How the Cowboys Conditioned Us for DeMarcus Ware’s Release


How the Cowboys used the media to get us used to a team without DeMarcus Ware.

Dec 29, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware (94) tackles Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (25) in the third quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Barnwell of Grantland wrote an astoundingly good piece on the Cowboy’s cap situation.  Said Barnwell:

"The bigger issue, as Fitzgerald notes, is what to do with Ware, who is currently in the fifth season of what amounts to a nine-year deal with the team. For Ware, both professionally and contractually, the future is now. Ware has base salaries of $12 million or more in each of the four years remaining on his deal, with cap holds ranging between $14 million and $17 million; it would be exceedingly difficult to push any more money from his deal into the future. Furthermore, if the Cowboys decided to move on from Ware, they would actually realize the meaningful cap savings that they would need to lock up Smith and/or Bryant to long-term deals. If they don’t touch Ware’s contract, they would save $7.4 million by releasing him before 2014 or, more likely, $12.1 million by releasing him before 2015. That seems like anathema considering how well Ware has played during his time in Dallas, but the Cowboys just can’t afford to keep him and Romo while giving big contracts to Bryant and Smith, while the contracts to Lee and Carr will be too onerous to move. Dallas could try to give Ware a new contract, but it seems unlikely Ware would take a deal that would massively slice his pay, and at 31, it would be near-suicidal to give him another top-caliber deal that stretched his pay across six or seven years. Barring a new deal, it seems plausible the Cowboys would expect to move on from Ware after the 2014 season. If you start seeing the negative stories about Ware trickling into the Dallas media over the next few months, you’ll know what Dallas is planning to do."

The last four sentences are the bluntest I have read on the Cowboys cap situation.

The paragraph was written on October 25th.

He hedged slightly by saying “it seems plausible”, but that is a necessity when acknowledging the possibility of a franchise releasing a once-in-a-generation type talent because salary cap mismanagement. Perhaps he actually meant “plausible” instead of riskier words like “likely” or “probable”. I doubt it. As far as I’m concerned, he completely nailed the prediction.

But it appears the last part didn’t quite happen as Barnwell thought it would. Running a shadow smear campaign on the best rush-linebacker in team history would be completely asinine, so “sources within the organization” questioning whether or not DeMarcus Ware really had “the desire” that he once did, questioning whether or not his injuries were catching up to him, or other such team-fed speculation was not an option.

The Cowboys decided to be much more open in their intentions.

Nov 28, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones during a NFL football game on Thanksgiving against the Oakland Raiders at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Take this piece by Calvin Watkins. Instead of  “sources within the Cowboys organization”, Watkins quotes the Stephen Jones himself as saying “‘I think we always manage through it [the cap], but we’re still in a tight situation after coming off the penalties ($10 million for violating league rules on Miles Austin contract) and the things like that.'” Watkins later concludes that “the Cowboys could ask several players including Austin and Ware to take pay cuts or get released.” (It is important to note that Watkins suggested they could get released). Along with Jones referencing Miles Austin in the past tense later in the post, referencing the “tight situation” gave hints that the Cowboys would probably have to be drastic. Watkins obviously saw this. Then the Cowboys were relatively quiet on the salary cap front as they readied a strategy.

On February 18th, Stephen Jones nuked much of CowboyNation’s hope (and delusion).

The quotes Jones gave to Calvin Watkins simply did not compare to the remarkably brutal assessment he gave The Dallas Morning News’ Rainer Sabin . The best quote:

"‘We’re still gathering all of our information and getting the lay of the land,’ he said. ‘Obviously, DeMarcus had a hell of a career, but when we’re in the cap situation that we’re in and obviously counting as much as he is obviously you have to look at it along with several others.’"

This was, at least that I could find,the first time anyone from the Cowboys publicly acknowledged the possibility of DeMarcus Ware becoming a free agent. This quote reverberated around the various sectors of blogosphere. Another, decidedly more nuanced,  comment was covered by ESPN Dallas.

Six days later, the Cowboys released two seemingly conflicting statements. Stephen Jones said the cap issues were “not huge. ” His reasoning?:

"The only thing the cap issues do with us is we can’t be big players in free agency. I think history will tell you that being a big player in free agency is overrated and usually detrimental to the growth of a franchise, because a lot of these guys are leaving their other team for a reason. It’s usually because [other teams] don’t want to pay them and usually that’s for a reason."

Oct 27, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones prior to the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

At this point, why Jones would feel the need to do an apparent 180, from acknowledging the possibility of cutting the franchise player to dismissing the problem, was not clear. His father changed that quickly. [A]

 Said Jerry:

"‘There’s no question when you are where we are on the cap, even though we’ve had some new cap space added, and you have a defensive player that’s your highest paid defensive player, and he hasn’t been on the field much the last two years, that has to be considered,’ Jones said on ESPN’s SportsCenter. ‘You can’t have it all’"

It appears that Jerry’s comment received more traction. His was covered by Yahoo! Sports, NBC Sports (Pro Football Talk), and the NFL section of USA Today Sports. Stephen’s was covered by the Dallas Morning News (they covered both) and NBC Sports (Pro Football Talk–they covered both too), but the national coverage was considerably lacking.

The reason the more explosive quote from the more well-known figure was covered more should be rather clear.

Though the tone of the quotes were radically different, Jerry helped shed light on why Stephen though the cap situation was “not huge.” At that point, is appears they realized that they had two options, and only a pay cut–one that, considering the state of the franchise, he had no real incentive to take– would keep him in Dallas. [B]

A. It is interesting to note that Jones recognizes “being a big player in free agency is overrated and usually detrimental to the growth of a franchise” because of the money free agents command yet fails to recognize the same is often true of long, expensive, extensions. 

B. One bad season aside, Ware will almost certainly make the Hall of Fame and will probably be enshrined as a Cowboy. He will make the Ring of Honor. When he retires from the league, he will still be the Cowboy’s all-time best pass rusher. What did he really have to gain from staying with a perennial 8-8 team with a coach likely to be fired at the end of the season, a team with too much drama, and, most importantly, too much delusion? Will leaving this team affect his legacy in any tangible way? Of course not. Winning a Superbowl, probably with the Broncos (he visited them today), is the one legacy piece he doesn’t have. An let’s be honest–he would never get in Dallas, at least not as a player.