News: Eatman: Roster Moves & More

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  1. Hostile

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    Meetings, Surgery, Roster Moves & More

    Nick Eatman Staff Writer
    July 26 2004, 7:13 p.m. (CDT)

    IRVING, Texas -- As busy as last Friday was for the Cowboys, who signed Eddie George and admitted to the possibility of Darren Woodson having back surgery, Monday became even more crazy with the club's departure for training camp only a few days away.

    The much-anticipated meeting between Antonio Bryant and Bill Parcells took place Monday morning, and as expected, the wide receiver will accompany the team to training camp on Thursday, according to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

    Jones also conceded Woodson will indeed need surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back, and that a lumbar micro-disectomy procedure will take place Tuesday afternoon. While Woodson is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks, Jones said the club is not immediately looking to sign a veteran safety.

    Also, the Cowboys started trimming their roster so they are down to their allowed maximum of 85 players when all draft choices are signed, and did so by waiving a 15-game starter from last year and another four-year veteran. Somewhat shockingly, defensive tackle Willie Blade, the surprise of last year's training camp, will not even make it to training camp this year, getting released Monday along with tight end and special teams player James Whalen.

    Chad Hutchinson still has not been released, but Jones confirmed the quarterback would not be going to training camp with the team, and that he will be released or traded before the team heads to Oxnard, Calif., Thursday afternoon.

    And the reason the Cowboys are cutting players is to make room to sign draft picks. The club signed two seventh-round picks Monday, wide receiver Patrick Crayton and cornerback Nate Jones. And with the plane departing for camp in three days, Jerry Jones said the club is also close to finalizing contracts with the remaining six unsigned draft choices.

    But the biggest news probably involved Bryant, who made headlines this summer after a volatile altercation with head coach Bill Parcells in a mini-camp practice at Valley Ranch. The wide receiver, apparently upset with his role in the offense, was part of the now infamous "jersey-throwing" incident with Parcells, and was escorted out of practice.

    And while the Cowboys instructed Bryant to stay away from Valley Ranch these past six weeks, things apparently have been patched up between the receiver and Parcells. Jones said Bryant had a "lengthy" meeting with Parcells, followed by a 20-minute meeting with himself, and that Bryant would go to training camp as any other player trying to win a spot on the final roster.

    "Antonio is going to work and going to work for the Cowboys," Jones said. "Bill met with him and then I met with him. So that's that. He's going to be a practice and looks to be in good shape. He wants to be on the team and do what it takes to be here. And he's someone that can help us.

    "I truly believe if your heart is in the right place, you should have a second chance."

    Bryant, entering his third season with the Cowboys, will likely enter training camp as the team's third receiver behind Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn. The former second-round draft choice finished third on the team last year with 39 catches for 550 yards and just two touchdowns. All three categories were down from his rookie season, in which he tied for the team-lead with six touchdowns in 2002 and averaged 16.7 yards a catch.

    While Bryant is scheduled to be at training camp, Woodson will not be there for the opening day of camp for the first time since 1999. The 12-year veteran will undergo back surgery Tuesday, a procedure that quite possibly will sideline the five-time Pro Bowler through the season opener (Sept. 12 at Minnesota).

    The Cowboys announced the injury last Friday, but decided to wait until Monday for one last evaluation, hoping the swelling in problematic disk would subside enough to prevent surgery. But as expected, the Cowboys will go through with the surgery, to be performed by Dr. Drew Dossett, the team's back specialist.

    "Darren is in great shape and we hope he'll be able to return early in the season," Jones said. "We decided he needed some work and that's going to be a setback for us. But the condition he's in, he should have no problems recovering."

    And for now, Jones dismissed the idea of signing another safety.

    "This is a good opportunity for Tony Dixon," Jones said. "He'll have a chance to step up for us. And we'll get to see some things from (Keith) Davis. He played well for us two years ago."

