Now we're getting down to the nitty-gritty. After months of speculation and a few false rumors, the Cowboys have reportedly let DeMarcus Ware's camp know that they want #94 back in 2014, but at a reduced price. This is no surprise, it's been talked about since the moment the season ended and has only picked up steam as the salary-cap-guessing-game was played out over the last few months. When Jerry Jones confirmed that Ware's status as a Cowboys is in doubt a few weeks ago, this moment was inevitable.
So let's briefly recap Ware's thoughts as far as we know. His immediate reaction seemed to be a favorable one to the idea of a pay cut.
DeMarcus Ware on the possibility of the Cowboys asking him to take pay cut: "I'm a team player. I'll do what I need to do to help the team."— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 30, 2013
But immediately following that he backtracked.
"The question was with the salary cap stuff and everything, would you be able to maneuver some things in your contract. I said I’ll do what I need to do to help the team out. It’s nothing new to me. But pay cut and restructure are two different things. You hear what I’m saying. Clar-i-fy." - DeMarcus Ware
More recently, Ware had this to say:
"My mentality is that I'm going to do what I need to do to try to help the team out the best I can where they're going to win and I want to win," Ware said. "We need guys here to be on the team for next season to help me out, to help us out, so sometimes you can't think about a whole bunch of money and then not have anybody there. You need somebody there by your side, a defensive tackle, a defensive end, a wide receiver. You need to figure it out because the time is now. We need to win. That's what I get out of playing. I play hurt, bruised up. Some guys don't play, but I still get out there and play because I don't care about anything else."
OK, there may be some wiggle room there where Ware is willing to take some kind of pay cut to stay with the Cowboys. The real question will be: How much do the Cowboys think Ware is in decline? This will inform their decision as to how much of a pay cut they will ask of Ware. He will be 32 years old this year and is coming off a terrible season by his standards. Over the last two years his numbers have been in decline as multiple injuries have started to take their toll. Basically, Ware has reached the high-risk zone for NFL pass rushers. It's doubtful he'll ever be the force again like he was in 2011, his last great year and one of his best ever.
To me, Ware looks slower. Maybe it's injuries, or maybe it's age, or maybe it's the weight he seems to have put on recently to play with his hand down in a 4-3. It's hard to separate all that out. His power (one of his underrated areas) was weaker in 2013, but it was his quickness and acceleration that were really missing from his game. He's reached the stage where 'rotational pass-rusher' might be in his immediate future.
We know he's not worth his contract right now. Only a small percentage of NFL players would be worth that. And he probably never will be worth that again. The Cowboys know it, Ware probably knows it but won't admit it to himself, he's a warrior used to excellence, he likely thinks he can draw upon a well of rejuvenation in 2014. But that's a low percentage bet.
So with all that, it sounds like I'm advocating for a release. But that's the problem, will you be haunted by releasing him? He could recover most of his health and still be a very dangerous pass-rusher in the league. He can still do a lot of things, even if he's not the elite player he once was in his prime. Dallas should see if he's still got juice left in 2014; my guess is that he does and will have a pretty decent year. Double-digit sacks and an increase in his number of tackles are doable goals. Maybe that's my optimism getting in the way, but I do believe it. And with this one it's definitely a gut call.
What I think will happen is that Jerry Jones and Ware's agent will work out some kind of arrangement where Ware takes a pay cut, but not as big of one as the Cowboys will want. They will also give him a chance to earn some back through incentives.
I doubt any team is going to pay Ware at the level of his current contract. I could even see teams looking at Ware as a one- or two-year "make good on a contract" guy instead of any long-term investment. They have to have seen the same things we have seen. Ware is in decline, but by how much is the question. Does his pride get in the way and does he go somewhere else for less? He could do the same thing and stay in Dallas. Or if he did get a similar payday it would likely be a bad team throwing money around to justify to a fan base that they are trying. So they can say they signed a guy who will be in the Hall of Fame one day, even if it's likely his best years are past. He could end up on a really bad team, playing out a few final years. Probably not his ideal way of going out.
Dallas should ask for a pay cut, and DeMarcus Ware should accept a small one. It's in his interest and the Cowboys.