COMMENTARY | I get it. I get the attachment fans have to certain players of their favorite teams. I'll even go so far as to call it a bond, a connection that is built out of respect and admiration and strengthened as that player progresses. I get why some people spend top-dollar on jerseys and season tickets or stand in line for hours just to get an autograph. That bond, that passion is what keeps the NFL going.
So I don't doubt that several of you saw this headline and hate-clicked the corresponding link, appalled at the notion of the Dallas Cowboys bargaining the face of their defense. It's offensive to think that DeMarcus Ware, one of the few bright spots on a bad team should be even considered as trade bait. The mere thought of No. 94 being branded with anything other than a Blue Star is nothing short of blasphemy.
But as much as it might hurt to see him traded away, what the Cowboys would get in exchange could set them up for immediate and long term success.
It's fair to say that Ware was the best draft pick they've had in more than a decade (tied with Jason Witten). Since being selected in the first round of the 2005 draft he has led the league in sacks twice and is 19th all-time with 111. He's been selected to seven Pro Bowls and was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. Going into 2012 he was ranked as the sixth best player on the NFL Top 100 list.
Simply put, DeMarcus Ware is a role model, an outstanding player, and to a certain degree, irreplaceable.
So why should the Cowboys even think about letting him go?
Every NFL franchise can be lumped into one of three categories: winning, regressing, or rebuilding. The Cowboys certainly aren't winning and I'd like to believe the regression is nearing its plateau. The somewhat surprising release of defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, officially confirmed them as a team rebuilding.
Monte Kiffin has been brought in to replace Ryan and replace the defensive philosophies that have been in place since the Bill Parcells' era. The implementation of a 4-3 Tampa-2 means lining up Ware as a defensive end. That's an exciting concept. Finally, he will be able to do what he does best. His responsibilities will be abbreviated to simply harassing quarterbacks. And there's little to suggest that he won't flourish in that role, just as he did in college.
The transition from a 3-4 linebacker to a 4-3 end will be smooth and brilliant for him. But the timing for the Cowboys couldn't be worse. Kiffin preaches speed and depth. The Cowboys have neither. Ware, Kenyon Coleman, Jason Hatcher and Jay Ratliff will all be 31 or older by the time training camps start.
Age represents a problem. Age means a loss of a step and a higher probability of nagging injuries. Ratliff has already been a major injury risk and his recent legal troubles really cloud his future. Coleman found his way to IR halfway through last season. Even Ware was noticeably compromised and will be coming off of at least one surgery with another one pending.
Age also means finding replacements. The Cowboys need to get young and fast, fast. The theory is that this level of transition will take a few years and a few draft classes before we see measurable progress on the field.
But what if I were to purpose a tax that would allow the Cowboys to shortcut the rebuilding process?
You have to believe that Ware is on the other side of his prime. That's not to say he isn't still one of the best linebackers in the league. It was just one year ago that Pete Prisco ranked him third on his list of Top 100 NFL Players, which means his market value still demands a heavy price tag.
It would be wise for Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett to take advantage of that price tag while they can. Ware is worth at least a first round draft pick this year, a second round draft pick next year and a few picks to be named later.
Then there's the freed up cap space that would afford them the opportunity to make an offer to Anthony Spencer or give them some room to bargain in free agency .
Ware is owed a base salary of $5.5 million in 2013. That number balloons to $12.2 million in 2014 and $13.7 million in 2015. The Cowboys will still be on the hook for signing bonuses and restructure bonuses, roughly $12 million (unless they can work out a cash deal) but the savings over the next three years make that pill a lot easier swallow.
Unfortunately, his large cap hit will limit the number of teams that can make a play at him. But there are a few suitors that have the cash to spend and a reason to spend it.
The Indianapolis Colts jump to the top of the list. They recently switched to a 3-4 and more importantly, have $46 million in cap room. They own the 24th overall pick in this April's draft and while that won't give the Cowboys a shot at a top-rated prospect, it will give them the chance to build depth or possibly trade up.
To recap: trading No. 94 would give the Cowboys three draft picks in the first two rounds this year, three draft picks in the first two rounds next year, and the financial flexibility to address some of their needs in free agency. This means that not only can they replace Ware with depth and youth, but they can also address other problems such as the offensive line.
It would be tough to see him in a different jersey, no doubt. Utilitarianism isn't always popular. What's best for the greater good isn't always best for the individual. In this situation fans will have their hearts broken and understandably feel wronged. But you have to be forward thinking in this business. The immediate impact that those added draft picks would have on this team cannot be overstated, especially if the Cowboys felt the need to trade up in 2014.
Justin Bonnema is a freelance writer and a featured columnist covering the NFL and fantasy football.
Follow him on Twitter: @justinbonnema
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