It's the end of an era. We all knew it could happen. Not just that, we all knew there was a very good likelihood it would happen, yet the majority of Cowboys Nation is still generally stunned that it actually happened.
The Cowboys have decided to cut ties with DeMarcus Ware, who turns 32 in July, making the nine-year veteran a free agent for the 2014 season.
This isn't the first time that Dallas has parted ways with one of its superstars. The club said goodbye to Emmitt Smith, Larry Allen and Troy Aikman at various points in the last 20 years. Ware has been with Dallas for his entire career, and with Jason Witten have stood as the faces of the franchise over the last decade. The face of the franchise isn't simply the best player on the team; it's the one that shows up at all of the charity events, all of the hospital appearances... the ambassadors of the team. Everything Ware was on the field, which was everything you could ask for, he was even more of a great man off of it.
Now, he will be that great man in another city, unwilling to accept the pay cut that Dallas so desperately wanted him to agree to. We don't have the details of the money that was offered, but there are so many things at play with asking a team leader and possible future-hall-of-famer to reduce his salary that you signed him for; people shouldn't be surprised. People also shouldn't hold a "he was greedy and not a team player" mentality, but some will.
Ware started from the first day he stepped into a Cowboys uniform in 2005, never missing a game until this past season. He was drafted by Bill Parcells, who famously (reportedly) was talked into the selection by owner Jerry Jones. Dallas held two first round picks that season, and Parcells wanted to go with 3-4 DE Marcus Spears and try and get Ware later.
Initially in his career, Ware was frequently compared to the now-retired Shawn Merriman. Picked one spot after Ware, Merriman was an early pass-rush terror for San Diego who's light burned out quickly and is now in broadcasting. Safe to say ol' Jerry's intervention was one of his better moves as the team's GM. People might have actually cared about PEDs had a Cowboys player tested positive like Merriman did.
Coming out of Troy University, Ware was a legitimate physical freak. Standing 6'4" tall, weighing just over 250 lbs, Ware dominated the Scouting Combine. He became the poster child for what used to be known as a "tweener" but is now the prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker.
He ran a 4.56 40-yard dash, had a vertical jump over 38", a broad jump over 10 feet. These are numbers normally turned in by safeties 30 pounds lighter than Ware. He was something special from the jump. Literally.
Ware's jump off the line of scrimmage became legendary. Cowboys fans probably can't even count the number of times over the years that Ware was called for offsides penalties, only to see on slow-motion replay that his snap anticipation was legal, just unbelievable to the naked eye.
That anticipation, combined with his power, flexibility and bend, intelligence and large arsenal of pass-rushing moves vaulted him into the all-time franchise record for sacks in a career with 117, 18th most in league history. He led the entire NFL in sacks twice, including when he notched 20 during the 2008 season. His 2008 (20- t8) and 2011(19.5- t10) totals make him the only player in NFL history to appear in the Top 10 single-season sack total list twice. He is one of only three players ever to notch 10 or more sacks in seven straight seasons.
He consistently forced turnovers, averaging four forced fumbles a season until he was shutout in this last, injury-riddled season. Somehow, unfortunately, several incorrect memes started to be attached to Ware which didn't bear out in the stats. For instance, he was labeled as "disappearing" on third downs, or in the fourth quarter, or in crucial situations.
However, Ware did do that. Ware notched 31.5 sacks, more than 25% of his career total, in the fourth quarter. Ware had 42 sacks on third down, more than 33% of his career total. Improving your performance rate could be looked at as disappearing, right?
Prior to last year, Ware had been named to seven straight Pro Bowls, from 2006-2012. That included first-team All Pro nods from 2007-2011. Despite not entering the league until 2005, Ware was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2nd team of the 2000's.
In 2009, Ware signed the deal he was just released from, adding six years and $78 million to the equation. Soon after it was signed, Ware suffered a serious scare when he landed awkwardly and sprained his neck. Ware had to be carted off the field and serious long-term injury was feared by all involved. However Ware was right back on the field the next week, cementing his ironman status, suiting up to play the undefeated New Orleans Saints. Not only did Ware play, but he notched two strip-sack fumbles, the latter coming late in the game and sealing the upset victory for the Cowboys.
Ware started off 2013 like gangbusters. He intercepted an Eli Manning pass on the opening play of 2013. He'd follow that up with two sacks in each of the next two games. It appeared that his transition to 4-3 defensive end would be better than smooth, but it wasn't meant to be.
Injuries that had somewhat lessened his 2012 performance soon began to erode his 2013 play. A neck stinger, combined with elbow and shoulder injuries had Ware looking like a shell of himself for the majority of the season. It seemed like he was on a constant replay loop of rushing wide outside a left tackle and ending up four yards behind the quarterback. It was nothing like the Ware that Cowboys fans were accustomed to.
Faced with the possibility that they were about to pay almost $13 million for this performance, the Cowboys were looking to reduce Ware's salary. Although the two sides negotiated over the course of the last three days, no agreement was able to be reached. Now, the team has accepted the fact that they might see this magnificent warrior ply his trade for another team, possibly in their same division.
Both the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles have to be considered as possible landing places for Ware (anywhere needing pass rush really), who presumably wants to return to a 3-4 team and take less wear and tear than on the defensive line for every play. The Patriots, and several other teams could be in the mix. After most of the young guns have agreed to deals already, it shouldn't surprise if Ware is the most sought after edge rusher on the market.
The Cowboys had a tough decision to make and will now deal with the repercussions. Their cap space for this year now allows them to make other moves in free agency, to try and improve what was a last place defense. Their cap space over the next few years just got a big bump as well. However, come September, there will be no Number 94 slapping the grass in celebration on behalf of the Cowboys. Regardless of the financial aspect and legitimacy of the move, that fact right there, sucks.
Mr. DeMarcus Ware, Salute.