Cowboys Initiate Contact With Hatcher & Spencer
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 told me Sunday morning, calls that belie the myth that Dallas is hopelessly mired in “Cap Hell.” The truth: March 11 is when free agents can be signed, sealed and delivered to their teams. And on that same day, each team must find its way below the league’s $133-million ceiling. The Cowboys easily accomplished the latter. Now, what can they really do about the former?
My revelation on 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’s 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, they 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 not sweat it right now. But both sides are sweating. The Joneses love the future Hall-of-Famer and Ware has no desire to leave. What Ware will discover here is that the leverage in negotiations to get Ware to undo-and-redo his deal – if Jerry can harden his heart enough to use it – might belong to Dallas. Ware may ultimately be told to take a “paycut or be cut,” (maybe in softer phrasing than that).
If Ware senses there is a monster deal waiting for him on the open market, Dallas will be wise to endure that pain and watch somebody else overpay this iconic talent. And then, regardless of whether he finished his career in Buffalo or Oakland or Kansas City or Denver or New Orleans, a few years down the line he will be inducted into the Cowboys Ring of Honor. But can Dallas keep Ware and remake this defensive line?
That is the optimal plan. Chase Melton, is a 27-year-old stud who is coming off a knee injury with Texas connections. He is a valued 3-technique guy, as is Hatcher. You don’t want to pay age (Hatcher is 32) but you certainly approach your discussions with him with an open mind. And by the way, Dallas’ defensive coordinator is Melton’s former boss, but I’m told he’s in love with the idea of keeping Hatcher at an affordable price. There also is talent along the defensive line in this free-agent class. And there is talent in the draft, starting with Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, an obvious Cowboys target at 16. In short, there is a way to assemble a group of “rushmen’’ without all of them being billionaires.
Last year, off-the-couch Cowboy George Selvie was paid $700,000 and recorded seven sacks. There is a way to get production out of defensive linemen without paying them $16 million a year. As astute Cowboys fans have come to realize yet again this year, there is no such thing as “cap hell.’’ A few days ago Dallas was $20 million over. Now, with four strokes of a ballpoint pen, they are under and can at least window-shop big-shot guys and eventually find help. The Cowboys simply activated pre-existing clauses in the contracts of Tony Romo, Sean Lee and Orlando Scandrick, and then released Phil Costa (more room was gained by an undo/redo of Mackenzie Bernardeau’s contract). None of the three players who were “restructured’’ made a sacrifice or was paid more, and none of their contracts were extended beyond their market value. That’s the way it is in Baltimore and New Orleans and Pittsburgh and in every NFL city where management views their veteran quarterback as “the big ticket,” as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones recently called Romo.
So, if Dallas is already making sensible moves and already making exploratory shopping calls and there isn’t really a “cap hell “…….what is the Cowboys’ problem, then? Year after year after year of cap mismanagement isn’t the Cowboys’ real ailment. Year after year after year of going 8-8 is.