I R V I N G, Texas, March 8, 2001 -- When Troy Aikman signed an $85.5 millioncontract two years ago, he figured it meant he would be with theDallas Cowboys the rest of his career.
Turns out, that same piece of paper is a big reason why the teamwaived him Wednesday.
Aikman's deal called for a $7 million bonus and an extensionthrough 2007 to kick in if he was on the roster today. Once theCowboys realized that delaying the dollars would've only madethings worse on future salary caps, owner Jerry Jones had littlechoice but to make a tough decision.
"To do what needed to be done to give us a chance to besuccessful would've definitely created some problems down theroad," Aikman said. "The long-term, crippling effect of the capwould not be worth that."
Next Stop: San Diego?
Aikman said if the Cowboys thought having him around anotheryear or two would bring another Super Bowl title, the risk might'vebeen worth it. Coming off a 5-11 season in which Aikman made itthrough only eight games, that wasn't likely.
"It wasn't in the best interest of the ballclub to try doingthat," Aikman said.
So after 12 seasons, six division titles and three Super Bowlchampionships, Aikman will no longer be wearing a star on the sideof his helmet.
But, if he has his way, the 34-year-old Aikman will still beplaying in the NFL — despite the 10 career concussions and ongoingback pain that many thought might drive him into retirement beforethe Cowboys had to push him out.
"I'm still capable of going out and playing at a high level andbeing healthy and doing the things necessary to be productive,"Aikman said.
The most likely landing spot is San Diego, where close friendNorv Turner is the offensive coordinator.
The Chargers, who released incumbent starter Ryan Leaf lastweek, also could use Aikman to groom Michael Vick should they makehim the first pick in the upcoming draft.
"I would certainly entertain that thought," Aikman said.
Smith, Woodson Are Left From Championship Teams
Jones said Aikman's fragility and contract were part of manyfactors that forced him to drop the first player he ever drafted.
"If you're in my shoes and have been able to get up for thelast 12 years and have a franchise quarterback, that's a luxury inthe NFL," Jones said. "I'm going to miss that personally andwe're going to miss that as an organization."
Aikman actually will have a big impact on the 2001 season: Hetakes up $10 million of the team's $67.4 million salary cap.
Because of Aikman's new cap figure, Dallas had to releaseveteran Erik Williams and Chad Hennings, plus rework several othercontracts, to get back under the league-mandated figure.
The departure of Aikman, Williams and Hennings means that onlyEmmitt Smith and Darren Woodson remain from the teams that wonSuper Bowls in 1992, '93 and '95.
Cowboys Considering Banks, Dilfer
The salary cap was implemented in 1994 and has drasticallychanged the way business is done in the NFL. Jones has creativelyplayed the money game, often by deferring dollars to future yearsin hopes of having more room under the cap.
But this move shows that Jones is taking theclear-out-the-cap-and-start-over approach. While he's not admittingto blowing off the 2001 season, he is eyeing 2002.
"One year from today, we'll see the effects I'm talkingabout," Jones said. "In today's NFL, having that type of caproom, you can turn a non-playoff team into a contender as we'veseen four teams in the last two years end up in the Super Bowl whenthey weren't in the playoffs the year before."
The Cowboys are 39-41 in the regular season since their lastSuper Bowl. They're 1-3 in the playoffs and are on their third headcoach.
As for their next quarterback, there's no obvious answer. Theonly ones left on the roster are Anthony Wright, who lost his twostarts last year, and Clint Stoerner, who threw just five passes.
Being strapped on the salary cap will make it tough to sign afree agent such as Tony Banks, who visited Tuesday, or TrentDilfer. The draft may be a better option, although Dallas has nofirst-round pick.
Whoever takes over will be in a tough spot. Then again, it can'tbe any tougher than Aikman faced when he was the top overall pickin the 1989 draft and immediately was labeled the franchise'ssavior.
After losing his first 11 games, Aikman won 90 in the 1990s, themost for any quarterback in any decade.
He won his first seven playoff games and 10 of his first 11. Hewas the MVP of his first Super Bowl, then joined Joe Montana andTerry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks with at least three SuperBowl victories.
And although fantasy football players weren't enamored withAikman, he does have impressive career numbers: 2,898 of 4,715passes (61.5 percent) for 32,942 yards, 165 touchdowns and 141interceptions. In the playoffs, he was 320-of-502 (63.7 percent)for 3,849 yards, 23 TDs and 17 INTs.