-- Over dinner recently, the NFL's all-time leading rusher described himself to Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill not as a free agent running back but "as an unemployed running back," Bidwill said today. "He is no longer unemployed."
The Cardinals announced the signing of Emmitt Smith today to what they called a "complicated" two-year contract under which he will finish his career here.
The area is a hotbed of Dallas Cowboys fans, for whom Smith, 33, worked for 13 distinguished seasons. Smith reportedly will receive between $7 million and $8 million over the length of the contract with the Cardinals, a franchise that never has advanced to the Super Bowl.
Cardinals Coach Dave McGinnis said Smith, who will wear his familiar No. 22, will be his starting running back, supplanting Marcel Shipp and former Virginia standout Thomas Jones, who was injured last year. Shipp gained 834 yards last season and averaged 4.4 yards a carry; Smith gained 975, averaging 3.8 yards.
Smith, who was unavailable to reporters, will be introduced Thursday at the Cardinals' training facility in Tempe. He holds four rushing titles, three Super Bowl championship rings and an exalted place in the record books with 17,162 rushing yards, passing the late Walter Payton in September as the league's most prolific runner. He's also the NFL's all-time career rushing touchdown leader with 153.
The Cowboys, building for the future under new coach Bill Parcells, had a reasonably amicable split with Smith, who wanted to continue to be a full-time starter after sharing time with several backs last season.
McGinnis was asked how much he thinks Smith has left after 13 seasons.
"I know what Emmitt has conveyed to me," he said. "He knows what he has left. He believes he can be a contributor. He will be a very valuable member of this organization, on and off the field."