What Does DeMarcus Ware's Release Mean for the Dallas Cowboys?

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMarch 11, 2014

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 29:  Defensive end DeMarcus Ware #94 of the Dallas Cowboys looks on prior to the start of the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on September 29, 2013 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

It's simple math. If DeMarcus Ware was indeed unwilling to take a pay cut and a restructure was unwise, his release—which was confirmed by ESPN.com's Todd Archer on Tuesday—saved the Dallas Cowboys $7.4 million in salary cap space.

With that and the $1.1 million in space they had prior to this development, the Cowboys can very likely sign both Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer to multi-year deals if they so choose.

At this point in time, Hatcher and Spencer together have to be considered more valuable than Ware on his own. 

It can't be a coincidence Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News reported on Monday that the team had reached out to both Hatcher and Spencer over the weekend. Both are now free agents, but Ware's release brings both back into the equation for the Cowboys. 

The Cowboys can now play the field with Spencer, Hatcher and Ware.
The Cowboys can now play the field with Spencer, Hatcher and Ware.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

According to NFL Network's Desmond Purnell, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones wouldn't rule out the possibility of Ware returning after testing the free-agent waters, but the point is that this move gives Dallas more breathing room than it has had in years.

The Cowboys know they can't afford Ware, Hatcher and Spencer together, but this gives them a chance to approach all three players broadly on the open market, while also considering outside options that might be cheaper. 

Don't be surprised if that's what happens.

It seems the front office is finally beginning to realize that holding on to aging veterans doesn't often pay off. This is an organization the continues to be trapped in salary-cap hell, still paying ghosts like Jay Ratliff, Marcus Spears and Nate Livings. 

The 31-year-old Ware has steadily declined over the last two years. This was the time to cut bait, as difficult as it certainly was from a sentimental standpoint. 

DeMarcus Ware's decline
Pro Football Focus (PRP = pass-rushing productivity grade)

Hatcher is 32 (dangerous) and coming off a better-than-usual contract year (even more dangerous). He'll be overpaid elsewhere and ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon reports that he isn't expected to give any sort of hometown discount to the Cowboys. 

Spencer is 30 and coming off microfracture surgery on his left knee. He had a breakout year before missing the 2013 season, but the Cowboys don't know what to expect in 2014especially in a 4-3 defense and without Ware's support. 

Ware's release opens up a window for Hatcher and/or Spencer, which is refreshing because it gives this franchise some freedom in free agency.

Moreover, such a smart, mature and calculated move might also indicate that the Cowboys are now clever enough to use this newfound money on bargain free agents on the right side of 30 before addressing their needs more thoroughly in the draft. 

That, along with Archer's view that Miles Austin will likely be released in June, might also give them a chance to—gasp!—carry some cap space into the regular season or into 2015, when a rollover would certainly help considering the impending cap numbers attached to players like Tony Romo, Brandon Carr and Jason Witten. 

Ware can still get after the quarterback with the best of them, so this couldn't have been an easy decision. From both a football and a financial standpoint, though, it was the right one.

Now, the Cowboys should approach the market with that same discipline, considering all three of their unrestricted free-agent defensive linemen, but only for the right price.