Cowboys Sign Phillippi Sparks
IRVING, Texas (AP) _ Not completely comfortable with their young, shaken-up secondary, the Dallas Cowboys on Monday signed Phillippi Sparks to a five-year contract and expect him to play in the season opener.
During the offseason, after it was apparent that Deion Sanders wasn’t coming back, the Cowboys signed free agent Ryan McNeil and used three of their five draft picks on cornerbacks.
McNeil has earned his starting job, but two of the drafted rookie cornerbacks have been injured, and Kareem Larrimore, the rookie seemingly set to be a starter, struggled in preseason games.
Then the Cowboys ended up without two players they expected.
Sixth-year safety Charlie Williams will miss at least two games recovering from offseason knee surgery. Cornerback Kevin Smith, an eight-game starter last season, reported to camp, but decided to retire instead of playing a ninth season.
``We went into two-a-days, we had some good young corners, young talent and felt like we would have Kevin Smith and Charlie Williams, some guys with experience,″ Cowboys coach Dave Campo said. ``Now, we’re in a completely different situation.″
The Cowboys also considered Sparks before signing McNeil, who was in Cleveland last season after spending his first six NFL seasons with Detroit and St. Louis. Sparks spent the past seven seasons with the New York Giants, but then hinted he may retire and didn’t sign with a team before training camp.
Both Campo and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Sparks would be on the field when the team returns to practice Wednesday. They expect him to play in Sunday’s opener against Philadelphia.
``We feel like there’s no question that he can come in here and really give us the experience plus very significant skill that will really benefit this team,″ Jones said. ``This is every bit as much about what Sparks brings to the table ... Larrimore will get the numbers of snaps he was going to get anyway.″
To make room on the 53-man roster, the Cowboys waived linebacker Chris Bordano, acquired from New Orleans in an offseason trade that sent cornerback Kevin Mathis to the Saints. Sparks got a $1.5 million signing bonus and will make about $500,000 this season with Dallas.
Campo said Larrimore has done enough to be the opening-day starter, and insisted that the move was not a reflection on the rookie. But the coach wouldn’t say who would be starting opposite McNeil on the corner.
``It’s a business decision. I’m not too worried about any of that,″ said Larrimore, a fourth-round pick out of West Texas. ``I’m still out there now and just have to continue to get better. They are bringing him in for depth and he’s a veteran.″
Larrimore is the only one of the three rookie corners to stay healthy during the preseason. Dwayne Goodrich, the second-round pick from Tennessee, and sixth-round pick Mario Edwards from Florida State both have strained hamstrings and have been limited or held out for most of the last three weeks.
Notes: RB Emmitt Smith, who didn’t play a snap in five preseason games, declared himself ready to play in the opener. He showed no ill effects of his strained calf during a practice session Monday. ``I feel good, not bad at all. I’m ready to play. I’m right there where I am every year.″ ... TE O.J. Santiago, acquired from Atlanta in a trade completed Sunday, went through his first workout with the Cowboys on Monday. ... With Troy Aikman and Randall Cunningham the only two quarterbacks on the final roster, WR Joey Galloway is expected to be the emergency third-stringer. During practice Monday, Galloway took snaps from center Mark Stepnoski and practiced handoffs to offensive coordinator Jack Really. He didn’t throw any passes.