Cowboys Expect Smith to Retire

Wednesday, August 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WICHITA FALLS – Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stood in front of his players Wednesday morning after practice and told them that veteran cornerback Kevin Smith was contemplating retirement.

Jones did not sound as if he expects Smith, who battled back and hamstring ailments last season, to return.

"We are making personnel decisions as though he won't be on the team," Jones said. "He is deliberating. It's his decision. Our plans are to get our young guys ready."

Smith, the 17th selection overall in the 1992 draft from Texas A&M, is the second veteran currently pondering retirement. Right tackle Erik Williams, who did not report to training camp, has told the club he is contemplating retirement.

"He's basically thinking about not playing because of the back," said Steve Zucker, Smith's agent. He's going to see a doctor in the next couple of days, and we'll take it from there.

"He aggravated it a while back in training camp, and the trip to Tokyo didn't really help him. It has really been bothering him. We'll know something by the beginning of next week."

If Smith does retire, he will still count nearly $1.5 million against the team's salary cap this season. Smith, scheduled to earn $750,000 this season, is signed through 2003.

Smith, who did not return a phone call placed to his home, could not be reached for comment.

Jones said he would be interested in having Smith join the coaching staff.

"He always thought [some day] he'd coach at Texas A&M," Zucker said of Smith. "If he does decide to retire, he'll probably do some coaching with the Cowboys."

Smith met with Jones and coach Dave Campo on Tuesday in the players' dormitories before practice to discuss his future.

Rookie Kareem Larrimore, a fourth-round pick, will get the first opportunity to replace Smith at left cornerback. Speculation existed that Larrimore would have eventually supplanted Smith in the lineup.

"It's a disappointment," Larrimore said. "I took it like I was losing a big brother because that's the way the veterans have treated me. I didn't take it as an opportunity to start."

If Larrimore doesn't work out, the Cowboys probably will proceed with Charlie Williams, Mario Edwards and Duane Hawthorne. Williams started eight games last season.

If they want a veteran, the Cowboys could try to sign former New York Giants starter Philippi Sparks, a close friend of Darren Woodson. Sparks is a free agent.

Williams, who had arthroscopic surgery a week before training camp began, is at least a month away from trying to play football. A staph infection, he said, slowed his recovery.

The regular season begins Sept. 3.

The Cowboys are considering moving Larrimore to right cornerback. Most quarterbacks are right-handed, so their natural inclination is throw to the left side of the field. Thus, the left cornerback tends to see more action.

Ryan McNeil, an eight-year veteran, might be better suited to handle the action.

The circumstances surrounding Smith's departure are peculiar.

He endured two 13-hour flights – the Cowboys played in Tokyo last week – in a five-day span and reported to Wichita Falls by the 9 p.m. reporting deadline. He checked in for breakfast and lunch at the dining hall on Tuesday but did not attend practice.

If Smith and Williams retire, the Cowboys will have but six players on their roster with three Super Bowl rings.

"Guys play for a lot of different reasons," Troy Aikman said. "It's up to the individual as to how much longer he wants to continue putting his body through this. I know Kevin has had a number of injuries of late, and it has been pretty taxing on him."

Smith was one of the NFL's best cornerbacks when he ruptured his Achilles' tendon in the first game of the 1995 season.

He played in 46 of 48 games from 1996-98, but he was never the same.

"Before we drafted him," said Jones, "he said, 'All I ever wanted to be was a Dallas Cowboy.' I know that he doesn't want to be on another team. I know he wants to help this team anyway he can."