Hatcher knows future in Dallas is uncertain

OXNARD, Calif. – While lavishing praise on backup defensive lineman Ben Bass, Jason Hatcher pulled back the curtain a bit on the reality of his business situation.

“He’s going to be the reason I’m playing for a different team next year,” Hatcher said. “He’s coming on. He’s coming on. I’ve just got to keep my job secure and play my butt off.”

Whether his praise for Bass proves true, Hatcher’s eighth season with the Cowboys could be his last. He’s entering the final season of a three-year, $6 million contract that has been a bargain for the Cowboys.

It remains to be seen how Hatcher fares as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme. Head coach Jason Garrett and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli acknowledged some concern about whether the 6-foot-6, 299-pound Hatcher was too tall for the position, although both coaches said Hatcher had eased those concerns by proving he could play with great leverage.

There is no doubt that Hatcher can be a force as a 3-4 defensive end. ProFootballFocus.com, which analyzes every snap, graded him as the fourth-best 3-4 DE in the league last season and No. 10 in 2011.

Even if Hatcher excels in this scheme, the Cowboys might not have room in the budget to give a 31-year-old defensive tackle a handsome raise. Keeping young talents such as linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, offensive tackle Tyron Smith and receiver Dez Bryant will probably be the priority.

That, more than any young defensive lineman on the roster, makes it likely that Hatcher will finish his career playing for another team.

“I don’t really care about that,” said Hatcher, who has emerged as one of the defense’s leaders. “I just want to play football. I’m not even thinking about that really. At the end of the day, if I play here or there, I want to play football. I love playing football. I don’t give a crap where I play. I’ll play out there in the parking lot. I love playing football.

“I love what I’m doing. I love the defense. I love the guys that I’m playing with. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. This is the moment I’m playing in. I’m not living for next year. I’m living for this moment that I’m in right now.”