    Woodson's absence would run through the season opener if out the full eight weeks. Therefore, the Cowboys might try to get through training camp with just Dixon or Davis, or possibly fourth-year pro Lynn Scott manning his safety position. Certainly the Cowboys are hoping Woodson can recover in time to return to the starting lineup for the start of the season.

    As for now, though, the Cowboys must trim their roster down to 85 signed players by the start of training camp, and that's assuming the club either releases or trades Hutchinson before the start of camp. The Cowboys now have the rights to 87 players after cutting Blade and Whalen.

    Both moves are somewhat surprising, especially the one involving Blade, who started 15 games last season at defensive tackle alongside La'Roi Glover. Apparently, though, Blade fell into some poor habits again, having problems with his weight and conditioning.

    But that is nothing new. Blade's career has been filled with ups and downs, starting with a fractured forearm on his first day of training camp as a rookie in 2001 after a brief holdout. He spent that year on injured reserve, and his lack of conditioning cost him a roster spot the following year. The expansion Houston Texans claimed him after the Cowboys released their third-round pick on the last cut. Houston never placed him on the game-day active list, and then released him with a week to go in the 2002 season.

    The Cowboys then gave Blade a second chance, signing him early in the off-season, and Parcells enhancing that chance by staying on his case all off-season, making sure his weight and conditioning were under control. As a result, Blade began playing the best football of his brief NFL career, and only a knee injury cost him a start in the season opener.

    He came back to start the remaining 15 games, registering 18 tackles, eight quarterback pressures, one sack and three tackles behind the line of scrimmage. But apparently the defensive tackle regressed this off-season, his weight rising and his conditioning decreasing, if you can believe that.

    And for the second consecutive year Parcells and the Cowboys have released a player just before the start of camp, likely to send a message more than anything else. A year ago, Keith Davis was released, even though he was cleared by doctors to practice after suffering two gunshot wounds outside a Dallas nightclub a month before camp.

    Along with Blade, the Cowboys released Whalen, more to create roster space than anything else. Parcells admired Whalen for his ability to play several positions last year, including several on special teams. But the fourth-year tight end had trouble staying healthy last year, and was eventually deactivated for nine games. With the progress of Jason Witten and the selection of tight end Sean Ryan in the fifth round, there just wasn't enough room at tight end for Whalen.

    His best season in Dallas came in 2002 when he recorded 17 receptions for 152 yards. He also added 15 special teams tackles that season.

    Earlier this week, the Cowboys placed Erik Bickerstaff on injured reserve to clear another roster spot. The second-year running back suffered a ruptured Achilles back in a June mini-camp, the ensuring surgery sidelining him for the season. His injury, coupled with an overall lack of experience at running back, prompted the Cowboys to sign George to a one-year deal Friday.

    The Cowboys will head into Tuesday with the rights to 87 players, and with Jones stating Hutchinson would not be with the team for the start of camp, the Cowboys will need to be at 85 players since they lose the NFL Europe roster exemption tied to Hutchinson.

    So that means the Cowboys will have to cut or trade Hutchinson and then another player by the time they get all eight draft choices signed.

    The Cowboys have informed Hutchinson and his agent Scott Boras of their intentions. Hutchinson obviously is not pleased with the timing of his release, calling his expected release "a slap in the face," and claiming the Cowboys should have released him before sending him off to Europe. Jones responded Monday by saying he understood Hutchinson's obvious frustration. "I know Chad very well," Jones said. "And I understand his disappointment and his competitiveness. And so, personally, that's not an issue - the critical tone on his part. I had thought if we could make a good trade, it would put him in a position that he had more to do with. The effort was to find a situation, apart from the Cowboys, to be the best." Jones said the Cowboys still are looking at a possible trade with Hutchinson, but for likely no more than a conditional seventh-round draft pick. Hutchinson, who started nine games as a rookie in 2002, played only in the late stages of a blowout win in Detroit last season after losing the quarterback competition to Quincy Carter in training camp. From Bryant's meeting, to Woodson's surgery, to the release of Blade and Whalen and the eventual departure of Hutchinson, one thing certainly seems clear: Football season has definitely arrived.

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