emmitt Smith as a total package," Graves said.
The Cardinals began the free agent period with two negatives -- losing quarterback Jake Plummer to Denver and wide receiver David Boston to San Diego. They were arguably the team's most exciting offensive players.
McGinnis, who was an assistant with the Chicago Bears when Payton was finishing his career there, said he expects Smith to make the same contribution to Shipp and other Cardinals that he saw from Payton.
"Walter was a great example to everyone who was there at the time," he said. "Emmitt will do the same, on the field and in the locker room."
The Cardinals entertained Smith lavishly when he was here for his visit.
Bidwill said that when they took him out to dinner, they made sure he sat where he could have a view of the entire Valley of the Sun.
"He turned to me and said: 'You made sure I sat in this seat, didn't you?'" Bidwill said.