IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys’ leader in sacks is no longer a member of the franchise.
DeMarcus Ware, who’s gone to seven Pro Bowls and compiled 117 sacks in nine seasons with the Cowboys since being selected by Dallas in the first round of the 2005 draft, was released Tuesday.
“A decision like this, involving a man who is a cornerstone player in the history of your franchise, is extremely difficult,” said owner/general manager Jerry Jones in a statement.
Ware’s multiple restructures led to a $12.25 million base salary and $16 million cap hit for the 2014 season. By releasing Ware, one of the most decorated players to ever don a Cowboys jersey, the team saves $7.4 million in cap space.
The Cowboys were already $2 million under the cap after cutting Phil Costa, reworking the deal of Mackenzy Bernadeau and restructuring Tony Romo, Orlando Scandrick and Sean Lee. Ware reportedly wanted a decision made on his future before free agency began, and the Cowboys weren’t going to have him play on his current deal.
This move gives the Cowboys, who are set to lose Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer to free agency, much more room to work with to bring one of their own players back or to make a move in free agency. But it also means losing an icon who will go down as one of the all-time great defensive players in the game.
That doesn’t mean a return to Dallas is completely out of the question, according to Jones. But as free agency begins, Ware will get to test the market and the many options around the league.
“After meeting this afternoon, DeMarcus and I agreed on an understanding that would allow him to explore the options he will have for the 2014 season and beyond,” Jones said. “We were also in very strong agreement that playing for the Dallas Cowboys would be one of the options we would both be exploring.”
Ware had a couple of hefty streaks snapped last season. He’d compiled seven straight double-digit sack seasons before falling down to six sacks in 2013, and he’d played in all 16 games in each of his first eight seasons before missing three games last year.
Injuries have been the story for Ware in recent seasons. He’s dealt with a plethora of different ones, including quad, hamstring, elbow, shoulder, neck and back problems the last two years alone. He’s undergone elbow and shoulder surgeries the last two offseasons and missed the first three games of his career with a quad strain.
The 2013 season began promisingly for Ware after a tremendous training camp. He was easily the standout defensive player in Oxnard, Calif., and he followed that up by compiling four sacks in the first three games of the regular season, becoming the team’s all-time sacks leader in the process. Then the injuries kicked in, and he had just two more sacks the rest of the way.
The Cowboys wanted to keep him for the 2014 season, but only at a reduced rate. His cap hit in 2014 would have been twice what it was the year prior. His base salary was just $840,000 and his cap hit was $8 million in 2013. The Cowboys decided to part ways with Ware and save cap space after a meeting between the two sides. They can save another $5.5 million in room if they designate Miles Austin, who’s set to count $8.25 million against the cap, a post-June 1 cut.
Ware’s release gives the Cowboys more money to work with, but they currently have no proven talent to replace a player on the outside of Ware’s caliber.
Among Ware’s many accomplishments and accolades are a 20-sack season in 2008, when he was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Year, and a 19.5-sack year just three seasons ago in 2011. Ware and Mark Gastineau are the only two players in league history with two seasons of 19 or more sacks.
“DeMarcus Ware, through his performance on the field and his outstanding character, is someone who is held in the highest regard within the Dallas Cowboys family,” Jones said. “He is worthy of our greatest respect, and we want what is best for him and his family.”
The Cowboys save cap space but lose a player many consider to be the face of the franchise. Even with Ware’s career-low six sacks, he still finished third on the team in the category in 2013.
With Spencer set to become a free agent, no other Dallas defensive end currently on the roster for the 2014 season has more than 10 career sacks. George Selvie would be the leader with exactly 10 after last year’s seven-sack season.