Sides met Friday at Valley Ranch

Originally Published: July 23, 2004
ESPN.com news services

IRVING, Texas -- Eddie George agreed to a contract with the Dallas Cowboys on Friday, two days after he was released by Tennessee.

The one-year deal with the Cowboys is for a base salary of $660,000 with a signing bonus of $1.54 million, sources have told ESPN's Ed Werder.

The Eddie George release by the Titans affects not only Eddie, but other players. Question is, how?

First, the deal with George: Eddie is a few years past his prime, and was barely a top 20 fantasy running back anyway. That won't change in Dallas. Draft him as a third or fourth running back, but don't expect another 1,000-yard, 5-TD season.

In Tennessee, the first thought is to run out and grab Chris Brown ASAP. Wrong. The immediate signing of Antowain Smith kills Brown's chances for stardom. Look for the Titans to use Smith much the same way they did George. And really, in that system, with the proper amount of carries, Smith could rush for 1,000 yards and put up the same stats George did last season. As for Brown, he should see more game action than last season, but not enough to be fantasy-viable.

-- Eric Karabell
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"He's a great fit for us, and he will complement an offense that will be about power running," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.

George was cut Wednesday, at his request, after he rejected Tennessee's final bid. He left the Titans after eight seasons and more than 10,000 yards.

As soon as the running back became a free agent, Cowboys officials called George and his agent early and often. While George was flattered, he was still coming to grips with the end of his relationship with the Titans.

So before jumping to a new team, he made some calls of his own, checking out the Cowboys and Parcells with prospective teammates Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn and Marcellus Wiley.

Liking what he heard, George arrived at team headquarters Friday morning. Within hours of meeting Jones in front of a display of the team's five Super Bowl trophies, George was holding up his new No. 27 jersey and talking about hopes of bringing a sixth championship.

"I didn't want to mess around with flying here and flying there. I wanted to find the right fit and this was it,'' George said. "It felt good to be wanted.''

"I see this team coming up on the rise," George said at a news conference introducing him. "There was a lot of places to look at, but I see that Dallas is committed to the run, and I think I can help with that."

George's only free-agent visit was to Dallas. Negotiations moved so quickly because the relationship works well for both sides.

The Cowboys had plenty of room under the salary cap and, a week before opening training camp, they were still looking for a veteran running back to ease the burden on Julius Jones, a second-round pick from Notre Dame who was expected to be the starter.

Regardless of who starts, both will get plenty of carries. The better George does -- and the Cowboys are certainly hoping his competitive nature and desire to prove he's still an elite runner will draw out his best -- the slower they can bring along Jones.

Although George has never missed a game in his 128-game career, he's been slowed by injuries typical for someone who's averaged 21.4 carries per game. He turns 31 in September.

The pounding has reduced his effectiveness. After averaging 3.9 yards per carry his first five seasons, he's been at 3.2 over the last three seasons. He was at 3.3 last year, when he gained 1,031 yards and topped the 10,000-yard mark for his career.

George's 2003 numbers are similar to what Troy Hambrick produced last season when he underwhelmingly replaced Emmitt Smith. Hambrick has since been released.

The difference is that the Cowboys believe George can still be valuable if used properly, especially as the lead back in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He scored 12 touchdowns two seasons ago. George also has averaged 8.3 yards on two receptions per game for his career.

While Cowboys coach Bill Parcells is very high on Jones, he also values proven veterans such as George. George provides other qualities Parcells values: the willingness to play hurt, good size for his position (6-foot-3, 235 pounds) and good hands (one lost fumble the last two seasons). Maybe that will help him continue his streak of 128 consecutive starts, which is second all-time to Walter Payton's 170.

Parcells, who did not attend the news conference, didn't promise George anything.

"He says I'm going to have to come in here and compete, and I understand that,'' George said.

By signing someone of George's age and experience, the Cowboys are seemingly reversing field from last offseason, when they cut Smith. Other factors influenced that decision, such as the salary and George knowing he'll be sharing time and mentoring Jones.

George also is returning to the state where his career began. The former Heisman Trophy winner at Ohio State played his rookie season, 1996, in Houston before the franchise moved to Tennessee.

While George spoke kindly about the Titans on Friday, his agent, Lamont Smith, indicated a bit of a grudge for not having settled things in March, which would have given George more time to pick a new team. Tennessee did keep him long enough to pay a $1 million roster bonus.

He'll get a chance to prove something to the Titans at home on Aug. 30 in Dallas' second-to-last preseason game. ABC is broadcasting the game and will certainly play up the George angle.

He'll be easy to identify as the Cowboys gave him the same jersey number he's had his entire NFL career and during his Heisman Trophy-winning career at Ohio State. It had belonged to rookie cornerback Bruce Thornton, who happens to be another of Smith's clients.

"Eddie will be writing him a check,'' Smith said, laughing.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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