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Cowboys Want Staley


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Cowboys set sights on Staley


Web Posted: 02/29/2004 12:00 AM CST


Tom Orsborn

Express-News Staff Writer


One year ago, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones decided against pursuing Stephen Davis in free agency.


As it turned out, it was one of Jones' worst personnel decisions.


Davis gained 1,444 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry for a Carolina Panthers team that shocked the NFL by advancing to the Super Bowl. Troy Hambrick, meanwhile, managed a pedestrian 972 yards and 3.5 yards per attempt for a Cowboys squad that lost 29-10 to the Panthers in the first round of the playoffs.


In that playoff game, Davis finished with 104 yards while Hambrick picked up only 29.


"We had an opportunity last year, and we thought we were in better shape than we were," Jones said earlier this month at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "Obviously, now, we need a running back."


With roughly $8 million to spend, the Cowboys will enter free agency next week determined not to miss out on another opportunity to land a true workhorse back.


Jones and coach Bill Parcells are expected to sign five or six solid players, none of whom will command big bucks. In addition to running back, the Cowboys have needs at right tackle, cornerback and backup quarterback.


Among the backs who will become unrestricted free agents when the NFL's free-agency period begins Wednesday are Duce Staley (Philadelphia), Garrison Hearst (San Francisco) and Houston alumnus Antowain Smith (New England). Cowboys insiders say Parcells is interested in Staley because of his ability to excel on third and short as a runner or a receiver.


If Dallas misses out on a chance to gain Staley, they will probably still pursue a running back via free agency, Jones has indicated.


"The running back position is a perfect example of, if you have an opportunity in free agency that will improve your flexibility in the draft, you take it, and that is kind of our plan," Jones said. "I don't want to get specific with who we are targeting, but you can generally know we will have an opportunity."


The Cowboys, who finished 10-7 last season, have four players set to become unrestricted free agents next week ? defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban, cornerback Mario Edwards, center Gennaro DiNapoli and kick returner Michael Bates.


If Edwards leaves ? and it appears that Dallas isn't too interested in retaining him ? the Cowboys will probably look to sign a free-agent cornerback rather than draft one. The thinking there is that pairing a rookie with second-year cornerback Terence Newman would be a disaster for a team that wants to win now.


Even with such stalwarts as Champ Bailey, Chris McAlister and Charles Woodson removed from consideration because of either trades or "franchise player" designations, the pool of unrestricted free-agent cornerbacks is deep. A dozen will be available, including nine who started nearly all of last season. Included among those nine are Fernando Bryant (Jacksonville) Ahmed Plummer (San Francisco), Shawn Springs (Seattle), Bobby Taylor (Philadelphia) and Troy Vincent (Philadelphia).


Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said the team will tender contracts to its nine restricted free agents ? defensive tackle Willie Blade, linebacker Markus Steele, wide receiver Randal Williams, safety Lynn Scott, center Matt Lehr, tackle Javiar Collins, tight end James Whalen and running backs Aveion Cason and Hambrick.

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