Sources: Emmitt Smith to Retire

There was lots of discussion on talk radio this morning about the impending retirement of Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time rushing leader.

Sources: Emmitt Smith to retire (ESPN)

Photo: Emmitt Smith's career statistics Running back Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, will retire this offseason, sources told ESPN. Several Smith confidants said that, barring a last-minute change of plans, Smith will announce his retirement on Thursday in Jacksonville, site of Super Bowl XXXIX. It is believed that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will attend the announcement. Reached by the Dallas Morning News on Tuesday in Jacksonville, Smith did not confirm he was retiring. “Did you see my year last year? Do you think I’m ready to retire?” he was quoted as saying.

Smith, 35, played 13 seasons for the Cowboys, helping them win three Super Bowls, and played the last two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in March.

Smith was in Jacksonville on Monday, where he was at a dinner to honor past Super Bowl MVPs. When asked about retiring, he told the Dallas Morning News that he wanted to retire as a Cowboy, but stopped short of saying he would retire this offseason. “I will, in some way, shape or form,” Smith said about retiring as a Cowboy. “There’s always a chance [of not playing in 2005]. Somebody has got to want me, and if they don’t want me, then what? … I want to play. I want to do what I want to do.” Smith may sign some sort of ceremonial one-day deal with Dallas. In recent years, other veteran star players have returned to the teams where they spent their glory days.

The St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press speculated that Smith could join an investment group that is trying to buy the Vikings.

After an injury-plagued first season with the Cardinals in 2003, Smith rushed for 937 yards and nine touchdowns this season. He has 18,355 yards overall and 164 TDs. He was the league’s most valuable player in 1993. Neither the Cardinals nor Cowboys had any announcements planned regarding Smith.

While I’m amazed that Emmitt has managed to hang on this long, he actually had something of a revival last year. A story in yesterday’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram gave every impression that Emmitt was hoping to continue his career.

If former Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith has a choice, he’ll play football again next season. He realizes, though, he might not have a choice. “There is always a way. There is always a chance,” Smith said when asked Monday if he might retire this off-season. “I mean somebody has to want me. If they don’t want me, then what?”

Smith faced that situation with the Cowboys two seasons ago when coach Bill Parcells was hired. They did not want him back, so after 13 seasons, he left and signed with the Cardinals. His contract is up, though. He becomes a free agent in March and there is not likely to be as many suitors this time for the 35-year-old.

If not, Smith said he’ll retire. With a star on his helmet. “I will,” Smith said when asked if he would like to end his career as a Cowboy, “in some way, shape or form.”

If he’s willing to become a role player and play for less than a star’s salary, he could well catch on with another team. Indeed, he’d be an excellent fit with the Cowboys, now that Julius Jones has shown that he can be a reliable starter.

Other coverage:

ESPN’s John Clayton doesn’t think Smith would be willing to take a lesser role, and says it’s time for him to fade into the sunset:

Photo: Emmitt Smith holds a trophy presented to him by Jerry Jones when he broke the rushing record The timing of Emmitt Smith’s impending retirement couldn’t be any better. While the Patriots are on the eve of becoming the first team of the decade in the new millennium, Smith reminded the football world of the team of the 1990s, the Dallas Cowboys. He will retire during the week Michael Irvin is up for his first vote for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Troy Aikman, a potential first ballot Hall of Famer himself, is announcing Super Bowl XXXIX.

Smith. Irvin. Aikman. They were the Big Three that Jimmy Johnson used to build the only team in NFL history to win three Super Bowls in four years. The Packers dynasty was one of discipline and execution. The Steelers built their dynasty around defense and a running offense. For the 49ers, it was the precision and basketball-like passing offense devised by Bill Walsh and executed by Joe Montana. The Cowboys brought the star system to the Super Bowls. Jimmy Johnson was the maverick coach from college who jumped up and down along the sidelines and brought back the speed on defense with his 4-3 scheme.

The star-system ruled on offense. Aikman was the classic Super Bowl quarterback with the classic pocket passing style and the big-time arm. Irvin was the flashy receiver who played more physical than his size and made big plays with flare. And Smith was the warrior. Drafted 17th in the first round in 1990 because he supposedly lacked speed, Smith never played like a running back who had a 4.6 40 time. His style was efficient and forceful. Irvin made plays like a lightning bolt. Smith was more stealth, nothing flashy, just efficient.

Jim Brown had the power and intimidation that scared defenses. Barry Sanders embarrassed defenders with his sharp cuts and moves. Walter Payton had the high kick and the professionalism. Smith outgained and outlasted them all. He played an incredible 226 games, starting 219 of them. He had an NFL record 18,355 yards and 164 touchdowns. His style was no-nonsense. So was his work ethic. He would get to the workout room with the Cowboys as early as 5 a.m., preparing himself year round for the season. Emmitt Smith was one of the most reliable athletes in all of sports. He rarely had bad games, and the bigger the game, the better the performance. If defenses stacked eight in the box to stop him, Smith would lower his shoulder and bounce plays to the outside.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He's a widower and father of two young daughers. He earned his PhD from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Harry says:

    Now I’m hearing reports that quote Emmitt as saying the retirement talk is bogus.