When Dallas Cowboys’ defensive tackle Jason Hatcher signed a three-year, $6 million deal in August of 2011, no one expected he would become a probable Pro Bowler at the age of 31. But with the absence and subsequent exit of All-Pro tackle Jay Ratliff this year and the team’s conversion to the 4-3 defense under coordinator Monte Kiffin, Hatcher has transformed himself into a quality player. But this transformation comes at a price which the Cowboys appear either unable to afford and/or unwilling to pay for, past this season.
So far this year, Hatcher has been the Cowboys dominant presence within our ailing defensive line. An argument could be made that Hatch has been the best defensive player on this roster as he is currently leading the team in sacks with nine. In fact, the Cowboys front office did something last week you don’t often see any franchise do: they admitted that a player is being underpaid.
That’s exactly what Cowboys vice president of Stephen Jones did last week when he said Hatcher had outperformed his contract.
“What a class act. 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….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.””
On his weekly radio program this week, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones confirmed his son’s sentiments saying that the expiring contract of the former third round pick out of Grambling State “presents some challenges” for the organization. Simply put, Hatcher is just going to want too much money next year to justify keeping him past this season. And that’s primarily due to his age and Dallas’ lack of salary cap space. The Cowboys are expected to be approximately $31 million over the cap limit next season.
And the eight-year veteran definitely understands the situation. Mentally, Hatcher is already gone as was voiced by him earlier this week.
“Oh, I’m going to test the market. I’m going to test the market. You guys just leave me alone about my contract. I just want to focus on, I’m a Cowboy. I’m not trying to think about that. I’ll let it take care of itself when it happens. I’ve got four games to play, to be the best 3-technique in the league, help my team go to the playoffs. That’s my approach.”
Without Hatcher, the cap-stricken Cowboys will need to find a cheap alternative to fill that massive hole on our defensive line going into next season. The NFL Draft might be the only real option in finding that kind of talent at such a low price. Unfortunately, it’s going to be much harder to find another vocal leader in the locker room that Hatcher has become this year as well. His impact off-the-field might actually be a bigger loss for this team then his production on it.
But Stephen Jones hasn’t given up on Hatcher quite yet, as he believes there is still a light at the end of that tunnel.
“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.”