Sources: Cowboys initiate exploratory talks with Hatcher, Spencer

Cowboys DL Jason Hatcher

Brad Penner/Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

IRVING, Texas — The Cowboys initiated the start of the NFL’s 2014 Shopping Season this weekend by making exploratory calls to free-agent defensive linemen Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer, sources tell FOX Sports Southwest.

Conversations with Hatcher and Spencer – both of whom Dallas would ideally like to retain — in no way promises their return. Same goes for undo/redo candidate DeMarcus Ware or other teams’ standouts, like Chicago defensive tackle Henry Melton.

But Dallas wouldn’t bother initiating these conversations if there isn’t at least the tiny possibility of flame underneath the smoke.

Shockingly to some, Dallas can sit on Ware’s existing deal – which allots him $16 mil, $17 mil, $14 mil and $14 mil over the next four seasons – and keep him on ice. But doing so would also delay the Cowboys’ clearing of room to keep or pursue the sort of players who can be re-signed or signed to pick up the slack in Ware’s absence.

Until the details of an undo/redo are known, there is no way to gauge the room that might be gained in keeping Ware at a discounted price. An outright release of the much-admired future Hall-of-Famer would create about $7 million of room.

FOX Sports Southwest is being told that reports of Dallas "strongly leaning toward" releasing  Ware are, as of Sunday evening, totally premature and that the sides are involved in negotiations.

There are other candidates in play, as long-shot as they may be. Henry Melton, the 27-year-old stud who is coming off a knee injury but has Texas connections, is a valued 3-technique weapon, as is Hatcher. Valley Ranch sources tell FOX Sports Southwest that while Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is Melton’s former boss and an admirer, he’s also "in love" with the idea of keeping Hatcher at an affordable price.

"Affordable" might prove to be impossible. But the process has started with the exploratory phone calls.