Though Jones says he won't sign any high-profile free agents before the upcoming season, there is one potential exception: All-Pro cornerback Deion Sanders, whose brilliant pass coverage helped the Niners overtake the Cowboys in 1994. It is generally assumed that Sanders will re-sign with San Francisco after his baseball season ends, but Jones says he'll make a run at Prime Time and denies he's entering the Deion Derby simply to jack up the price the 49ers must pay for Sanders.
"It's a very serious consideration for us," Jones says. "It could make a lot of sense." Jones will make this pitch: By joining the Cowboys and winning it all, Sanders could define himself as the ultimate difference-maker. Aikman has already told Jones he would be willing to restructure his contract, which runs through 2000, to help fit Neon Deion under the cap. Boasts Jones: "We have more room available to rework contracts than anyone in the league." Sanders's agent, Eugene Parker, believes Prime Time could get the same endorsement income as a Cowboy as he could as a 49er and says a Dallas offer "could be intriguing; the door is open."
If the Cowboys don't get Sanders, they'll still take the field believing they are the best team in the NFL.
Switzer: "We lost some people, but I've got to believe we kept the best base of talent."
Aikman: "I just think deep in my heart we're a better football team" than the 49ers.
Irvin: "We know we're the best team. We're so stacked that our front office doesn't need to be desperate."
Jones: "What happened to us last January was three turnovers in five minutes. Just let us line up again with the same personnel on both sides, in San Francisco, and four out of five times we'll go to the Super Bowl."
Dallas lost to the 49ers with two of its best players hobbled by injuries: All-Pro tackle Erik Williams, who was sidelined after a car accident last October and is still recovering from two knee operations, and Emmitt Smith, who entered the NFC title game with a pulled left hamstring and exited in the fourth quarter with a pulled right hamstring. The Cowboys believe a new workout program has strengthened Smith's hamstrings. They also plan to reduce his workload by giving Sherman Williams five to six carries a game.
Erik Williams is a trickier matter. Probably the game's best offensive tackle before his accident, Williams began jogging only last month and isn't likely to return until October. In April he was charged with sexually assaulting a 17-year-old topless dancer. The case was scheduled to go before a grand jury on June 13, and Williams isn't talking about it. But Jones says, "I have no reason to believe that those charges in any way are going to affect him for the 1995 season or the future."
Another concern is receiver, where either Kevin Williams or Cory Fleming will replace Harper. The Cowboys are high on Fleming, whom they signed last year after the 49ers drafted him in the third round and then inexplicably renounced his rights. But Fleming ran a 4.78 40-yard dash during the May minicamp, slower than the clockings of two thirds of the White House press corps. Look for Williams to start and for Irvin to pick up some of the slack.