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Thursday, February 28, 2002
Cowboys, Woodson agree to five-year deal

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

The Dallas Cowboys are in rebuilding mode but, thanks to a deal struck late Wednesday night with Darren Woodson, the team won't have to worry about overhauling the strong safety spot.

Cowboys cut three
in salary cap moves
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys cut center Mark Stepnoski, safety George Teague and tight end Jackie Harris on Thursday.

Stepnoski, Teague and Harris were cut primarily because of salary cap reasons. Stepnoski and Teague were exposed in the expansion draft last week, but weren't chosen by the Houston Texans.

"This is a difficult decision involving three players who played a big part in helping us get things headed in a positive direction last year," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.

"These moves were necessary at this time, but by no means does this mean we have closed the door on any of these players being a part of our organization in the future."

Stepnoski, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, has spent nine of his 13 NFL seasons in Dallas. He was drafted in 1989 in the third round, after the Cowboys selected Troy Aikman and Daryl Johnston. Teague, a nine-year veteran who had two more years on his contract, played five seasons in Dallas (1996, 1998-2001). Harris, 34, spent the last two seasons with the Cowboys.

-- The Associated Press

ESPN.com confirmed that Woodson and the Cowboys have reached agreement on a five-year contract worth about $20 million, and including a $5 million signing bonus, that will keep the Dallas stalwart off the unrestricted free agent market. The agreement could be announced as early as Thursday.

As recently as Tuesday, sources said the two sides remained far apart on a deal, but the gap was closed during the ensuing 24 hours.

Woodson, 32, has been a fixture in the Dallas secondary since moving into the starting lineup in 1993, his second NFL season. A second-round choice in the 1992 draft, the former Arizona State linebacker made a relatively seamless transition to safety at the NFL level and has been among the league's premier performers at the position during his 10-year tenure.

He has been selected for five Pro Bowl games and named All-Pro four times. Earlier in his career, Woodson was fast enough to move into the slot and cover wide receivers, allowing the Cowboys to substitute less and play more "base" defenses. Although he has slowed a bit in recent seasons, Woodson is still playing at a high level.

Last season, he started all 16 games. He had 81 tackles, his best total since 1995 and had three interceptions, his most since '96.

As important as he is on the field, Woodson is just as significant off it, where he commands great respect in the locker room.

For his career, Woodson has played in 152 games and started 135 of them. He has 1,128 tackles, 10 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, 21 interceptions and 63 passes defensed. Woodson needs just 59 more tackles to surpass Lee Roy Jordan (1,236) as the team's all-time leading tackler.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.