DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys to say hello again

DeMarcus Ware returns to Dallas on Thursday as a member of the Broncos. John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty Images

IRVING, Texas -- DeMarcus Ware never really got the chance to say goodbye when the Dallas Cowboys released their all-time leader in sacks last March.

On Thursday Ware will get the chance to once again say hello when the Denver Broncos visit AT&T Stadium for the preseason finale, and the Cowboys’ fans and organization will get a chance to say thank you.

"Being able to come back and have the opportunity to absorb some of the things I have done and seen down there," Ware said, "it’s going to be great. I’m looking forward to it."

Ware will not be playing and neither will his long-time Cowboys teammates Tony Romo and Jason Witten as both teams will rest their starters for the regular season, but his daughter and son will be on hand to see him in Broncos’ colors.

"I thought I was always going to be a Dallas Cowboy," Ware said. "That was really, really big for me. I played well for nine years. So I never thought they would get rid of me."

From a business perspective, the Cowboys decision to release Ware was not difficult. He was set to count $16 million against the salary cap and was coming off a career-low six sacks after missing the first three games of his career with a quadriceps injury.

Ware, who turned 32 in July, had elbow surgery in the offseason and had been slowed by numerous injuries the last two seasons.

From a personal perspective, the Cowboys’ decision was difficult. Coach Jason Garrett and executive vice president Stephen Jones spoke about their admiration for Ware, the No. 11 pick of the 2005 draft, who made the Pro Bowl from 2006-12 and was one of the NFL’s most dominant pass-rushers.

"Very strange and difficult to boot because of what we think about him," Jones said of Ware’s visit. "I mean he’s like family. He obviously, in our mind, he’s a shoe in to the Hall of Fame and he spilled his bucket here for us, and it’s difficult, but that’s part of the business. At the same time we’re happy for him because of what he was able to do in terms of his business with the Broncos and it sure is a good situation for him. I’ve said it from Day 1 he’s one of my all-time favorites and I wish him nothing but the best."

The Broncos signed Ware to a three-year, $30 million deal that guaranteed him $20 million the day after he was cut by Dallas. After losing in the Super Bowl last season, the Broncos view Ware as one of the final pieces to win a Super Bowl this season.

The Cowboys are not in that position and had to make some salary-cap decisions. They never made a firm offer to possibly keep Ware, in part because they did not want to spoil what had been a great relationship with a low-ball deal.

The Cowboys, however, do not have a replacement for Ware on their current roster. They selected DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round, but he suffered a broken foot in training camp and could miss the first 3-6 regular season games.

"It'll be difficult but at the same time I hope it all goes well for him," Jones said. "I hope he gets to the Super Bowl."

To get there the Broncos will need the Ware that racked up double-digit sacks every year from 2006-12. Ware had 20 sacks in 2008 and 19.5 sacks in 2011. His 117 career sacks are a team record.

Injuries, however, sapped Ware of a lot of his strength. He was unable to practice as much as he or the team would have liked.

"When I look at him the last couple of years, I look at him with admiration and say, ‘Wow! This is a tough guy,’" Garrett said. "He’s a mentally tough guy. He’s a physically tough guy. He’s doing everything that he can to put it on the line for our team and for his teammates. My association with him has been nothing but positive. He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever been around and one of the best players. Statistically he wasn’t what he was throughout his career last year (because of the injuries). I anticipate a lot of great football ahead for him."

Playing with Peyton Manning, Ware should see a lot of double-digit leads, which means teams have to pass more, which means he will have more opportunities to rush the passer. Playing next to Von Miller will provide him with more one-on-one blocks than he had with the Cowboys even when Greg Ellis and Anthony Spencer enjoyed Pro Bowl seasons. Ware is also 10 pounds lighter (255) and has not missed a day of practice this summer.

"At the end of the day my goal is to always be very effective and get to the quarterback as much as I can and to get back to my old self," Ware said. "Pass-rushers want to get those double digit sacks. They want to make those big plays. How effective can I be this year? I think I can get back to my old self. I know I can."

But whatever happens with the Broncos, he will forever remain a Cowboy. He has a deal in place with Jerry Jones to retire as a member of the Cowboys and almost assuredly will one day will join the club’s hallowed Ring of Honor.

"I played for a great organization with the Dallas Cowboys," Ware said, "and that will always be home for me."