DeMarcus Ware’s elbow has been highly scrutinized this week after he announced his intention to undergo surgery next Tuesday to repair an exposed nerve that plagued him throughout the 2013 campaign. Though the Dallas Cowboys defensive end is expected to be ready in time for May’s OTAs, the announcement helped give voice to a growing contingent of fans and reporters who believe Dallas’s best move may be to cut Ware before the season.
For a player like Ware, is that even an option?
It has to be for a team this cash-strapped. Ware counts $16 million against the Dallas salary cap this year, with a base salary of $12.25 million. It’s hard to justify those numbers for a guy who just missed his first three games, recorded a career-low six sacks and failed to force a fumble for the first time ever.
Those numbers of course reflect the injuries Ware battled through last season. He had issues with his quadriceps, neck and back. He was also fresh off a shoulder surgery. All this in addition to the elbow injury that Ware said hurt any time pressure was applied.
Still, injuries had never before kept Ware off the field. His toughness was legendary, and some of his best performances came on days when he was admittedly not 100%.
Those days appear to have passed. Ware will be 32 this season and not any less injury-prone. It could be that his surgery fixes his biggest problem and he can be a Pro-Bowler once again. Or he could sit out five or six games and have an even worse statistical season.
But to me, this is a risk the Cowboys need to take. I don’t think Jerry Jones is seriously considering cutting the one major source of hope on his abysmal defensive line. Ware will be needed to mentor and guide the one or two draftees the unit brings in, and to perform at his typical high level if the defense is expected to improve.
Certainly the team needs to restructure Ware’s contract. They can’t afford to take that kind of hit on a player because of how good he used to be. Ware has already said he’s open to a restructuring, but not a pay cut.
As he should. Ware is a future Ring of Honor inductee, probably a Hall of Famer, and has richly earned his mammoth contract. Ware has spoiled Cowboys fans. It’s easy for a player to “regress” after making seven straight Pro-Bowls and becoming the Dallas all-time sacks leader.
He’ll probably never record another 15-sack season, or force six fumbles. But he is an above-average defensive lineman on a team desperate for even serviceable ones.
If Ware can contribute to this team for another two or three seasons, as I believe he can, there’s no reason to let him go now. If released, Ware would be signed in a heartbeat and ready to go to war for his new team.
How’s this for an image? Ware lined up opposite Tyron Smith, trying to take down Tony Romo during one of his late-game drives. I wouldn’t bet against Ware in that situation. That’s something no Cowboys fan ever wants to see.
Restructure the deal, make sure he’s healthy, and bring Ware back to Dallas.