Jones now firmly Cowboys' starter at RB

Starting tailback Troy Hambrick, scheduled to be replaced in the Dallas Cowboys lineup by rookie Julius Jones, was released Thursday afternoon.

Hambrick recently re-signed with the Cowboys, a one-year deal worth $628,000, in hopes of facilitating a trade.

Dallas will recoup the $628,000 on its 2004 salary cap and, since there was no signing bonus, will not have to carry any ancillary charges against the spending limit.

Hambrick, 27, assumed the No. 1 tailback job last summer after the Cowboys released all-time NFL rushing leader Emmitt Smith for salary cap reasons. The former Savannah State standout started all 16 games in 2003, carrying 275 times for 972 yards and five touchdowns, and catching 17 passes for 99 yards.

But his 3.5-yard average was one of the lowest among NFL rushers with more than 800 yards, and Hambrick had just three outings in which he produced 100 yards, and posted only three rushes of more than 20 yards. In nine games, Hambrick averaged fewer than three yards per attempt.

Hambrick was absent from the team's offseason conditioning program this week and that likely hastened his departure. He also told agent Jordan Woy he no longer felt part of the Dallas organization. In a Thursday morning phone call to team officials, Woy informed them of his client's sentiments.

"Whether (his feelings) were real or perceived, I don't know, but it seemed like the best thing for everyone concerned was a clean break," Woy said.

Coach Bill Parcells and general manager Jerry Jones made no secret of the fact that one of their top offseason priorities was to upgrade the rushing attack and they feel that they accomplished that with the choice of Jones in the second round. The former Notre Dame star possesses the kind of explosive playmaking skills Parcells covets and the Cowboys were content in the draft to trade out of the first round entirely, confident that Jones was going to be available to them in the second stanza.

Jones was said to have made a solid impression at the team's recent mini-camp.

Parcells apprised Hambrick before the draft that the Cowboys intended to invest a high-round choice on a tailback and further told the three-year veteran that, if that occurred, he would attempt to find a better situation for him somewhere in the league. Apparently, the Cowboys were unable to generate interest in Hambrick in trade discussions, and opted to release him now so that he might have time to land a job elsewhere before training camps open around the league in late July.

Hambrick will be subject to league waivers and, given his starting experience, it will not be surprising if several teams submit claims on him.

For his career, Hambrick has rushed for 1,896 yards and eight touchdowns on 473 carries and has 42 receptions for 260 yards and no touchdowns.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.