By cutting DeMarcus Ware, the Dallas Cowboys may have shifted the paradigm of how they look at aging players. Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones could be accused of holding onto veteran players too long out of loyalty or out of hope they could reclaim some of their former glory.
Too often, he saddled the team with dead cap space linked to a contract for a player that wasn’t producing. You could put together a Pro Bowl-level team of those players. But if there’s one player you’re going to hang onto too long, given his production, it’s Ware, right? I mean, he is the Cowboys’ all-time sack leader.
Nope, not this time. Jones made a hard decision. The Cowboys were already under the salary cap by at least $1 million. They could have simply restructured Ware’s deal, deferred the salary cap pain down the line as they’ve done so often, and moved ahead with Jones telling us that Ware is going to be what he once was in 2014.
With Ware off the roster, the Cowboys have an estimated $8.5 million in cap space to sign free agents.
Maybe he would be; maybe he wouldn’t. But Ware would still weigh heavy on the Cowboys’ payroll for the next few years.
When Jones made it clear he was agonizing over Ware’s deal a few weeks ago, I wrote that it was a value proposition. What is more valuable to the Cowboys right now? The player or the reported $7.5 million in cap space the Cowboys would get back this year by cutting him?
They chose the money. The Cowboys reportedly wanted to get Ware into a deal that would pay him half of his expected base salary of $12.25 million in 2014. Ware, a seven-time Pro Bowler who leads the Cowboys in sacks all-time with 117, was likely too proud to accept it.
Ware may burn the Cowboys for it. Jones said in the Cowboys’ announcement of the release that Ware was free to explore his options, including returning to the Cowboys. Let’s be clear — that’s not happening.
Someone is going to show Ware the money, to paraphrase everyone’s favorite fictional wide receiver, Rod Tidwell. I’d be surprised if Ware didn’t have a new employer by the time Jones wakes up Wednesday morning. Someone will take the risk.
But Jones and his brain trust clearly believe that there’s more risk in keeping Ware at what would have been a $16 million cap hit in 2014, based on two straight injury-plagued seasons. Ware is coming off elbow surgery. His production dropped to six sacks in 2013, due in part to injuries. They see a 32-year old player in decline, not one poised to reclaim his past production.
And if that’s the Cowboys’ gut talking, I find it hard to fault the logic. Exhibit A? Jay Ratliff. Even though he just signed a new two-year deal with Chicago, Ratliff still counts nearly $7 million against the Cowboys’ cap, thanks to the dead money brought on by releasing him last season.
Ware’s contract is worse. It would have counted at least $14 million against the cap each season through 2017. Imagine if the Cowboys got stuck holding that bag if Ware couldn’t play.
Now the Cowboys do have to eat about $8.5 million in dead money in 2014. But by cutting Ware now, the Cowboys have an estimated $8.5 million in cap space to sign free agents. Plus, the remainder of Ware’s cap hits from 2015-17 should come off the books, opening up more cap space down the line.
It’s a merciless economic decision and not one we’re used to seeing Jones make, especially with a player of Ware’s ilk. We’re used to Jones hanging onto those stars for dear life.
It's a risk any way you look at it. Cutting Ware may turn out to be the right call. It may also blow up in Jones’ face. Only time will tell. But perhaps, after a quarter of a century, Jones has finally figured out that you can’t live in the past.