IRVING, Texas (AP) _ Bad knees and a big contract have cost defensive end Tony Tolbert his job with the Dallas Cowboys.

Tolbert, who played in all 159 regular-season and playoff games of his nine-year career, was released Tuesday in a move that had been discussed for months. He had arthroscopic surgery on both knees in April and would've counted nearly $3.5 million against the salary cap this season.

Team owner Jerry Jones said Tolbert could be back this season if his knees can handle it and if he's willing to play for less money.

``Tony has not made a decision to retire and he is still under consideration for a roster spot with the Dallas Cowboys for 1998,'' Jones said. ``We are certainly leaving the door open for his future involvement with the club.''

Dallas began making plans for life without Tolbert in April by choosing North Carolina's Greg Ellis with the eighth overall pick in the draft. He's the third defensive end Dallas has selected with its first pick in five years.

Tolbert, 30, is the Cowboys' second high-salary, bad-health casualty of the offseason. Offensive lineman Mark Tuinei was cut in April and was also told he'd be welcomed back if he's in good enough shape and willing to take a paycut.

The team said the decision was ``reached in a mutual fashion.'' Tolbert, who seldom speaks to the media, declined releasing a statement through the team and was not immediately available for comment. A message left at the office of his agent, Jean Fugett Jr., was not immediately returned.

The 6-foot-6, 263-pound Tolbert was a fourth-round draft pick from Texas-El Paso when he joined the team in 1989 along with Troy Aikman, Daryl Johnston and Mark Stepnoski. All four went on to become Pro Bowlers and were key contributors on three Super Bowl champions this decade.