Dallas Cowboys Sign XFL Rushing Leader

Tuesday, May 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

IRVING, Texas (AP) _ The Dallas Cowboys aren't making running back John Avery feel like a cheap alternative.

``This is an opportunity for me. It wasn't really a money thing,'' said Avery, the XFL rushing leader this spring. ``I wanted to be on a team where people believed in me. That's why I came here.''

Avery, a first-round NFL draft pick in 1998, gets another chance at football's top level after going to NFL Europe and then to the Chicago Enforcers of the XFL. He is taking part in the minicamp for Cowboys veterans this week.

The Cowboys signed Avery to a one-year contract for $389,000, the league minimum for a player with his experience. There was no signing bonus.

That contract is similar to the one-year, minimum deals given to quarterback Tony Banks, receiver Carl Pickens and Joe Bowden. About $24 million of the Cowboys' $67.4 million salary cap for this season is for players no longer on the team, including retired quarterback Troy Aikman and Deion Sanders.

Avery, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound back who also returns kicks, was the 29th pick in the 1998 draft out of Mississippi by Miami and then-Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson.

As a rookie with the Dolphins, Avery rushed for 503 yards and averaged 25.7 yards on kickoff returns. He was then traded to Denver, where he played just six games in 1999 and was cut after training camp last season. In the XFL, he led the league with 800 yards rushing.

``We loved him coming out (of college). There are various reasons guys don't make it, and we don't know what that reason is at this point,'' Cowboys coach Dave Campo said. ``It takes some guys longer than others.''

If Avery makes the team during training camp this summer, the Cowboys most likely would use him as a kick returner and a backup to Emmitt Smith, the NFL's active career rushing leader.

``I'd rather be behind a great running back than be behind somebody that is equal to me,'' Avery said. ``It's a learning experience. I'm looking forward to learn some things that he does and add them to my repertoire.''