DeMarcus Ware wouldn’t bite. A day after Adrian Peterson declared he would pass Emmitt Smith as the all-time NFL rushing leader in 2017, Ware was asked when he would pass Bruce Smith as the league’s all-time sacks leader.
“You know what?” the Cowboys defensive end said with a smile. “Only thing I’ve got to say is I get a lot more opportunities this year to rush the passer. I’m going to be as consistent as I can this year to do what I need to do to be effective.”
Come on, DeMarcus, play along.
Ware has 111 sacks, ranking 19th all time and fourth among active pass rushers. Smith had 200 in a 19-year career, a number Ware fully knows.
“I know what it is,” Ware said, smiling again.
Ware, who has averaged 13.9 sacks a season, needs to average 17.8 sacks for the next five years, 14.8 for the next six, 12.7 for the next seven, 11.1 for the next eight or 9.9 for the next nine to reach Smith. It seems a tough task for Ware, who is in his ninth season, to be that productive for that much longer.
Ware had only 11.5 sacks last season, including just two in the final eight games, and he celebrated his 31st birthday Wednesday. But he insists age hasn’t caught up to him any better than left tackles have.
Smith, after all, had 94 sacks after he turned 31.
“Everybody says, ‘He’s 31. He can’t still do what he needs to do,’” Ware said of himself. “But just turn the practice tape on and let that carry over into the game, and proving a point to yourself day in and day out that you still can do it. The age might be going up, but… I’m still young.”
Ware is determined to become an elite pass rusher again. For starters, he has two healthy arms. Ware was slowed by right shoulder and right elbow injuries last season. He avoided off-season surgery on his elbow, but doctors repaired his shoulder in January.
“I’m always grateful for what I’m given, but I feel like [11.5 sacks] wasn’t enough because I didn’t have an opportunity to get to the end,” Ware said. “I wasn’t effective enough. This year I feel like a solid, solid player, ready to go out there and play and ready to get it.”
This season, Ware should become the Cowboys’ all-time sacks leader. Although sacks didn’t become an official NFL statistic until 1982, the Cowboys recognize the 114 sacks Harvey Martin had from 1973-83 as their team record.
“When you think about what the Cowboys stand for, the tradition of winning and the players that have come through, and the guys that made the Hall of Fame, to have the opportunity to even be put down with part of that team, it means a lot,” Ware said. “But there’s one thing that’s missing. There are five little points on that star. Why not make it six [with the franchise’s sixth title] and stick it on the side of the helmet? Might look a little bit better.”
Ware appears to have regained his form. He, along with Dez Bryant, has been one of the top playmakers in training camp.
“He’s clearly an unbelievable athlete,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s quick; he’s fast; he’s explosive; he’s strong; he’s long. His ‘get-off’ is as good as it gets in the league. He has a nose for the ball. He can bend. I can keep going and going and going ....”
The Cowboys hope Ware keeps going and going and going for many more years.
Dallas plays in the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday. The team toured the Hall three years ago when it last played in the game, and Ware got to see the busts of the greatest pass rushers in history, players such as Bruce Smith, Reggie White and Deacon Jones.
“When you see guys sort of enshrined in what we call it immortality, it’s almost walking into a place where you actually get a feel for what the guys are actually like,” Ware said. “You see all their heads in there, and you’re in a place where only the best of the best [are]. You see champions in there. You see leaders in there. You feel that aura. Just from that point, it’s a good thing going to it sometimes, when you realize you’ve got a lot of work to do.”
He isn’t there yet, but Ware is working on it.