ARLINGTON, Texas -- Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher's career year ended on a personal high note.
Now, he's preparing to go to the highest bidder.
Hatcher, an eight-year veteran, was a dominant force in what could have been his final game for the Dallas Cowboys. He padded his career-high sack total with a pair in the 24-22 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, giving him 11 this season. He added a forced fumble. It's the kind of film that will make Hatcher appealing for teams searching for a disruptive defensive lineman in free agency this offseason.
"I'm going to get what I deserve and get what I'm worth," the 31-year-old Hatcher said, making it crystal clear that the Cowboys will not get any hometown discounts. "Age don't matter. Whatever. If you ain't talking what I want, I don't want to talk to ‘em."
Hatcher shared his teammates' disappointment that the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, but this season was a tremendous personal success.
A 3-4 defensive end for his entire career, Hatcher excelled as the three-technique tackle in a 4-3 scheme. He more than doubled his previous career-best sacks total despite fading toward the end of the season before his strong finish against Philadelphia. He was the biggest bright spot on the worst defense in franchise history.
Hatcher, who just finished a three-year, $6 million deal that executive vice president Stephen Jones has publicly admitted was a bargain for the Cowboys, has set himself up for the first -- and likely only -- big contract of his career.
"I left my mark here, man," Hatcher said. "I did some great things. If I'm not here, I just want to thank Jerry [Jones] and the organization. The eight years of my career, it was awesome, man. They gave me an opportunity to redeem myself and rebirth my career. It's been awesome."
If there is a strong market for Hatcher, he'll likely be playing for another team next season.
The Cowboys are a projected $31 million over the salary cap entering the offseason, so they have major work to do just to be in position to make a competitive bid to keep Hatcher.
The Cowboys could also be especially hesitant to pay big money to an aging defensive lineman after the disastrous extension signed by defensive tackle Jay Ratliff a couple of years ago. That extension, which included $18 million in guaranteed money, technically just kicked in this season, when Ratliff didn't play a down before his acrimonious release. He'll count against the Cowboys' salary cap for almost $7 million in dead money next season.
"I wouldn't dare visit about any of our players, their contract or the negotiation of their contract," Jerry Jones said. "I wish Jason the very best. I thought Jason had an outstanding year for us."
Hatcher sounded like a man preparing to move for the first time in his NFL career.
"I'm numb right now and whatever happens, happens," Hatcher said. "If I have to move my family out of here, I'm good with that. It's up in the air and I really don't care whether I go or whether I stay.
"It would be awesome to stay here and finish my career here, but if not I can move on. It's a business. You know how it goes. You can't get any emotions involved or else you'll find yourself in a bad situation."