Demarcus Ware, the all-time sacks leader for the storied Cowboys franchise, was waived by the Dallas Cowboys for salary cap reasons. The 32 year old Ware is coming off the worst season of his career and was set to count $16 million against the 2014 cap. By cutting the defensive end, the team saved $7.5 million of cap space.
Demarcus Ware had 128.5 sacks for the Dallas Cowboys franchise, including 6 straight seasons with double-digit sacks from 2007 to 2012. In 2008 and 2010, Ware led the NFL in sacks. Until 2013, he had never missed an NFL game.
Natural 3-4 Defender
Ware was the 11th overall pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2005 and the first selection of the Bill Parcells era. In that year, the Cowboys moved to a 3-4 defense and Parcells needed a dynamic outside linebacker to anchor the unit. From 2005 to 2012, Ware was the best player on every Cowboys defense.
In 2013, age and injuries limited Ware’s production. Jerry Jones brought in Monte Kiffin to install a 4-3 defense, moving Ware to a defensive end position. In the new 4-3 scheme, Ware was forced to rush from a down position and required to lock up with NFL right tackles. Because he was a bit undersized by NFL defensive end standards, the extra pounding took a tool.
Dismal 2013 Season
Ware missed three games in the middle of the season, while playing a limited role in several others. He recorded a career-low 6 sacks, while the Cowboys defensive unit set records for futility. The Cowboys gave up the most first downs in a game ever (40), while getting near a number of season records for the most 1st downs, passing yards, and most yards surrendered.
After the season, Jerry Jones wavered on whether he would have Monte Kiffin back as defensive coordinator. He eventually chose to move Kiffin to a consulting position, while moving Rod Marinelli (last year’s defensive line coach) in as the new defensive coordinator. Most importantly, Jerry Jones decided to retain the 4-3 defense, despite claims by scouts and other experts that the Tampa Cover-2 defensive scheme is outmoded.
Unwilling to blame the new scheme or coaching staff for Demarcus Ware’s sudden decline, Jones chose to waive the best statistical pass rusher the Cowboys franchise has had, despite having two defensive linemen in the Hall of Fame. Besides the franchise being in one of the worst salary cap positions in the NFL, part of the consideration might have been the fact the team was #32 in defense with Demarcus Ware last year. A total rebuilding effort is needed, as I was telling a friend at karaoke the other day.
Where Does Demarcus Ware Sign?
The Dallas Cowboys Defense is a topic for another day. The question at hand is where Demarcus Ware will sign, now that he’s an unrestricted free agent. Because he’s played the 4-3 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebacker positions, Ware could have value to a large percentage of NFL defenses. Like Jared Allen, he’s likely to be searching for a good fit with a team that has Super Bowl aspirations. Despite Ware’s gaudy numbers, he’s been criticized for never being the difference maker on a championship team.
The Denver Broncos are the obvious first choice. The Broncos need a 3-4 outside linebacker opposite Von Miller, a position that was never really filled after Elvis Dumervil left for the Ravens last year. Shaun Phillips was an admirable fill-in for Miller and Dumervil at times, but with Von Miller nursing himself back from an ACL tear, the team needs more pass rushing help.
The biggest question is whether the former Cowboys star, who has been described as “the most dynamic defensive player” in the NFL, can make it back to his pre-2013 form. According to Ware, he spent all of last year with a damaged elbow. When a blocker hit his arm in the wrong spot, he would lose all strength in his elbow. The pain was significant, and the elbow joint was in pain from the early parts of training camp. To clear out the elbow, Ware underwent surgery recently. He’ll be ready well before training camp, and hopes to have full arm strength and mobility next season.
Less than 24 hours after he was released by Dallas, Demarcus Ware signed a 3-year, $30 million contract. $20 million of the contract is guaranteed. According to ESPN, a dozen teams had been interested in adding Ware, including several of last year’s playoff teams.
My knee-jerk reaction is the Cowboys’ talent evaluation team has failed the team miserably…again. This is one of the elite pass rushers in the game and he’s one year removed from having 6-straight 10+ sack seasons. People talked about Michael Johnson of the Bengals having a breakout year with 8 sacks last year, while Demarcus Ware is thought to have had a dismal season while collecting 6 sacks…while missing a full quarter of the season due to injuries that are now fixed. It’s a matter of expectations
I think Jerry Jones has listened to the fans, who’ve blamed Demarcus Ware for the Cowboys’ defensive struggles these past few years. The fact is, football is a team game, so despite his elite play, the Cowboys Defense has struggled over the past few years. Meanwhile, year after year, Jerry Jones continued to try to pair Ware with a failed Anthony Spencer. In the end, he chose to blame the star instead of realizing he needed to put a better cast around Ware.
This is what happens when you have a fan in charge of personnel decisions, instead of a clear-eyed evaluator of talent. When things go wrong and people in the front office start to point fingers at anyone besides themselves, a smart GM knows the difference between good scouting work and those simply defending their failed judgments of the past. Jerry Jones simply doesn’t, so he often blames the wrong people for the team’s woes. Demarcus Ware was going to be expensive in 2014, but he’s also been your best defender for a decade. Keeping the Orlando Skandrick’s of the world and shipping the Demarcus Ware’s is a recipe for failure.
If he gets back to being healthy–and Ware had been remarkably durable up until 2013, so the chances are pretty good he’s got more good years in him–then the Broncos just added one of the best pass rushers of this, or any, generation.
Demarcus Ware is 32, but pass rushers have been productive into the range of 35. If he’s placed into a 3-4 defense where he doesn’t have to lock up with linemen quite so often, he should have another couple of years of top production. Placed on a defense on a winning team which tends to get ahead in games and you should expect Ware to return to 10+ sacks in 2014. Even last year, he had 6 sacks in limited play.
Keep in mind that Ware had never missed a game until last year, when Jerry Jones put him in the worst position possible. Place him on a team which knows how to use his talents, give him a chance to rest on certain rushing downs, and he should respond with another prime year. Demarcus Ware is not that far removed from being an elite player. The parallels between Peyton Manning and Demarcus Ware are stark: each had a full career of production and were released by their teams after a 1-year drop-off due to injuries. The Broncos took a chance on Peyton Manning when he was coming off a far uglier injury and at an advanced age. If they take the chance on Ware, they could add an elite pass rusher with plenty left in the tank.