Everyone knew it was going to happen, no matter what we thought of the move: The Dallas Cowboys cut DeMarcus Ware just minutes before the 2014 NFL free agency period began on Tuesday, making him arguably the most prized member of the class. The former first-round draft pick has 117 career sacks, the most in Cowboys team history, and will now undoubtedly demand a high dollar on the market. As for Dallas, $7.4 million in salary cap space is saved, but the team’s pass rush is now in shambles.
The Cowboys’ starting defensive ends are now George Selvie and Tyrone Crawford as the team will at least attempt to re-sign Jason Hatcher, but there’s no way they can offer him what he’ll get from another team with more cap space. So now new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will have to work some magic with these youngsters and whoever the Cowboys bring in for depth via free agency and the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Cowboys are in this pathetic state because Ware was already counting more than $16 million toward the cap this year and will still hold almost $9 million in dead money, which is the result of stupidity on Jerry Jones’ part. In the short-term, this will allow Dallas to sign its 2014 NFL Draft picks and a few low-priced free agents, especially after they make Miles Austin a post-June 1 cut, but replacing Ware won’t be easy.
Ware’s health going into 2014 was a major concern for the Cowboys, which was a big factor in why he was let go, aside from the obvious financial reasons. He will make a solid 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker for the highest bidder while the Cowboys will be hoping Selvie and Crawford take the next step in their development.
Dallas should have traded Ware when it had the chance to get a Herschel Walker-type return that catapulted the Cowboys to Super success in the 1990s. Of course, without someone like Jimmy Johnson to spell things out for Jerry, that wasn’t possible and now the Cowboys must pay the price of being a cash-strapped team watching its superstars walk out the door.
Now in his usual way, Jerry gave a flowery statement basically leaving the door open for the Cowboys to re-sign Ware after he’s tested the market. If that’s an attempt to try and reassure the fan base, it was a poor one because Dallas won’t be able to offer Ware anywhere near what several other teams will that actually have cap space. And even if Ware was to re-sign with the Cowboys, it would be a deal similar to the last one with all the money and cap numbers backloaded, which would put Dallas in the same boat a few years from now.
Say what you want about Ware’s lack of production in 2013 and his stingers that are becoming more and more frequent, but the attention he demands from opposing offenses can’t be replaced, even if the young player who takes his spot excels right off the bat. A name like Ware’s is one that makes offensive coordinators and quarterbacks cringe, but Dallas no longer has a player of that caliber and no team of low-salaried players will be able to account for that type of defensive leverage.
As for right now, the Cowboys can try to convince themselves this was the right move because of the salary cap issues, but this will haunt them in shootout games when a future Hall of Fame pass rusher is needed. If these younger players don’t step up, Dallas’ league-worst defense from a year ago could be historically bad again in 2014.