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Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Cowboys release injured tight end LaFleur

c.2001 Fort Worth Star-Telegram

OXNARD, Calif. — Tight end Mike Lucky, who last appeared in a game nearly 13 months ago, is being counted on to replace former first-round draft choice David LaFleur, who was waived Tuesday.

LaFleur, 27, was officially “released//failed physical” with a herniated disk and a degenerative back condition that has prevented him from practicing with the team since December.

“Our medical people just felt that we had done about all that could be done in terms of additional treatment, (epidural) shots or surgery. We were dealing with a chronic situation,” owner Jerry Jones said. “It's very regrettable for both David and for us.”

The 6-foot-7, 275-pound LaFleur's chronic back condition was similar to that of Troy Aikman, who was released in March and retired a month later. Also similar to Aikman's treatment, LaFleur received a series of epidural and facet-blocker shots in May and June.

LaFleur returned to Dallas and, through his representative, said he wants to play for another NFL team as soon as he is healthy.

“He's not retiring,” agent Rick Smith said. “The word isn't in his vocabulary.”

LaFleur missed all of the 2000 preseason with a groin//pelvic irritation, yet played in 15 of the 16 regular-season games. But Dave Campo said he didn't have a good read on when — or if — LaFleur would be ready to return this time.

“In all honesty, his conditioning wasn't as good now as it was a year ago,” Campo said. “It was time to move on.”

The Cowboys have four healthy tight ends in camp. Jackie Harris will be used primarily in passing situations, although there are formations suited to the 12th-year player in which his blocks require more technique than brawn.

LaFleur's departure leaves the Cowboys with the 6-6, 273-pound Lucky as the lone healthy blocking tight end in camp. Lucky hasn't seen game action since tearing three of four ligaments in his right knee nearly 13 months ago. This is only his second week to resume team drills.

The Cowboys also waived tight end//long snapper Ryan Collins, along with defensive end Aaron Fields.

Tight end//long snapper Ricky Brady will be brought in for a tryout as early as today. This is the second appearance in two years at a Cowboys' camp for the 6-4, 265-pound 30-year-old. He last played in the XFL and has been cut seven times by NFL teams.

Johnny Huggins and Mark Whalen, a pair of finesse-style tight ends, are already in camp.

Huggins' stock as a tight end//fullback//long snapper is rising. Whalen led the NCAA in receptions for tight ends in 1999 at Kentucky and with NFL Europe this spring. He can play slot receiver in nickel sets. But neither Huggins nor Whalen has any NFL regular-season experience.

LaFleur, the Cowboys' 1997 first-round draft choice (22nd overall), was to be the “focal point” of the Chan Gailey offense in 1998. But Gailey was gone after two seasons and, although LaFleur had 55 of his 85 career receptions in that offense, he will be remembered mostly as a blocker in a Cowboys uniform.

“David was a warrior. He played hurt. He was underrated,” Jones said. “He made a significant contribution, especially to our running game.”

Special teams/tight ends coach Joe Avezzano described LaFleur as a selfless, stoic and smart player who did all that was asked of him, adding, “Most people in today's society think that first-round draft choices are supposed to be Hall of Famers or they're not any good.”

Since he didn't retire, LaFleur can file an injury grievance, which would cost the Cowboys one-half of his $940,000 base salary this season while the case is pending, and the other half next season if the claim is upheld.
Smith said LaFleur has “25 days to invoke his rights.”

“There is no animosity between David and the Cowboys,” Smith said. “But there's no secret what they're doing. David was to make $940,000. He was injured. If we can't come to some (settlement) ... then, at the very worst, only half of his salary counts against the cap for them this year.”

All content copyright 2001, AP, KRT, The
Abilene Reporter-News and Reporter OnLine

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