Off-Season Planning: The Market Gives The Cowboys All The Leverage

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

When the Cowboys enter in their discussions about how to handle DeMarcus Ware's cap cost, they'll surely realize they hold all the leverage they need.

Last off-season the Cowboys were able to negotiate with right tackle Doug Free to reduce his salary, from $7 million to $3.5 million, and thus cut his cap number and matching his cost with his performance.  Now a lot of fans and analysts, including the Mothership's Bryan Broaddus, are calling for the Cowboys to give former All-Pro and future Hall of Fame pass rusher, DeMarcus Ware the same treatment.

Based on Ware's drastic decline in production, and increased dealings with injuries over the last two seasons, few people can say that his projected performance justifies his $16M cap number in 2014, but it's hard to imagine the Cowboys going into the season without any of their projected starters from 2013 (Ware, Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, & Anthony Spencer), so the hope among most fans is that they can reduce his salary.

But it's also hard to imagine one of the greatest pass rushers of this generation accepting a pure pay cut, especially if he has any leverage at all. However, looking at the market, it would appear that ALL the leverage is in the Cowboys' corner in these negotiations.

To visualize why that is the case, let's look at a list of the pass rushers who are likely to make their way to the open market in 2014, either as unrestricted free agents, or salary cap casualty cuts.

Player '13 Team Cut/FA
Michael Johnson CIN FA
Michael Bennett SEA FA
Greg Hardy CAR FA
Lamarr Houston OAK FA
Brian Orakpo WAS FA
Justin Tuck NYG FA
Julius Peppers CHI Cut
Terrell Suggs BAL Cut
Chris Clemons SEA Cut
Will Smith NO Cut
Jason Babin JAX Cut
Dwight Freeney SD Cut
Jason Jones DET Cut

That's 13 edge players potentially hitting the market, not including Ware, or Spencer (considering the unknown status of his knee).  With that many available targets, the market will likely be deflated for all but the top 2 or 3 guys. Granted, Hardy and Houston are prime targets for the franchise tag, and Bennett could wind up being tagged as well, but the point remains, there are several options out there who don't have the same recent nagging injury history that Ware has, and who can provide pass rush for the teams that need it.

So for the Cowboys, who likely would make Ware a June 1 cut anyway, the strategy becomes easy, wait until June. Let Ware rehab from his elbow surgery, see how the recovery is going, and see how the draft goes. This also lets both the team and the player see the market for edge rushers, while also seeing teams fill their need for rushers, while using up cap space on one of the other available rushers. Then just before June 1st, Stephen Jones can go to Ware and say...

"DeMarcus, we love you, and we appreciate the impact you've made for this team, and the spokesperson you've been for the franchise, but at your age, and with the injuries you've struggled with over the last two years, we don't think the salary you're set to earn this year is appropriate. We would love for you to be a part of what we're building here, but we don't see it as sustainable at your current cost. We think you'd get $5 million a year for a season or two, if you were a free agent, and we think you're valuable to this organization above and beyond the field so we would like to drop your salary to $7.5 million for this year and next and $5M the two years after that."

By the time this conversation happens, Ware will be just about out of options. Teams will wonder if he's healthy, and they will have likely filled their starting roles by this point, whether through the draft or the other free agents we discussed above. With an offer from the Cowboys that is 50% above his likely market value, two children who have only ever known Dallas as home, the best defensive line coach in the NFL as his defensive coordinator, and a group of teammates he's been shoulder to shoulder with for several years, I would think it is likely that agent Pat Dye would recommend his client stay with the Cowboys.

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