Restructure, renegotiate or release: The Cowboys have three options in dealing with defensive end DeMarcus Ware’s 2014 cap number of $16 million. None of them are particularly appealing given the caliber of player and quality of man Ware has been for nine seasons in Dallas.
But the status quo is not an option, because no doubt Ware the player is in decline; a predictable decline likely linked to his age and position. NFL players are generally more susceptible to injury once they hit their 30s. Ware turned 30 in 2012, and has started hot the past two seasons only to fade as the nicks and bruises piled up.
It’s not that Ware lacks the skill or the want-to; it’s just that he can’t stay healthy, and he no longer plays hurt like he used to.
As a 27-year-old in 2009, on the road against an undefeated New Orleans team in a must-win December matchup, Ware sacked quarterback Drew Brees twice in an inspired performance just a week after sustaining a scary neck injury.
At 30 years old in 2012, he’d post 11.5 sacks, but just 2.5 of those came in the final eight games as Ware battled through a shoulder injury. He was still inspired, but a whole lot less effective, playing with one arm in the season finale loss at Washington.
In 2013 he started hot again with four sacks through Week 3, but would post only two more sacks the remainder of the year after sustaining a leg injury. For a prescient piece that deconstructs Ware’s 2013 before it even happened, check out Jonathan Bales’ excellent work here.
There’s simply no good reason to suspect that at 32, after nine brutal seasons of pounding in NFL trenches, Ware will return to pro bowl form. Ware’s a special player, so it’s not out of the question, but more likely he’ll extend his career as a situational pass rusher, staying healthy and effective by limiting his snaps to 30 or so a game.
Ware’s 2014 cap figure of $16 million is a problem of GM Jerry Jones’ own devising. Three straight years of contract restructures have added two years onto the original 6-year, $78 million deal Ware signed in 2009, upping the guaranteed money from $20 million to nearly $33 million, with about $8.5 million still to be paid.
GM Jerry is on the record saying he won’t consider a fourth restructure, pushing base salary out to future years in the form of a guaranteed bonus. He’s right. Restructuring contracts is akin to financing a roster on a credit card – get the joy now, feel the pain later. With interest. The lesson is only too apparent now, as Ware will either be released or choose to renegotiate the terms of his contract to stay with the team.