Oct 13, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris (46) runs with the ball against Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware (94) at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
The TV genius class has spent this week wondering loudly how in the world the Cowboys can ever “replace” defensive end DeMarcus Ware. Ware was cut Tuesday and a day later signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Denver Broncos. Ware’s brilliant career coupled with the Broncos quick and enthusiastic investment in him appears to have confused analysts into thinking the Cowboys cut an elite player. The data suggest otherwise.
DeMarcus Ware has not been DeMarcus Ware for a season and a half. That’s 24 games, a pretty solid sample size from which to draw conclusions. Ware’s production over that time suggests his body is breaking down after nine seasons in the NFL, and he can no longer stay healthy enough to sustain a high level of play. This is to be expected. At 32 years of age to start the 2014 season, Ware has nearly completed a typical defensive lineman’s circuit on the NFL’s circle of life.
Ware was cut because the Cowboys need more production from the defensive end position. Let’s not pretend they cut a 15-sack per year guy, because that’s not who Ware is anymore. One wouldn’t know that from reading the coverage, though.
David Moore over at the Dallas Morning News writes the Cowboys “won’t be able to replace the talent they lost with DeMarcus Ware.”
His colleague Rainer Saban writes the “void left by DeMarcus Ware is enormous.”
Rowan Kavner over at the team’s official site writes “the days of owning one of the best pass rushers of all time are over.”
Truth is, those days have been over for a while now. We all have a great appreciation for the career Ware built over nine seasons with the Cowboys, but his production over the past season and a half isn’t anything a low- to mid-level free agent can’t duplicate or even exceed for a fraction of the price.
Over a five-year span from 2008 to 2012, Ware averaged 16.2 sacks, 11.6 hits and 41.6 hurries per season. If he was still that guy, he’d still be a Cowboy. Look how Ware’s production over the past 24 games, as compiled by Pro Football Focus, stacks up against a few of the league’s elites at his position:
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Over the past 24 games Ware has totaled just 8.5 sacks, 18 hits and 45 hurries. That’s equivalent to 16-game production of 5.7 sacks/7.8 hits/30 hurries. That’s the guy the Cowboys cut. That’s not DeMarcus Ware. That’s not even George Selvie, who as a walk-on free agent defensive end last year produced 7 sacks/11 hits/32 hurries.
Replacing “the talent they lost with DeMarcus Ware” isn’t going to be an issue, because the actual football player the Cowboys lost wasn’t producing much. So enough already. Ware is one of the all-time great Cowboys, a standup guy, and a class act, but he is very likely no longer an every-down player in the NFL.
A renaissance isn’t out of the question for Ware, but at 32 with multiple body parts failing last year and two offseason surgeries behind him, it’s certainly a long shot. For the Broncos, who believe they’re just a piece or two away from a ring with a rapidly closing window, that long shot was worth a $20 million wager.
The Cowboys have too many positions of need to wager $16 million in cap space on a long shot. Given how bad Ware was the past year and a half, the team won’t have to spend much to virtually guarantee better production from the defensive end position, and can still spread resources out to other areas of need.
If the Cowboys were at all concerned about their ability to “replace” Ware’s production at defensive end, they never would have cut him. Ware’s former dominance and Denver’s expensive gamble make the reality harder to see. Ware was released not because the team couldn’t afford him, but because the brass rightly wants to upgrade the production at the defensive end position, which has been pretty anemic with Ware on the roster.