2014 Cowboys free agents: Jason Hatcher

Jason Hatcher

Position: Defensive tackle

Type: Unrestricted

2013 salary: $2 million

Summary: Hatcher picked the right time to have the best year of his career. He was added to the Pro Bowl after putting up 11 sacks. In his first seven seasons he had 16 sacks and never more than 4.5 in a season. The move to the 4-3, as well as Jay Ratliff’s health issues, was of great benefit to Hatcher.

Why keep him: Hatcher was their best defensive lineman last year and it makes good sense to keep your better players, even those on a unit that finished last in the NFL in 2013. The three-technique is a major force in the 4-3 scheme and the Cowboys do not have an in-house replacement.

Why let him go: Cost. In a perfect world the Cowboys would have been able to put the franchise tag on Hatcher, which would pay him more than $9 million, but they are not in a perfect world because of their salary-cap situation. Hatcher also turns 32 in July, and it’s rarely good business to commit big-time money to an older player.

Best guess: Hatcher has put himself in position to cash in and he has said he will take the best deal. The best deal almost assuredly will come from another team. If the Cowboys want to remain in the mix to keep Hatcher, they have to hope the defensive line market is as soft this year as it was last year where somebody like Cliff Avril received two years for $15 million from the Seattle Seahawks. Hatcher could see the benefit of remaining with the Cowboys, even on a shorter deal, when all factors are considered.