Defensive end DeMarcus Ware, the greatest pass rusher in team history, a future Ring of Honor member and likely future Hall of Famer, is no longer a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
Neither is wide receiver Miles Austin, according to a source.
The team released both on Tuesday. Ware refused to take a pay cut from his $12.75 million salary for next season. NFL.com reported Wednesday that he had agreed to terms with the Denver Broncos on a three-year deal worth $30M, pending a physical, according to its source.
The Cowboys will save $7.4 million with Ware’s departure against this year’s cap, money they could use to sign other players in free agency, namely Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jason Hatcher.
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“A decision like this, involving a man who is a cornerstone player in the history of your franchise, is extremely difficult,” said Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones in a club statement. “After meeting this afternoon, DeMarcus and I agreed on an understanding that would allow him to explore the options he will have for the 2014 season and beyond. We were also in very strong agreement that playing for the Dallas Cowboys would be one of the options we would both be exploring.
“DeMarcus Ware, through his performance on the field and his outstanding character, is someone who is held in the highest regard within the Dallas Cowboys family. He is worthy of our greatest respect, and we want what is best for him and his family.”
Austin will be designated a post-June 1 cut, according to a source. His departure saves the Cowboys $5.5 million in cap space. Though they can’t use the credit now to sign free agents, they can use it to sign their draft picks.
Austin, who turns 30 this summer, hasn’t done much since the Cowboys signed him to a six-year, $54 million contract extension at the start of the 2010 season. He had 81 receptions for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns in a breakout 2009 season that earned him a new deal.
His only other 1,000-yard season came in 2010 when he caught 69 passes for 1,041 yards and seven touchdowns. Austin had 24 catches for 244 yards and no touchdowns last season. He has been replaced as the No. 1 receiver by Dez Bryant. Terrance Williams, a third-rounder in 2013 who had 44 catches for 736 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie, will start opposite Bryant.
Ware, the 11th overall pick by the Cowboys in 2005, has a team-record 117 sacks and seven trips to the Pro Bowl. In nine seasons, Ware posted the top-four single-season sack figures by a Cowboys linebacker — before making the switch to defensive end last season — and four of the top-five single-season figures by any Cowboys defender.
He wanted to finish his career with Dallas, but had no interest in taking a pay cut. Ware believes he will be coveted on the free-agent market and promises prospective teams will get a motivated player, according to a source.
“Somebody will get a healthy, hard-working, first-ballot Hall of Famer,” the source said.
According to a source, 15 teams have already expressed interest in Ware, including eight playoff teams from a year ago.
The Cowboys wanted to keep Ware, but they saw him as a declining player coming off a career-low six sacks and an injury-plagued season.
Even so, the Cowboys say they would be willing to talk to Ware about returning, if he doesn’t get an appealing offer.
Ware said he will be back to his dominant self after undergoing surgery last month to repair nerve damage in his elbow.
His departure makes finding a pass-rushing end a priority, along with shoring up the defensive tackle position. The Cowboys could address the latter by using the money they saved with Ware to sign Hatcher or make a run at Chicago Bears free-agent tackle Henry Melton.
Keeping Hatcher, coming off a career year with 11 sacks and a Pro Bowl nod, will be tough. He is looking to cash in big on what might be his final contract. He spent Tuesday night in Seattle visiting the Super Bowl champion Seahawks. It’s the first of five scheduled visits for Hatcher, per a source.
The Cowboys had $1.1 million in salary cap space before Ware’s release and now have roughly $8.5 million.