Thinking About the Unthinkable - Trading Ware

March 18, 2013

In 2005, there was a controversial moment in the Cowboys war-room. Most people who were there that day will verify that there was a disagreement with what the Cowboys would do with the first of their two first round picks.  Because of the trade in 2004 that pushed the Cowboys out of the first round (Steven Jackson) and back into the second (Julius Jones) so that the Bills could take JP Losman, they had an extra pick in 2005.  They would have picks No. 11 and picks No. 20 in the 1st round of 2005.

They would use these picks and many other resources to covert their defense that off-season over to a 3-4 and they needed many of the pieces that would be required to do what Bill Parcells was hoping to pull off.

The disagreement centered around No. 11.  With the Cowboys on the clock, we understand that Parcells was ready to take Marcus Spears or Shawne Merriman at that pick. But, the other side of the disagreement was being handled by Jerry Jones himself. His side, one which had the scouting department in full support, thought it was time to hop on the defensive end from Troy, DeMarcus Ware. They had some feelings about Merriman and his agent and while Spears might not make it to No. 20, Ware was the best player with the least amount of question marks.

We can document and discuss the issues with Jerry Jones and his multitude of strikeouts, but let us never forget the home-run of over-ruling Parcells on the 3-pick choice of 2005.  Ware or Spears or Merriman.  The only right answer is Ware and witnesses agree that Jones made that call.

Since then, Ware has been the most dominant pass rusher in the NFL.  From 2005 to this moment, Ware has 111 sacks which ranks No. 1 in the NFL.  In fact, Ware and Jared Allen (108 sacks) are miles beyond anyone else in this category - Julius Peppers (81.5).  But, he is more than a simple pass rusher, because no other defensive front-7 guy has forced more fumbles than Ware over that span, too.  His 32 forced fumbles trail only CB Charles Tillman for players at any position.

He has played 16 games every year, he has been a model citizen, and he has been the dominant defensive player in the entire NFL since 2005 - a span of 8 full seasons.  In short, if ever there has been a no-brainer candidate for the Cowboys Ring of Honor and Canton, Ohio on a team that did not win Super Bowls, it would have to start with DeMarcus Ware.

Which is why answering this email in this fashion may be enough to make most people spit their coffee on their computer screens:

Hey Bob,
how would you feel about trading DeMarcus Ware this offseason.  It seems that with the cap number that is coming, his age, and the potential return, it is something that should at least be considered.  Thanks, Dave

Wow. Just the thing I have been thinking about. What would be the Cowboys quickest route to rebuilding a team that is now both old and expensive, yet, nearly blasphemous to even suggest.

What is the case for trading the Cowboys most valuable asset?

Let's start with the fact that he is about to turn 31 before he plays another down for the Cowboys. Somethings age well, football stars are generally not one of them. There is still plenty of proof that Ware can have some fantastic seasons ahead, though.

Why? History tells us that pass rushers can have great careers past 31.

Bruce Smith had 94 sacks after his 31st birthday.  Reggie White, who was 31 when he signed in Green Bay, still had 74 more sacks after his 31st birthday.  Kevin Greene had 87.5 sacks after that birthday, too.  Chris Doleman had 74.5 starting with the season after turning 31.  Even Michael Strahan had 57 sacks beyond age 31.  There is plenty of reason to believe, based on looking at the 5 best sackers of all-time that you can still do plenty of damage after the age of 31.  Running backs don't age well, but apparently there is still a lot of miles left for the elite guys at getting to the QB if they stay in great shape.  And Ware appears to be one of those for sure.  And if he puts up numbers like those 5 players, he will jump a few of them and make a run at the Bruce Smith's all-time number of 200.  He needs 89 more sacks.

And, if you were so inclined to trade one of the best Cowboys of all-time, that prior paragraph tells you that the haul would be pretty strong.

But, the Cowboys are never inclined to trade players off its roster.  The past 20 years, in the post-Jimmy Johnson era, have shown us that the Cowboys have gone that entire span without trading a player for a first , second, OR third round pick.  Sure, they flipped Jason Ferguson for a 6th, and Anthony Fasano with Akin Ayodele for a fourth, but they never trade premium players for premium picks all the way back to the Steve Walsh trade (and Herschel, of course).

