The release of DeMarcus Ware was bound to bring mixed reactions from Dallas Cowboys faithful, and it surely did. On the one hand are the fans who cling to their favorite players and don’t want to think about the business end of the game of NFL Football. On the other hand are the matter of fact hard scrabble fans who spend every day in some type of thinking about long term strategy.
In Ware there was a player who is among my favorite ever to don a Cowboys jersey. There also was a man on the wrong side of the 30 who had 2 straight seasons of injuries and diminishing returns shackled to a high salary. In waiving Ware the Cowboys created two things. The most obvious one is a hole to fill on a Defensive Line that in 2013 was a revolving door. The most significant thing was probably the cap room it saved. $7.4 million in 2014 is a decent amount, but without a doubt it is the over $15 million saved in 2015 that is the true vision behind the move.
The Cowboys also allowed Jason Hatcher to get out of town to a division rival. Hatcher was coming off a career year, signed a large contract that most Cowboys fans immediately said was not worth it, and like Ware, was on the wrong side of 30. It also created a second gaping hole on the Defensive Line and signaled the moves the Cowboys were going to make to fix the Line. Namely it showed that they are going to look for guys in Free Agency who are under the 30 year old football Mendoza line, who are willing to sign here for a reasonable price, and that they will address the future of the Line in the Draft.
Fresh free agent faces
Their signings on DL start with the acquisition of Henry Melton and the flirtations with Jared Allen. Both Texas born and bred, and guys who grew up as Cowboys fans. The wooing of Allen was curious because he would obviously replace Ware in the rotation and has outplayed Ware the last 2 seasons. It is obvious to most observers that the consternation of Allen was that he was being pulled in 3 different directions. Dallas was not going to give him the contract he got from the Chicago Bears. Apparently neither were the Seattle Seahawks. He is on the wrong side of 30 and adding a high priced fix to a solution done to clear cap room doesn’t make much sense.
I believe in his heart Jared Allen wanted to play in Dallas for the team he grew up rooting for. In his head he wanted to play in Seattle with an aggressive defense that was already a Champion. His wallet wanted one more big contract and he decided to go to Chicago to replace Julius Peppers, yet another aging pass rusher who got a big deal. So the Cowboys passed on the big contract for Jared Allen, and instead signed a guy to replace Hatcher.
Henry Melton had played for Rod Marinelli in Chicago. He was a 4th round pick who bought into Marinelli’s system and became perhaps the best 3 Technique Defensive Tackle in the NFL. His 2013 was cut short by an ACL tear. Had it not been and he continued to produce at the level he had been there is little doubt he would have either been franchised by the Bears or perhaps would have been the highest sought after D-lineman in Free Agency. Higher even than Ware? Yes, I believe so. First of all Tackles usually cost less than Ends along the D-Line. Most importantly though in Melton you get a 27 year old player who is proven.
Melton gave the Cowboys a great deal. Was it a hometown deal? Did he sign with his heart? He probably did. The Cowboys got a one year deal where if he produces they hold options for more years. All at reasonable prices, though if he returns to his pre-injury form he could get a new deal given the rising cap room over the next 2 years.
After Melton the Cowboys also signed Jeremy Mincey at DE and Terrell McClain at DT. Both of them signed for cap friendly deals. Mincey is the deal that confuses Cowboys fans. Not because it is so high, but because he is 30 and he is nowhere near Ware’s league. Here’s the truth of his singing though. He wasn’t signed to replace Ware. He was signed to replace the homeless guys Dallas was forced to use in 2013 as the injuries mounted and continued to deplete a Defense that started out so positive by focusing on takeaways. Point blank, Mincey is not a better option than Ware. No one is. But he is a better option than an Everette Brown.
Turning to youth
Ware’s replacement likely comes in the Draft or is already on the roster. If he is on the roster his name is Tyrone Crawford. If he is on the Cowboys Draft Board as we speak his name might be among these candidates; Kony Ealy (Missouri Tigers), Scott Crichton (Oregon State Beavers), Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame Fighting Irish), Kareem Martin (North Carolina Tarheels), Trevor Reilly (Utah Utes), or Trent Murphy (Stanford Cardinal). It might even be the son of former Dallas Cowboys great, Jim Jeffcoat, in the form of his son Jackson (Texas Longhorns). That is a story Cowboys fans would love, provided of course that Jackson doesn’t bust in the NFL. Cowboys fans are sentimental, but we can be just as fickle as anyone.
In Terrell McClain we acquired a player who already says he wants to start next to Melton as the 1 Technique DT. It remains to be seen if he has the chops to do that, and let’s not forget at all that this Draft is very deep at DT. Not the least of which is all everything guy from the Pittsburgh Panthers, Aaron Donald. If Donald falls to the Cowboys at 16, I have little doubt they will take him so fast heads will spin. He is the second coming of Warren Sapp in the eyes of many. Sapp only became a star under Marinelli and Kiffin back when he was taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1994.
Some critics of Donald say he is too small to dominate in the NFL the way he did in the NCAA. That is an interesting comment to these ears. Warren Sapp was 6’2″. Aaron Donald is 6’1″. When Warren Sapp was drafted he weighed in at 285 pounds. Aaron Donald weighed in at 285 pounds. Warren did beef up to 300 in his career. Are people saying Donald can’t add 10 to 15 pounds of muscle? Is 1 inch really that huge a difference? Not to my thinking.
In 1994 Warren Sapp won the Lombardi Award, given annually to the best D-Lineman or Linebacker. He won the Bronko Nagurski Award as the Best Defensive player. He won the Bill Willis Trophy as the Best Defensive Lineman. This is an impressive haul by anyone’s standards. Aaron Donald won these same awards in 2013 and he added the Outland Trophy given annually to the best Offensive or Defensive Lineman. Sapp was a finalist for that Trophy, but lost it to an Offensive Tackle from the Nebraska Cornhuskers named Zach Weiggert.
Up next – Part 2 of the revealing