Stephen Jones: Hatcher outplayed contract

Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher will become a free agent after the 2013 season, and the guarantees he returns to the team next season are undetermined.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said on KRLD-FM before the team's victory over the Oakland Raiders on Thanksgiving Day, Hatcher has outplayed his contract and understands if there's any frustration on the player's part regarding his undetermined future.

Hatcher signed a three-year, $6 million contract with a $2.5 million signing bonus in 2011. This has been one of Hatcher's better seasons. He's got 34 tackles, leads the team with nine sacks and has five tackles for loss.

He's also emerged into one of the team leaders on and off the field.

"What a class act," Jones said last Wednesday. "He's a leader. He certainly has been solid for us. Not unlike any other player we ever had here, he wants to be paid fairly. He's certainly outperforming his contract, I'll be the first to admit that but unfortunately for us, we're in a situation that we got a very very tight cap situation and I know he understands that from a business standpoint. He may not like it but understands it."

The Cowboys are projected to be $31 million over the salary cap in 2014. Getting under the cap isn't a problem, but having space to do anything with Hatcher is.

He turns 32 in July and signing him to a three-to-five year contract at that age and considering the position he plays, is questionable. Traditionally the Cowboys have let younger defensive linemen, Chris Canty and Stephen Bowen, leave for other teams in free agency. The Cowboys also declined to give a long-term, second contract to a former first-round pick, Marcus Spears.

Former defensive tackle Jay Ratliff received two contracts, most recently a five-year, $40 million contract extension, that produced no results on the field due to injuries.

So paying a defensive lineman seems remote, but Hatcher is playing so well that he's placed the Cowboys in a difficult situation.

"But we've told him before, we've had some really great players, guys that are some of the best we've had here in Darren Woodson and Jay Novacek that actually went into free agency and tested the waters and ended up back here in Dallas. I don't know what will ultimately happen with Jason Hatcher. We certainly would love to (have) him back.

We certainly don't know what the salary cap is going to be next year as far as the league is concerned. We’re so tight that we’ll need to see that before we can make a decision on what we can do with Jason financially. We certainly want to be in the mix. We respect there may be a little frustration but what a class act. He certainly doesn’t show any of that with his teammates with he's done on the football field. I have complete admiration for the job he's done this year."