IRVING, Texas -- Free DeMarcus Ware?
Sounds strange, doesn't it? For all of the Pro Bowls, for all of the sacks, for all of the goodwill he earned in his first eight seasons, one poor season has Ware in the cross hairs.
He is on the wrong side of 30. He missed the first three games of his career. He had a career-low 40 tackles. More importantly he had a career-low six sacks.
With the Cowboys needing to clear salary-cap space, Ware, who is set to count $16.003 million against the 2014 cap, is one of the obvious targets for creating that room. The question is how they do it. The Cowboys can simply cut him and save $7.4 million in space. They can have him take a pay cut but offer a way to earn back some of that money through incentives. They can restructure his contract like they have the last few years.
Cutting him sounds the easiest but then you have to ask who would replace him? If you think he's done, then that's an easy question. But Ware dominated Tyron Smith every day in Oxnard, Calif. He had four sacks in his first three games before stinger, back and quadriceps injuries took their toll. The Cowboys do not have somebody who can roll out of bed and get six sacks let alone the nearly 14 a year he put up on average in his first eight seasons.
Ware already said he would not take a pay cut, amending his feelings a day after the season-ending loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Offering incentives could be a last resort type of move. Ware and his agent would have to see what kind of market would be out there for a defensive end coming off a down season and turns 32 in July. Osi Umenyiora signed a two-year, $8.5 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons last year with $5 million guaranteed. He had 7.5 sacks in 2013. John Abraham signed a two-year, $4.6 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals that included a $1 million signing bonus. He had 11.5 sacks.
Restructuring Ware's contract again would add to his already large cap figures in 2015-17. The last two years of the deal will void if he is on the roster 23 days before the 2016 league year begins. If the Cowboys restructure Ware's deal, then they could save close to $9 million against the cap but add $2.82 million to his cap number in the final three years.
Is it worth it? It might be. For the sake of this argument, let's say the Cowboys choose this route again. They can cut him after the 2014 season and save roughly $6.5 million against the cap. If they would rather make him a June 1, 2015 cut, then they could save about $14 million against the cap with $7.7 million in dead money carrying over to the 2016 cap.
Finding pass-rushers is difficult. The Cowboys have not exactly been adept at finding anybody but Ware. Anthony Spencer was a first-round pick in 2007 and had one double-digit sack season. Greg Ellis was a first-rounder in 1998 and he did not max out until Ware arrived. Bobby Carpenter, drafted in the first round in 2006 to play outside linebacker opposite Ware, did not pan out.
The chances of Jason Hatcher, who led the Cowboys with 11 sacks in 2013, re-signing are slim. Spencer's price tag will be low because of a knee injury that cost him all but one game last season but is he damaged goods? Can you bank on another seven sack season from George Selvie? Can Tyrone Crawford come back from his Achilles tear?
There is no doubt that the Cowboys would be taking a gamble by restructuring Ware's contract and pushing more money into the future.
It would be more of a gamble to not have Ware at all.