Ward was expected to push Bryant

Updated: June 25, 2004, 2:22 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

When the Cowboys signed veteran free agent Dedric Ward, there were predictions that his acquisition was a precursor to the exit of Antonio Bryant, the talented but tempermental wide receiver who was involved in a skirmish with coach Bill Parcells during a June 8 minicamp practice.

Nearly two weeks later, given what has now transpired with Ward, it's a good thing those predictions weren't accurate.

In what could sideline him for the start of training camp, Ward will undergo surgery Friday to repair the fractured fifth metatarsal of his right foot. Ward figures to be out for as long as six weeks. Suddenly the veteran depth the Cowboys felt they had built with the addition of Ward, who is familiar with Parcells and the kind of offense he runs, is an area of concern.

It is not yet known if the setback will prompt the Cowboys to consider signing another veteran receiver. Agents for several of the remaining veteran free agents said Thursday night, however, they have not been contacted by Dallas officials.

The fifth metatarsal, which runs along the outside of the foot and connects to the small toe, is an especially fragile bone. Rehabilitation from such a break, in past cases, has been known to be unpredictable.

Ward is believed to have injured the foot in a workout at the team's Valley Ranch complex. The surgery will be performed by Cowboys team orthopedist Dr. Dan Cooper.

A seven-year veteran, Ward signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys for a salary of $660,000. He began his career with the Jets in 1997, when Parcells chose him in the third round, the 88th player chosen overall that year. He played four seasons in New York, the first three of those under Parcells, then signed with Miami as a free agent in 2001. After two seasons with the Dolphins, he joined the Ravens.

In 94 games, Ward has 166 receptions for 2,302 yards and 12 touchdowns. His best year came with the Jets in 2000, when he had 54 catches for 801 yards and three touchdowns. The former Northern Iowa standout has also returned 109 punts for an 8.4-yard average.

Bryant, who was exiled for the final three days of the minicamp earlier this month, has not been working out with teammates, but has returned to the Dallas area. The heated rhetoric that suggested he might be released or traded has subsided considerably, but the run-in with Parcells isn't likely to help his chances of moving into the starting lineup ahead of either Keyshawn Johnson or Terry Glenn.

In fact, Bryant is all but certain to remain the No. 3 receiver, the same role he filled in 2003. The problem for the Cowboys is that, beyond their top three wideouts, there really is no proven veteran until Ward recovers from his surgery. The other wide receivers on the roster have combined for just three catches.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.