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Cowboys planning to release or trade DE Ellis after 11 seasons together

CARROLLTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys and veteran pass rusher Greg Ellis aren't waiting for another offseason spat before splitting up, apparently for good.

The 11-year NFL veteran with a recent history of complaining about his role, his contract or both likely will play elsewhere in 2009, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Tuesday.

The only question is whether the 33-year-old linebacker's departure will come via trade or release. Either way, the Cowboys figure to get about $4 million in salary-cap relief while remaining on the hook for $1.5 million in guaranteed money.

Career Statistics
Sacks: 77

Passes Defensed: 35

Interceptions: 4

Jones said an admittedly contentious relationship with Ellis had nothing to do with a split from the player he chose after passing on wide receiver Randy Moss in 1998, when the Cowboys were trying to repair their image with fans.

The No. 8 pick of the 1998 draft, Ellis delivered on the character issue, staying out of trouble while steadily piling up 77 sacks in 11 seasons. Ellis led Dallas in sacks six times, the second-best total in team history, but he showed he had a mouth, too.

Ellis complained in 2006 about moving from defensive end to linebacker, saying the Cowboys and former coach Bill Parcells were setting him up to fail in the new 3-4 defensive alignment. After that turned out OK, Ellis squawked again one year later when the Cowboys drafted Anthony Spencer, another college defensive end whom the team planned to move to outside linebacker.

Back then, Ellis said he was sure the Cowboys were trying to replace him and demanded a new contract that showed the team's commitment. He received the new deal in 2007 and responded with his best season, recording a career-high 12.5 sacks, despite missing the first three games while recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon, and making the Pro Bowl.

It turns out the notion of Spencer replacing Ellis was merely delayed by two years. Jones said Spencer's development and the promise of other young players figured into the Cowboys' decision to part ways with Ellis.

"Certainly we had some issues regarding business -- contracts," Jones said of his dealings with Ellis. "But that hasn't been reflected relative to how he's played the game and how he's competed for the Cowboys. I feel like we have a very good relationship."

Ellis and his agent didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

Ellis' soon-to-be former teammates spoke fondly of a leader who remained popular in the locker room even as he publicly questioned the Cowboys' commitment to him.

"He was a mentor to me when I first came in, and also, we became really good friends," said defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who led the NFL with 20 sacks last season. "Now we're sort of like brothers. We did everything that we could to sort of help the team. But now he's going probably somewhere else to benefit that team, and I've got to do what I need to do to help this team out."

Ware stands as a potential beneficiary of any Ellis move. The Cowboys are trying to sign their best pass rusher to a long-term contract, and Ware doesn't feel any guilt over that.

"You've got to help your team out but also protect yourself," Ware said. "I don't feel good about it. But at the end of the day, its a business."

Spencer said Ellis helped him make the transition from defensive end to linebacker the past two seasons. Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said he believes Spencer is ready to be a full-time starter.

"At the end of training camp, I thought he was going to have a tremendous year," Phillips said of Spencer. "He got hurt early, and that stopped his progress. As long as he doesn't get hurt, I don't think his progress will be stopped. He's a real talented player."

The Cowboys acknowledge that they have a leadership void to fill, though. Even wide receiver Roy Williams, who has only played part of one season in Dallas, noticed Ellis' voice in the locker room.

"He's an old head," Williams said. "He was telling me a story about Troy Aikman. I was like, 'You played with Troy Aikman?' That seems like a long time ago. But he's a great player. A great leader. He's going to be missed."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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