Cowboys face Thursday deadline on Aikman

Wednesday, March 7th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

IRVING, Texas (AP) _ A decision on Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman's future is on the fast track, with the team reportedly only days away from having to pay him a multimillion-dollar roster bonus.

A source told The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday the Cowboys have not yet submitted any paperwork to the National Football League's Management Council that would allow the club to change the contract's original language.

The pact provides for Aikman to receive a $7 million roster bonus on Thursday, the seventh day of the 2001 league year.

The team can release Aikman, pay him the bonus that will extend his contract through 2007 or change the contract's language to extend the deadline.

Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones and Aikman's agent, Leigh Steinberg, had been discussing an agreement that would have put off until June a decision on the 34-year-old quarterback's future.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys have been proceeding as if Aikman would not be their quarterback for the first time since 1989. Veteran Tony Banks, who started eight games for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, worked out for the club and met the coaching staff and team officials Tuesday.

The Cowboys have also spoken with Octagon's Michael Sullivan, representing Trent Dilfer, who led Baltimore to a victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.

In the first of several NFL stops for Banks, he said he has ties with the Cowboys' coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Jack Reilly, who held the same job with the Rams in 1996 during Banks' rookie season.

``Jack knows me from college and knows what I'm capable of doing,'' Banks said. '' I don't know if I had that (in Baltimore). I didn't have that security before. This is a place, if I happen to come here, with Jack, that I think I'd have some security.''

Banks said he enjoyed meeting with Cowboys' owner and general manager Jerry Jones.

``We had a great conversation,'' said Banks. ``He's an enlightening individual. He had my heart beating a little fast up in there. He gets you excited. It was impressive.''

Jones and the Cowboys had expressed interest in signing Banks two years ago as a backup to Troy Aikman. The Dallas star had one of the worst seasons of his career in 2000, missing five games and parts of three others with head and back injuries that have left his career in jeopardy.

However, Aikman has said he wants an opportunity to continue his 12-year NFL career.

``There's more Cowboys fans in San Diego, where I'm from, than Chargers fans,'' said Banks, 27. ``They have a lot of history and no one thinks of Dallas as rebuilding. More or less reloading. That's part of why it's attractive to me. I don't want to be on a rebuilding team. I don't want to be the savior again.''

Banks, who started the first eight games for the Ravens last year, threw for just eight touchdowns and eight interceptions before being waived.

A source told The Morning News that the Cowboys have offered linebacker Dexter Coakley a five-year contract that includes a $5.5 million signing bonus.

Coakley, who spent Tuesday visiting the Carolina Panthers while his agent attempted to negotiate a contract there, would probably count $1.68 million against the Cowboys' 2001 salary cap, which is $67.4 million, if he signs that deal.

The Cowboys could release veteran right tackle Erik Williams, who's scheduled to earn $1.9 million and count $3.3 million against the 2001 salary cap, to make room for Coakley.

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