NFL FREE AGENCY FRENZY: Dallas Cowboys doors left open but DeMarcus Ware probably won’t be back

Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware pictured during Oakland Raiders vs. Dallas Cowboys 2013

The worst defensive team in the NFL just parted ways with its most dynamic player.

The post-DeMarcus Ware era is upon us, and don’t believe for a minute that he and his agent will simply test the free-agent waters.

Ware will get the offer he wants. Ware is likely gone.

How can this possibly be a good thing for the league’s 32nd-ranked defense, given that Ware is only 31-years-old?

It’s mostly — but not entirely — a case of money.

We applaud the forward thinking teams of this league that use the unique status of NFL contracts, cutting players when they are simply starting to leave the prime of their careers in order to make room for newer, younger, cheaper talent.

New England has been doing this for a decade. The New York Giants do it. The New Orleans Saints just cast off about half their defense (it seemed) to retool and invest in the future.

The Cowboys? That’s the team that always keeping the salary cap at bay by re-working contracts and moving today’s problems into tomorrow land.

In large part, those past re-workings caught up with the Dallas Cowboys today. DeMarcus Ware was never supposed to count more than $16 million against the cap, but the club had shifted his money and his cap figure down the line until this crossroads was reached.

We don’t know what sort of reduction (if any) that Ware and his agent, Pat Dye, were willing to take in order to stay in Dallas. It sounds as if they were against any sort of pay cut.

They needed a decision by the time free-agency arrived at 3 p.m. They got their wish. The Dallas Cowboys cut a Ring of Honor candidate. See the press release below.

Given that no one really knows the answer to how much Ware was in decline last year or how much injuries contributed.

Jerry Jones chose not to shove today’s worries into next year’s cap. It’s possible that Ware signs with a 3-4 team, returns to his old outside linebacker position and goes to the 2014 Pro Bowl.

Possible.

After all, someone drafted Ware in 2005 when head coach Bill Parcells was pushing for another outside linebacker, Shawne Merriman, who began his pro career with three straight Pro Bowl trips for San Diego. Merriman faded quickly after that. He retired from the NFL a year ago.

Ware, undoubtedly, has football left in him, but his decline in sacks the last two seasons (from 19.5 to 11.5 to 6) is a good indicator of which way he’s most likely headed.

The pertinent question now is: What do the Cowboys do?

They suddenly find themselves with $9 million in cap room, a figure that will grow beyond $14 million if wide receiver Miles Austin gets his official walking papers in June.

It’s almost certain Dallas will remain on the sidelines as the big free-agency dollars are passed out. That’s a good thing. The Cowboys’ plays as big spenders have almost never panned out, and the same goes for other clubs.

But they have to do something. And they have to absolutely nail their first two picks in a May draft that is filled with defensive linemen.

In hindsight, many Dallas Cowboys fans wish Jones has learned this lesson a year ago when he was giving all that money to Jay Ratliff, a failed attempt to placate the recalcitrant tackle.


Related … 

Dallas Cowboys press release announcing release of DeMarcus Ware:

The Dallas Cowboys released defensive end DeMarcus Ware Tuesday. Ware, who was Dallas’ first first-round draft pick in 2005 (11th overall), is the club’s all-time sack leader (117.0). In his nine years with the team, Ware earned seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances — tied for the fourth-longest streak in team history — and racked up seven straight seasons with 10 or more sacks (2006-12). Jared Allen (2007-13) is the only other league defender with seven consecutive 10-sack seasons since 2006.

A decision like this, involving a man who is a cornerstone player in the history of your franchise, is extremely difficult,” said Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones.

“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. We were also in very strong agreement that playing for the Dallas Cowboys would be one of the options we would both be exploring.

“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. He is worthy of our greatest respect, and we want what is best for him and his family.”

In 2008 Ware established a club record and league-high 20.0 sacks, becoming only the seventh league defender to reach 20.0 in a season at the time and was named the 2008 NFC Defensive Player of the Year. En route to his 20.0 sacks in 2008, Ware put together a streak of 10 straight games (beginning in 2007) with at least one full sack, tying Simon Fletcher (1992-93) for the longest sack streak in NFL history.

In 2010 Ware led the league with 15.5 sacks to become only the fifth league defender to lead the NFL in sacks multiple times (Mark Gastineau, Reggie White, Kevin Greene and Michael Strahan). The very next season, Ware racked up 19.5 sacks to join Gastineau as the only league defenders with two seasons of 19.0-or-more sacks.

Through his nine seasons in Dallas, Ware posted the top-four single-season sack figures by a club linebacker  – prior to making the switch to defensive end in 2013 – and four of the top-five single-season figures by any club defender.

Ware was a two-time winner of the Dick Butkus Award (honoring the league’s top linebackers). He won the first ever professional Butkus Award in 2008 and was a co-winner with Terrell Suggs in 2011. Ware was named All-Pro seven times, All-NFC three times, NFC Defensive Player of the Week four times, won the club’s Bob Lilly Award two times and was the team’s Man of the Year once.

Ware leaves Dallas with 710 tackles (ninth in club history), his club-best 117.0 sacks, 58 tackles for losses, 259 quarterback pressures and 32 forced fumbles – the most in club history since 1994 when the stat was first tracked.”

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