IRVING, Texas -- Jason Hatcher has been waiting for this day for a long time.
He will soon find out how much the rest of the NFL thinks of him and whether he will be a former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle.
It is not an apples-to-apples comparison, but in the last week two defensive ends have signed contracts that could be an indication of what Hatcher, who led the Cowboys in sacks (11) in 2013, gets paid.
The Minnesota Vikings signed Everson Griffen to a five-year, $42.5 million deal with $20 million guaranteed. He had 17.5 sacks in his first four seasons and has started only one game. The Vikings, however, are changing the face of their defensive line and will likely say goodbye to Jared Allen and Kevin Williams in favor of Griffen and Sharrif Floyd.
Griffen is also 26.
On Monday, the Seattle Seahawks re-signed Michael Bennett to a four-year, $28.5 million deal with $16 million guaranteed. Bennett had 8.5 sacks in 2013 in helping the Seahawks win the Super Bowl. He has 23.5 sacks in his career, including 17.5 in the last two seasons.
He is 28.
Hatcher’s first bite at the free-agent market came in 2011 after a lockout. Teams acted quickly and Hatcher took a three-year, $6 million deal from the Cowboys. Up to that point he had started one game and never had more than 2.5 sacks in a season.
Now 31 and coming off his best season, Hatcher wants to cash in. If Griffen can get a deal worth $8.5 million annually and Bennett, who is better than Griffen, gets $7.125 million annually, then does that keep Hatcher in the $6 million-a-year neighborhood? Maybe it's in the mid-$5 million range.
He plays a different position, but ends tend to have more value than tackles, even in a 4-3. Age will also be a factor. It can be argued Hatcher does not have as many miles on his soon-to-be 32-year-old body, but that won’t inflate his price that much.
The Cowboys would have to create cap room for a deal. They could re-work the deal for DeMarcus Ware or release the seven-time Pro Bowler, or they cut lower-priced players to fit Hatcher’s first-year cap figure. They don’t want to restructure anymore contracts.
It seemed like a foregone conclusion when the season ended that Hatcher would not be with the Cowboys in 2014, but the salary cap has increased and his price might be more palatable than originally believed.