By Matthew Postins
I wonder when Jerry Jones finally made peace with the idea that he might have to cut DeMarcus Ware?
It’s not an easy choice for any general manager in the NFL, parting with someone who played at an elite level for so long that his greatness, to some degree, was taken for granted. For nearly a decade all a Cowboys head coach had to do was plug Ware in at right outside linebacker – or right defensive end in the case of 2013 – and let him rip.
The career numbers speak for themselves. From the Cowboys release that announced Ware’s release:
Ware leaves Dallas the club’s all-time sack leader (117.0). In nine years Ware earned seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances — tied for the fourth-longest streak in team history — and racked up seven straight seasons with 10 or more sacks (2006-12). Jared Allen (2007-13) is the only other league defender with seven consecutive 10-sack seasons since 2006.
In 2008 Ware established a club record and league-high 20.0 sacks, becoming only the seventh league defender to reach 20.0 in a season at the time and was named the 2008 NFC Defensive Player of the Year. En route to his 20.0 sacks in 2008, Ware put together a streak of 10 straight games (beginning in 2007) with at least one full sack, tying Simon Fletcher (1992-93) for the longest sack streak in NFL history.
In 2010 Ware led the league with 15.5 sacks to become only the fifth league defender to lead the NFL in sacks multiple times (Mark Gastineau, Reggie White, Kevin Greene and Michael Strahan). The very next season, Ware racked up 19.5 sacks to join Gastineau as the only league defenders with two seasons of 19.0-or-more sacks.
But this isn’t about the past. If it were Jones would have simply converted most of Ware’s $12.5 million base salary into a signing bonus, spread it out over the remaining years of the deal and opened up cap space that way.
No, this decision is about the future. And a future without Ware, oddly, makes a little sense.
Set aside the whole of Ware’s body of work and focus on the past two seasons. He sacked the quarterback 11.5 times in 2012 and just six times in 2013, his first season as a 4-3 defensive end. But it isn’t just about the numbers.
Ware has nursed serious injuries the past two years. In 2012 he was tough enough to play through a shoulder injury, along with an elbow injury. He had the shoulder surgically repaired, but not the elbow. The elbow continued to be an issue in 2013, along with quad and back injuries. It was the quad that forced Ware to miss the first games of his career. He finally had the elbow surgically repaired last month.
Then take Ware’s age – he’ll be 32 in July – and combine it with the whopping $16 million cap hit in 2014 and you get a formula in today’s NFL that gives any general manager pause. If you’re the GM it’s a judgment call. Do you believe that Ware can reclaim his production of two years ago or do you believe that the past two years are a signal that Ware is on the decline?
With most GMs there would be no question what the decision would be. They’d cut the player. But we’re talking about Jones, an owner who has a reputation for hanging on too long. Or do I need to point out the whole Jay Ratliff fiasco last season?
Jones and the Cowboys asked Ware to reset his salary, most likely in the neighborhood of about half of his base salary for 2014. The Cowboys probably would have guaranteed the money. It appears Ware said no. That put Jones in the uncomfortable role of having to cut one of his favorite players.
Welcome to the cold, heartless world of being a GM, Jerry. Not fun, is it?
But you know what, Jerry? In the long run you made the right call. This move wasn’t about 2014. Sure the Cowboys get back about $7.5 million in cap space, but they take a hit of more than $8 million in dead money. But it was more about removing the more than $40 million in cap hits the Cowboys would take in 2015-17 had they hung on to Ware. It was also about what re-working Ware’s deal for 2014 to open up cap space would have meant – larger cap hits in 2015-17.
Jones made a calculated business decision on Tuesday. He chose to part ways with a player that was showing signs of decline instead of hanging on too long, something he’s been accused of doing plenty of times in the past. It was an un-Jerry-like move. Perhaps it represents growth in Jones’ time as a GM. I guess only time will tell.
As for Ware, don’t expect him back in Dallas. Sure, Jones said he was welcome back after he tests the market. But someone will snap him up, probably a contender looking for one more piece to the puzzle to get to the Super Bowl.
This decision wasn’t about being right or wrong. Time will determine that. This decision was about mitigating risk. And on that front, Jones did the right thing cutting Ware. It’ll hurt this year, and the Cowboys have plenty of work to do in order to fix their defensive line now that Ware is gone.
But those risks will pale in comparison to the pain the Cowboys might have felt had they hung on to Ware and rumors of his decline proved to be accurate.
It just wasn’t worth the risk.