Tracking DeMarcus Ware's Restructured Contract Negotiations with Cowboys

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2014

USA Today

Updates from Tuesday, Mar. 11

Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Clarence Hill reported that Ware has been released by the Cowboys:

NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano notes Jerry Jones' feelings on the move:

Updates from Thursday, Mar. 6

According to the Star-Telegram, DeMarcus Ware is willing to listen to the Cowboys' desires to reduce his salary:

Per a source, former Pro Bowl defenseive end DeMarcus Ware doesn't want to take a pay cut but will listen to the Dallas Cowboys thoughts about a reduced deal.

The report also says Ware expects to return to his former elite status now that he has recovered:

According to source, Ware expects to be back to his old dominant ways after surgery to repair nerve damage in his elbow last month. He will listen to the Cowboys thoughts on a reduced deal but remains hesitant about making a major shave in salary.

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Original Text:

As the Dallas Cowboys continue wide-scale contractual overhauls meant to get them under the salary cap, the team has given linebacker DeMarcus Ware an ultimatum: Take a pay cut or prepare to hit the open market.     

According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Cowboys informed Ware on Tuesday that they had no interest in paying him the $13 million average he's due over the next four seasons:

Ware, 31, is due a $12.25 million base salary as part of the six-year, $78 million extension he signed with the Cowboys in 2009. The two sides have restructured the deal multiple times previously, each of which gave Dallas short-term cap relief while landing Ware more guaranteed money.    

Because of the constant cat-and-mouse game the Cowboys play with the cap, contract restructurings have become something of a late-winter tradition for Jerry Jones. Earlier Tuesday, the team announced Tony Romo agreed to a restructured deal less than a year after signing his massive, $108 million extension.

The new-look contract will save the Cowboys $10 million on their 2014 cap number, putting them nearly back under the NFL-mandated $133 million spending limit. Romo, as is typical in these negotiations, converted a high base salary into a signing bonus, which Dallas can then redistribute over the life of the contract.

Although there are some fundamental similarities between the Ware and Romo negotiations, the key differences might spell the end of the former's time in Dallas. Whereas parting ways with Romo would have throttled the Cowboys' cap sheet with an incredible amount of dead money—dead money is a cap acceleration placed on teams who release players, based on past bonuses—releasing Ware could save Dallas a ton of money.

Ware's cap number for 2014 is barely over $16 million. If the Cowboys release him, they would see an acceleration of roughly $8.6 million (h/t, thereby saving them $7.4 million on the 2014 cap—a number that would get them far under the tax. A standard restructure, similar to Romo, would also do the trick here.

However, the Cowboys have far less incentive to keep Ware around than they did at this time last year. Ware endured the worst professional season of his career in 2013, setting a career low with six sacks amid a position change to defensive end. He struggled mightily, as many players did, in grasping Monte Kiffin's scheme switch and missed three games due to injury.

The injuries, coupled with Ware's advancing age, have left the Cowboys openly considering severing ties, as Jones said to ESPN's Calvin Watkins:

We will address it. We made a change in what he's doing. We put his hand down [play defensive end], rather than stand him up [play outside linebacker]. That was a change, and at the same time, he's had a tough time getting on the practice field because of various injuries, all of that we have to weigh with how much of that has impacted...where he is with his career and his age. 

The implication here is that Ware won't merely be asked to restructure his deal. The Cowboys will likely ask him to take a pay cut—the severity of which could determine whether the home-grown talent reaches a decade with the franchise. Ware indicated in December he would be amenable to such an arrangement, but it remains to be seen if his stance has changed.

There are plenty of underlying numbers that point to him still being a very effective player. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) measured Ware as the ninth-most productive 4-3 defensive end last season as a pass-rusher and third in run-stop percentage. With the Cowboys defense ranking as one of the worst in football last year, perhaps Ware might want to remind them to check the numbers for proof of where they would be without him.