If he can't practice Tuesday, he might be done

For five-time Pro Bowl safety Darren Woodson, the leading tackler in Dallas Cowboys history, time is running out in the 2004 season -- and maybe on his career as well.

Stuck on the physically unable to perform list after July surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back that troubled him through much of the offseason, the 12-year veteran faces a fast-approaching deadline for getting back on the field.

All players currently on the PUP list have until Tuesday to begin practicing. If Woodson is back on the field by then, it starts the clock on a two-week window during which team officials and coaches can evaluate his progress and decide whether to move the three-time Super Bowl champion to the active roster or place him on injured reserve.

If Woodson cannot practice by Tuesday, he must go on injured reserve, meaning that the stalwart defensive back would not play in 2004.

At this point, even though coach Bill Parcells has acknowledged he will probably try to get Woodson into practice to buy two more weeks of assessment and rehabilitation, the star safety isn't sure he is close to being able to return. Owner Jerry Jones allowed early this week that Woodson probably will not recover sufficiently to play this season.

"There are times you feel like you're making progress, but there still hasn't been a point yet where I feel I'm over the hump," Woodson recently conceded. "It's not there yet.'

Actually it isn't so much Woodson's back that has kept him from practicing as it is a nerve problem that developed after surgery and complicated his rehabilitation. The sciatic nerve has affected a calf muscle and Woodson has lost some power in his leg. His progress in recent weeks has been incremental.

When he had surgery, after debating with himself the merits of the operation, the original prognosis was that Woodson might be sidelined for three or four weeks. But he never got onto the field in camp or during the preseason.

If he is forced onto injured reserve, there is a chance Woodson might never play again for the Cowboys, with whom he earned three Super Bowl rings. Woodson will turn 36 in the offseason and, with scheduled base salaries of $3.5 million for 2005 and of $4 million for 2006, he might be too pricey to keep around, particularly coming off an idle season.

Assuming he is healthy, the classy Woodson almost certainly will have to adjust his base salary to have a chance of being around for '05. Dallas already has one pricey safety in Pro Bowl performer Roy Williams. Fourth-year veteran Tony Dixon has played well at times this year in replacing Woodson in the lineup.

Woodson was chosen in the second round of the 1992 draft and has spent his entire career with the Cowboys, appearing in 178 games and starting in 160 of them. He has a franchise-record 1,350 tackles, 23 interceptions, 95 passes defensed and 11 sacks.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.