|Thursday, March 27
Updated: May 20, 12:15 PM ET
Chance to start led Emmitt to Arizona
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The opportunity to remain a featured running back, probably more than any other factor, lured Emmitt Smith to the Arizona Cardinals, a franchise with no history of success and the smallest crowds in the NFL.
Smith, signed by Arizona to a two-year deal worth $7.5 million, was introduced with great fanfare at a news conference at Cardinals' headquarters on Thursday.
"This was definitely a football decision,'' Smith said. "A couple of other teams were asking me to come in and be a backup. I didn't foresee myself being a backup.''
At 33, with many speculating that his skills have deteriorated, the NFL's all-time leading rusher says 1,200 to 1,300 yards rushing next season is a reasonable goal.
"Why wouldn't it be?'' he said. "I think that it's very reasonable. I expect that of myself. I expect myself to be over a 1,000-yard back every year. I just have to stay healthy, obviously, and everybody else has to do their job.''
Owner Bill Bidwill and Smith held up a red Cardinal jersey with the No. 22 and Smith's name on it. Cornerback Duane Starks, who wore 22 last season, agreed to give it up to Smith.
The news conference was televised live in Phoenix and in Dallas, where Smith played for 13 seasons and helped the Cowboys win three Super Bowls. Asked if he was motivated by the fact that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones let him walk away, Smith just smiled a long, big smile.
"That's about all I can say,'' he said as the crowd laughed and applauded.
Smith said he felt that the Arizona offense, with a stable offensive line and the recent signing of free agent Jeff Blake, is in better shape than the rebuilding Dallas offense.
"When you're playing in a game as physical as this is, and you're playing with two young quarterbacks, and you're playing with an offensive line that's playing musical chairs, it's hard to do your job,'' Smith said of his last years in Dallas.
"Here I think the situation is better, I really do.''
Smith is coming from one of the NFL's most successful franchises to one that has one playoff victory since 1947. He said he was convinced in talks with Bidwill, team vice president Rod Graves and coach Dave McGinnis that the Cardinals are committed to building a winner. Smith said he gave no thought to retirement.
Arizona is well under the NFL salary cap, and was willing to offer more money, along with the guarantee of playing time, than any other team would.
"I still love the game, and I still know that I can play,'' Smith said. "I'm just thankful that this organization saw some of the things that I was able to do, and believed in me enough to where they wanted to give me an opportunity to show that to the world.''
Smith's abilities on the field were only part of the reason he was signed.
"He's going to bring leadership on the field and in the dressing room, as a person and as a player,'' Bidwill said. "I think that's important. That may have been something that we've been lacking a little bit.''
Smith also will be valuable to the marketing of the team, which averaged only 30,000 in home attendance last season in 73,000-seat Sun Devil Stadium. The biggest crowds the Cardinals have drawn at home since they came to Arizona were against the Cowboys.
"I'm out here in Arizona where there are Cowboys fans all over the place,'' Smith said. "Now they're going to convert over to being Cardinal fans. I'm here to help this team win.''
McGinnis, at his fire-and-brimstone best at the news conference, talked about the aura of a winner that Smith has, and how he fits into his team's plans.
"Believe me, this plan is on pace, this plan is moving and this plan today got a tremendous engine,'' McGinnis said. "It got an addition today that is going to propel us where we need to go. We are going to run the football, and what better way to do it than with the best runner in the history of the National Football League.''
Smith said he fell in love with the Phoenix area years ago and plans to move his family here.
Among those watching the news conference was Marcel Shipp, who had been led to believe that he would be Arizona's top running back, until Smith came along.
"There's a part of me that thought I was going to be a starter, but it's just great to have him on the team,'' said Shipp, who remembered that on the playgrounds as a youngster all the kids would argue about who would get to be Emmitt Smith in their games.
"I just want to win, regardless of whether I'm starting or not. Whatever role I can play, I'll play,'' Shipp said. "I'm going to be ready when they call on me, just like I was last season.
Thomas Jones remains under contract to Arizona, but probably will be traded or released soon.