Cowboys win first round in former QB's case

The issue will continue to be contested, but in the first skirmish between quarterback Quincy Carter and the Cowboys, Dallas has prevailed.

Special master Stephen Burbank has ruled that the wrongful termination action filed by Carter, suggesting that his Aug. 4 release by the Cowboys violated terms of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, does not fall under his purview.

Thus, the case is now just a standard non-injury grievance that will be filed with an independent arbitrator. There is no time frame for when the case will be argued. Such cases can take weeks, or even months, to get onto the arbitration calendar.

Carter and the NFL Players Association have contended the quarterback was released after a repeat violation of the league's substance abuse policy. The agreement between the league and the union precludes such an action. Dallas officials have argued that, while Carter led the Cowboys to a 10-6 record and wild-card playoff berth last season, he was cut loose for performance reasons.

The NFLPA filed for a special master proceeding with Burbank, who presided over the Terrell Owens case early this spring, because such cases provide greater latitude in terms of discovery than do standard grievances. In a special master proceeding, for example, it is likely that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and coach Bill Parcells would have been compelled to submit to pre-hearing depositions.

Richard Berthelsen, the NFLPA's general counsel, said the decision by Burbank will not substantially weaken Carter's case. Berthelsen said the NFLPA will also use the Carter case to investigate allegations and the Cowboys may have been conducting drug testing independent of league-administered screenings.

League policy prohibits individual teams from testing players.

A former second-round draft pick who started 31 games for the Cowboys in three years, Carter last week signed a one-year contract with the Jets to serve as a backup to starter Chad Pennington.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.