Dallas' Smart Roster Management Should Leave Fans Pleased
By Kenny Decker
A loyal and emotional Cowboys fan might have been hurt by Dallas’ decision to let go of DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, Miles Austin and, possibly, Anthony Spencer. These guys have been the heart and soul of Cowboys football for the last several seasons. Ware, Hatcher and Spencer, in particular, have been the face of their defense, and Ware was often seen as the face of the team. Austin broke out in 2009 for Dallas and quickly became a fan favorite, but they’re gone now — Ware and Hatcher were already signed by other teams. However, these moves are smart and seem to be part of a plan that Jerry Jones is putting into action.
Ware, who turns 32 in July, ended up receiving $30 million from Denver over three years, $14 million of which he will make this season. Given Ware’s recent production, it would be hard for Dallas, who is looking to spend money wisely instead of frequently, to justify giving Ware that kind of money (or the $12.25 million Dallas was set to pay him in 2014). Yes, Ware had a tremendous career in Dallas and will be remembered for it. But his 28 tackles and six sacks from 2013 can be replaced. Ware will be missed by all Dallas fans, but management made a smart decision by parting ways with him.
Hatcher, who also will be 32 when the 2014 season starts, got $27.5 million over four years from Washington. Hatcher tallied 11 sacks for Dallas, but he could be something for management and the coaching staff to pride themselves on coming into this May’s NFL draft. Dallas drafted Hatcher out of Grambling State in the third round in 2006, and though Hatcher may have developed slower than they hoped, they found a gem from a small name college and turned him into a strong interior lineman in Dallas. So going into this draft, Cowboys management may not be able to find their next DeMarcus Ware, but maybe they can find another Jason Hatcher. Again, Hatcher had some strong seasons for Dallas, but throwing him the same money that Washington did would not have been a smart investment.
Spencer basically missed all of the 2013 season with a knee injury, and has visited with the Redskins and Giants on his free agency search. Dallas didn’t officially lose Spencer yet, and he may find his way back into a Cowboys uniform. But he fell through the free agency frenzy, so clearly no team is dying to get him or willing to pay the price. So Dallas’ position with Spencer has been very smart. They are letting him feel the market out, and thus far, he remains unsigned. Dallas may wait and see how his knee heals and then try to negotiate with Spencer for a short-term, low-money contract to give him a chance to prove he can come back from the knee injury. Or they may simply let him slide to another team. Nevertheless, they have handled it wisely so far.
Austin’s cut will save Dallas $5.5 million against the cap in 2014, and it will free up money for Dallas to use to sign their draft picks. Austin was one of Dallas’ undrafted free agent pickups, and he had two really good years for them. Following the 2009 season, Austin got a six-year, $54 million contract, but has since failed to live up to expectations. Cutting Austin seemed like a no-brainer; he has struggled with injuries recently, and Terrance Williams has really emerged as a strong No. 2 receiver for Tony Romo. So cutting Austin was another smart move, and Dallas will likely replace him in the draft.
Dallas also cut C Phil Costa, who refused to take a pay cut and has since signed with the Indianapolis Colts. This was a smart move for Dallas because he freed up more money and Costa only appeared in three games last season. Ryan Cook will continue as Dallas’ starting center in 2014, and Dallas may use the draft to find a backup.
These players have contributed — some more than others — to Dallas’ success over the past several years. But Dallas is turning the page and Jones’ plan is in action. He has made cuts that needed to be made and added some players to replace them. The draft will be huge for the Cowboys this May and could be determinant of their 2014 success.