This has led to many around the NFL feeling that the Cowboys "Fall in love with their players" as much as anyone in the sport.  That label means keeping guys around until they can no longer play in the league, while paying them top salaries and keeping the band together.  It is the opposite of letting Ronnie Lott and Joe Montana finish their careers elsewhere.  It is keeping the core of Tony Romo, Ware, Jason Witten, Jay Ratliff, and Miles Austin - the group all acquired during the Parcells-Era - together until they all have aged out of their primes.

So, each year, as these players all age, their cap numbers cause issues and the Cowboys have to restructure everyone just to become compliant with the salary cap, let alone to make room to actually sign anyone.  This is the equivalent of opening a new credit card and transferring your balances, rather than actually paying off your balance.  It delays your debt (and often, makes it grow).

DeMarcus Ware is the one guy who might be able to fix everything.  With a cap hit in 2013 of $8 million, he seems to be paid about right.  But, because of the accounting issues that always haunt this team, his number rises to an insane $16m in 2014 and $17.5m in 2015.  After that, it drops back to $14m in 2016 and 2017, neither of which carry guaranteed money - yet.  He is guaranteed about $17 million more on his current arrangement according to my information (including his money this year).

But, I think we all know how this normally goes.  Ware has a normal Ware year, and next winter, the Cowboys must extend his deal to ease up the hit in 2014, and in exchange, either add years or guarantee salary in '16 or '17, thus continuing the conveyor belt way of doing business.

Or, you could see about a trade.  (I pause for everyone to gather up their rotten vegetables to throw at the computer).

Would you trade DeMarcus Ware?  And if so, what would you get?

Let's look at some trades in recent years to examine the haul:

Percy Harvin to Seattle - for a 1st, 3rd and 7th.

Carson Palmer to Oakland - for a 1st and 2nd.

Alex Smith to Kansas City - for a 2nd and a conditional 2nd.

Robert Griffin to Washington - for 3 1st Rounders and a 2nd.

Julio Jones to Atlanta - for 2 1sts, a 2nd, and 2 4ths.

Kevin Kolb to Arizona - for a 2nd and Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie.

Richard Seymour to Oakland - for a 1st.

Jared Allen to Minnesota - for a 1st and 2 3rds.

Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel to Chiefs - for a 2nd.

Roy Williams (and a 7th) to the Cowboys - for a 1st, 3rd, and 6th.

Some of these trades relate and some clearly don't. Quarterbacks have to be treated in their own category as people are always willing to overpay for a QB. Jared Allen's deal was when he was 26, but also when he had a reputation of being a bit of trouble off the field.

Could you get a first and a second?  It seems like a fair offer that only relies on one team wanting to spend the picks to get a generational (Reggie White to Green Bay?) type acquisition and then sign him to a five-year deal that would replace/restructure his current one that both parties would agree to.  Would Ware accept a 5-year, $60 million deal with $25-$30M guaranteed right now to begin his career elsewhere?

I think he would be delighted to nearly double his guaranteed money.

Would the Cowboys trade their most valuable non-QB asset for a first and a second rounder, thus getting a return on a player who has premium value rather than letting him age to where you would simply have to cut him for nothing down the road?

I don't think they would consider it, but should they?  Well, if they were to think of it, they shouldn't have restructured his deal.  Once they did that a few weeks ago, they actually would have a bigger cap hit to trade him.  It would cost them to clear him out of here - thus even further weakening their 2013 squad.  Then, any room Romo would give them by extending his deal would just go to make a Ware trade possible.  And this fact further speaks to the corner the Cowboys continue to paint themselves into.

So, there, Dave.  It is a reasonable idea and actually one that I hope they considered.  A first and a second round pick to sacrifice one of your most valuable players in the name of building this team around players in their primes moving forward.  It would be forward thinking to say goodbye a year too early rather than a year too late.  You then have multiple picks in each of the first few rounds, surrounding other elite young talent like Sean Lee, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, and Bruce Carter, with other kids who are on rookie deals.

Could you get Chance Warmack and Sylvester Williams in the first?  Could you get two more studs in the 2nd to fill out safety and maybe more offensive line?  And how does this change your future?

Instead, Jones and his crew march bravely into the 2013 season knowing that this is the best move for today, but tomorrow might require a real bottoming-out sequence in the future to pay the debtors all of this money that is being charged up right now.

It would never happen.  But, it is worth addressing in this edition of the email bag.

To steal a phrase from Game of Thrones as it pertains to the Cowboys cap strategy, "Winter Is Coming".   They know it.  And they march on.