Updates from Monday, Mar. 17
DeMarcus Ware spoke about his Cowboys tenure and move to the Broncos via his Twitter account:
Putting an early end to a fever-pitch negotiation process since his release, former Dallas Cowboys linebacker/defensive end DeMarcus Ware has agreed to a three-year, $30 million contract with the Denver Broncos.
Adam Schefter of ESPN was the first to report the agreement Wednesday:
Filed to ESPN: Pending a physical, former Cowboys DE DeMarcus Ware reached agreement with Broncos on 3-year, $30M contract include $20M gtd.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 12, 2014
The Broncos officially announced the signing:
Joel Corry of National Football Post provides the year-by-year breakdown:
DeMarcus Ware's three-year, $30M deal is front loaded. He has $13M in 2014 & $23M after 2015.— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) March 12, 2014
Elway commented on the move in an interview with the NFL Newtork (via ProFootballTalk):
“We really believe he’s got a lot of football left in him. He played through a lot of pain last year. He’s had a tremendous career and we really think that opposite Von Miller he will really add to the pass rush.
We’re all in now, but we’re really in this for the future as well. We’re not mortgaging our future. We plan on being a good football team for a long time.”
The excitement was oozing out of Ware in his first press conference with the Broncos (via ProFootballTalk):
“Just their mentality is a ‘now’ mentality. A mentality of, ‘I’m not looking forward to the next season or the season after that — the time is now.’ So when I see [cornerback Aqib] Talib [signing with the Broncos], I’m like, ‘You know what? They’re trying to get the job done.’ When I see them signing a guy like [safety T.J.] Ward, they’re trying to get the job done. They’re trying to get these lockdown corners so the pass-rush up front can really create havoc out there. Seeing what they’re doing, now I feel even more comfortable even being here doing that with where they’re trying to be and where they’re trying to have their defense and what they’re trying to mold.”
Ware, 31, was released by the Cowboys just before the official beginning of the free-agent signing period on Tuesday, as Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. The 2005 first-round pick spent his first nine seasons in Dallas, making seven Pro Bowls and as many All-Pro teams. He is the team's all-time sacks leader with 117.
But even though the Cowboys wanted to keep Ware around, a tenuous contract renegotiation left them little choice but to cut bait. Hill reported Ware refused to take a pay cut from the $12.25 million base salary he was owed for 2014, instead preferring to be released or for a more standard regeneration—with Ware receiving guarantees via bonuses in exchange for a lower cap hold.
Dallas blanched and sent Ware packing, though helping the Cowboys get under the cap in the process. While there is always finality in these processes, owner Jerry Jones left open the possibility of a return.
“After meeting this afternoon, DeMarcus and I agreed on an understanding that would allow him to explore the options he will have for the 2014 season and beyond,” Jones said in a statement, via Rowan Kavner of the team's official website. “We were also in very strong agreement that playing for the Dallas Cowboys would be one of the options we would both be exploring.”
It became quickly apparent that Ware would have no shortage of suitors. Within moments of Dallas' official announcement, rumors became popping up across the league about Ware's potential landing spots. ESPN's Adam Schefter noted the Broncos emerged as early favorites, and they were soon followed by others.
As for what Ware brings to the table now, odds are it's still a lot. He set a career low with six sacks in 13 games amid a position change to defensive end, as the Cowboys switched to a 4-3 alignment under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. It broke a stretch of seven consecutive years of double-digit sacks for Ware.
Standing on the outside throughout his NFL career, Ware looked uncomfortable at times in the three-point stance and missed three games due to injuries.
The entire Cowboys defense also cratered around him. Dallas finished 26th in points allowed, 30th in opposing passing yards and had the league's third-worst defensive DVOA, per Football Outsiders. The ill-fitting personnel combined with injuries to create a mistake-prone defense that ultimately led to Kiffin transitioning away from defensive play-calling.
Despite the struggles, Ware still graded out as one of the league's finest all-around defensive linemen last season. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked Ware in the top 15 among 4-3 defensive ends as a pass-rusher and run-stopper—a sign of Ware's versatility.
Odds are, Ware will return to his Pro Bowl-level form in 2014. He'll be surrounded by better players in Denver and placed within a system that should benefit his skill set more. Heading into his age-32 season, there is still plenty of reason to believe there's at least one more elite season left in the tank.
The concerns come later in the deal. Once players hit 30—especially high-activity defenders like Ware—they tend to start aging in dog years. As Ware learned with the Cowboys, it only takes one season to morph from a franchise cornerstone to an albatross that needs to be eradicated. The Broncos and Ware hope it takes way more than one year before Ware has to hear that dreaded phone call again.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: