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Being Top-Notch Pays Off Columnist 
March 24, 2004, 6:04 p.m. (CST)   

That's $4 million in his bank account for 2005. He was scheduled to make $3.8 million with the Cowboys in 2005, but in reality, had he stayed, he likely would have made less than half of that. So not only did Coakley not have to take a pay cut, he signed up for a raise. 

Dex must have attended classes at App State. 

"It's tough to leave, though, when this has been your base, your foundation," Coakley said. 

But it's always nice to be somewhere you're wanted, and it's obvious, from just a financial standpoint, the Rams wanted Coakley. In fact, in their minds, they needed Coakley. 

They had decided it was time to upgrade their linebacker corps. Oh, they were fine with strong-side starter Tommy Polley, but that was about it. And they also made the decision to move last year's weak-side starter Pisa Tinoisamoa to strong safety this off-season. 

So one day the Rams were signing Coakley and very soon thereafter they were signing free-agent middle linebacker Chris Claiborne to replace Robert Thomas (no, not that Robert Thomas, another). 

Said Rams GM Charley Armey of signing Coakley, who started 127 of the 127 games he played for the Cowboys - he missed only game because of injury - "He's a moxie guy. He's been very productive." 

Moxie would be one word to describe Coakley after all these years. Some others would cross my mind after watching him make play after play and finish with more than 100 tackles in each of his first seven years with the Cowboys - and that streak of 100-tackle seasons would have extended to eight had he not split time early in the season with Bradie James, finishing third on the team in 2004 with 91 tackles. 

Me, I'd have used "good guy." Good guy on the team, good guy with the media, good guy in the community. Me, I'd challenge you to find someone uttering a disparaging word about this young man from Mt. Pleasant, S.C., and even if you did, I'd be skeptical of your source. 

Guys like Dexter Coakley are hard to replace in the locker room, and one of the reasons the Rams were so willing to financially splurge on a ninth-year veteran. They also were looking for someone to show their younger players the right way to be a professional football player. 

Where some guys might have been bitter over the financial snub, Coakley took the high road, in fact so high he was nearly remorseful for having to leave. 

"I was fortunate to play eights years with a team coming out of college," said Coakley, looking back at what I'm sure he wished was more, the Cowboys only knocking out two winning seasons during his eight years. "Through the years, even though we didn't have the dominate teams the Cowboys were accustomed to having, I still experienced things by playing with such great players. 

"I can truly say I played with Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman. Those guys helped mold me . . . helped me be a player. When I'm raising my kids, and when I see a Troy Aikman get into the Hall of Fame, I can tell them I broke bread wit those people, and those are things you just don't forget. 

"This has been a first-class organization, and I know people want to be a part of the star. Like (Darren) Woodson said, you got to wear that star with pride." 

And you got to have good people wear that star. Coakley was one of the best.   


!   Well, according to Saints head coach Jim Haslett, the Cowboys really are sitting tight on this potential Darren Howard trade. He says the Cowboys have never made an offer for the defensive end, and that if there is no trade before the draft then the Saints aren't trading Howard. Sounds sort of like drawing a line in the sand - or just good negotiating. The Cowboys are very reluctant to give up any draft choices this close to the draft. 
!   Got to give Haslett one thing: The guy will speak his mind, proving so once again when asked about former Saints running back Ricky Williams, who walked out on the

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