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Old 06-12-2004   #37
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Quote:
Nick Eatman
DallasCowboys.com Staff Writer
June 11, 2004, 4:43 p.m. (CDT)

IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys have already taken the head coach, two assistants and the fullback from that New York Jets team of 1998. This year, they added the starting quarterback and the star wide receiver, too.

And now they're bringing in role players as well.

The Cowboys signed yet another of Parcells' former players Friday, adding veteran wide receiver Dedric Ward, who played his first four years with the Jets (1997-2000), before a two-year stint with the Dolphins and then finishing last year with the Super Bowl champion Patriots.

The Cowboys signed Ward to just a one-year deal, giving the seven-year veteran a $660,000 base salary. However, Ward's contract falls under the NFL's Minimum Salary Benefit program, meaning he will count only $455,000 on the Cowboys' salary cap this year. That rule was put into place three years ago to help veteran players stay in the league longer. The NFL Players Association picks up the remaining balance, in this case, being $205,000.

The move gives the Cowboys insurance at not only receiver, but in the return game, with Ward having returned more than 100 punts in his career.



And signing Ward also gives the team another insurance policy against any further developments with wide receiver Antonio Bryant, who was kicked out of an off-season practice on Tuesday following a heated confrontation with Parcells. Bryant has not attended the team's last two workouts - Friday's was called off by Parcells - and according to sources, has returned home to Miami. His absence from the workouts the past two days, though, signifies more of a cooling off period for both sides than Bryant continuing to defy authority.

But don't expect Ward to be any kind of replacement for Bryant, or a viable option as the Cowboys' third receiver, behind Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn.

At 5-9, 185 pounds, Ward is considered more of a slot receiver with good speed, expected to play in three- and four-receiver sets. Ward has only 166 career catches for 2,302 yards and 12 touchdowns during his seven-year career.

But he should be rather familiar with his new teammates and coaches, having played three years under Parcells with the Jets. Ward also reunites with offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon, a member of the Jets' coaching staff, and Cowboys' receiver coach Todd Haley, who held the same position in New York, coaching Ward for two years.

And Ward is yet another former Jets player from the late-90's era, which also includes Johnson, fullback Richie Anderson and quarterback Vinny Testaverde.

Ward's most effective season occurred in 2000, when he started all 16 games, catching a career-high 54 passes for 801 yards and three scores. He parlayed that into a free-agent contract with the Dolphins, although he caught just 40 passes in two years in Miami, failing to record a touchdown grab.

Last year, he signed with the Patriots in the off-season, but was released at the end of training camp, after he caught seven passes for 146 yards during New England's four exhibition games.

After sitting out a few weeks, Ward joined the Ravens, but was inactive for three games and eventually released. He then re-signed with New England on Nov. 20, and played the last four games of the regular season.

Ward was a contributor for the Pats, catching seven passes for 106 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown. He also played in both playoff games and the Super Bowl XXXVIII win over Carolina.

If Bryant remains with the team, which indications are starting to point in that direction, Ward wouldn't be one of the top three receivers, and would likely compete with the likes of Randal Williams, Zuriel Smith and Cedric James for the final receiver positions. The Cowboys also have rookies Patrick Crayton (seventh-round pick), and free agents Brandon Middleton, James Newson and Terrance Copper in the receiver competition.

Ward has been a regular return specialist on both punts and kickoffs, and should be able to provide depth in those two areas.

The Cowboys have yet to solidify either position this off-season, with players such as Smith (707 combined return yards in 2003), Crayton, Julius Jones and Nate Jones all expected to get opportunities to show off their return skills.

And Ward may not be the first option to return kicks, but if none of the rookies separate themselves from the pack, the Cowboys could point to him by the start of the regular season.

Ward is the second offensive player the Cowboys have signed this week. The club added rookie tight end Landon Trusty to the roster on Wednesday. Trusty (6-7, 270) played both football and basketball at Division II Central Arkansas. He was a four-year starter in football, catching 78 passes for 1,062 yards and 20 touchdowns during his four collegiate seasons.

Doesnt seem like Parcells is so sure of his return anymore. Maybe that gossip did have some truth to it. Its no coinsidence that Parcells just happened to finish contract negotiations a few days after Bryant's behavior problems. it may be a little worse than those Dallas fans hoped. Now its getting interesting.
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