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End of the line?

Cowboys, Aikman may be running out of time

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Posted: Wednesday March 07, 2001 2:13 PM

  Troy Aikman Dallas QB Troy Aikman believes he still has the skills to be successful. Brian Bahr/Allsport

IRVING, Texas (AP) -- The Dallas Cowboys may be running out of time to decide what to do with Troy Aikman.

Aikman's contract calls for the team to pay the quarterback a $7 million bonus and extend his contract through 2007 if he's on the roster Thursday.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and agent Leigh Steinberg have talked about delaying that date to June 1, but to do so they need permission from the NFL's management council. Carl Francis of the NFL Players Association said Wednesday he had yet to see any such request.

"We will be notified when an extension has been applied for," Francis said. "To my knowledge, that hasn't happened."

Whenever the deadline, the options remain the same: Jones could keep Aikman or cut him, or the quarterback could retire.

Jones and Steinberg, who did not return calls seeking comment, are eying the June date because of its ramifications on the salary cap. Players who are released or who retire before then count fully against the upcoming season's salary cap, while the cap hit can be spread over 2001 and 2002 if the player goes off the roster after that date.

If a delay is granted, it would be to allow Aikman, 34, more time to investigate the health risks of continuing his career. He's had at least 10 concussions in 12 seasons plus nagging back pain.

Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFLPA, said last week the league gave Steve Young, another Steinberg client, several delays while he was facing a similar decision last year.

Young ended up retiring, freeing the San Francisco 49ers from a $1 million roster bonus. The team ended up paying him anyway.

Aikman has said he'd like to keep playing because he still enjoys the game and still thinks he has the skills to be successful.

As for the health risks, tests done before last season showed no longterm damage from his previous concussions.

From the Cowboys' perspective, the money he's owed is only part of the problem. It would be quite a gamble to build around a quarterback who could be one hit from never playing again.

But Jones has been extremely loyal to the players who helped Dallas win three Super Bowls in the 1990s. There's added sentiment in Jones' attachment to Aikman because he was the first player Jones ever drafted.

Dallas has begun looking at other options. Former Baltimore quarterback Tony Banks, who played for Cowboys offensive coordinator Jack Reilly when both were in St. Louis, spent Tuesday visiting with Jones and other team officials.


 
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