IRVING (105.3 THE FAN) – Dallas Cowboys defensive leader Jason Hatcher insists, “This football team is on the up-and-coming. It’s going places.’’ But finances dictate that wherever it goes, it may do so without Hatcher and fellow stalwart DeMarcus Ware.
In Hatcher’s case, he’s a free agent. His devotion to the cause is unquestionable, but as he frankly told me following Dallas’ season-ending loss to the Eagles, “You have to flip the switch. I played my ass off for the Cowboys. But now I’m a free agent and this is the ‘business’ part of the business.’’
Meanwhile, Ware is also about to be involved in a Cowboys business decision. I’ve reported for months that Ware – a future Hall-of-Famer whose play is slipping even as he’s due to earn $12.25 million next year – is completely aware of the looming post-June 1 cutdown option at management’s disposal. Ware himself expressed that Sunday night in the losing locker room.
“At the end of the day, I’m a team player,” Ware said, making clear his wiliness to re-adjust his salary rather than be cut. “I’ll do what I need to do to help the team.”
Each NFL team can in a post-June 1 cutdown get relief from two contracts. The Cowboys have a handful of candidates for that. I’m told Ware joins receiver Miles Austin at the top of Dallas’ list. If the Cowboys release Ware after June 1, the cap hit amounts to $8 million spread over the ensuing two years; that’s better than being on the hook for what’s left on his contract, which includes cap hits of $16 million (in 2014), $17 million (in 2015), $14 million (in 2016) and $14 million (in 2017).
If the Cowboys cut Ware before June 1, that will move the cap charge from $16 million to $8.5 million – a savings of $7.5 million.
“I think about it sometimes,’’ Ware said regarding the possibility of Sunday being his final game as a Cowboy. “But that’s sort of the last thing on my mind. I’ve just got to get my body right for whatever opportunities await me.”
One opportunity: Rather than release him outright, the Cowboys are likely to attempt to negotiate Ware’s deal down, as they did last spring with tackle Doug Free, whose $7-million salary was sliced in half.
Ware, 31, is enduring the wear-and-tear of nine terrific seasons in Dallas. This year he’s played with elbow ailments, an injured quad and a disc injury. Meanwhile, he finished the season with a career-low six sacks, getting all of them in four games.
A lesser salary – and a lesser role – may be in Ware’s future.
Said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones: “We’ve got a lot of things to digest that we adjusted because of cap penalties we got and we pushed them forward. We may have to make some tough decisions related to some high salaries.”
Hatcher is also 31, but big money could be in his future. He greatly raised his level of play this season while making $2 million in a contract year, recording a career-high 11 sacks and becoming Dallas’ best week-in-and-week-out defender.
“It was obvious I should’ve been there,’’ Hatcher told me when I asked about him getting snubbed in the Pro Bowl voting this weekend. “I know deep down inside I’m the best 3-Tech in the league. … I’m not big on Hawaii. Screw it. I’ll take my family there anyway.’’
Hatcher and Ware might both be on the move…in terms of both their future employers and their future finances.
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