Mac Engel

Letting DeMarcus Ware go was costly to the Cowboys

DeMarcus Ware is back in the AFC Championship Game with the Broncos on Sunday.
DeMarcus Ware is back in the AFC Championship Game with the Broncos on Sunday. TNS

Among the many regrettable decisions made by Jerry ’n’ Friends over the past two years, move DeMarcus Ware to the top of the list.

That’s ahead of Jerry Jones giving son Stephen the green light to let DeMarco Murray become a free agent, and ahead of the fumbling of the backup quarterback spot.

Every decision has a consequence, but the trickle down of allowing DWare to walk haunted 2014, and helped ruin 2015.

The pass rusher the Dallas Cowboys needed in ’14 and ’15 was on their team, but they cut him.

Watching Ware play for the Denver Broncos over the past two seasons proved that the “D” in DWare did not stand for Done. He was not old, or done. Old Man Ware did have something left in the tank.

The Cowboys cut him because of cash, and mostly because they thought he was finished. If they knew he could still play at the level he did in ’14, they would not have dumped him.

When the Broncos host the Patriots in the AFC title game Sunday, their former head coach and their future Ring of Honor inductee will have the chance to go to the Super Bowl they should have gone to together in 2007.

Uncle Wade Phillips is where he belongs as a defensive coordinator, and firing him in 2010 was a decision not even Jerry could have screwed up. Wade should never have been a head coach.

The sand-in-the-eyes on Sunday is Ware. The decision to cut him hurt the defense, and the entire team.

I don’t say this lightly, but in defense of Jerry, Stephen, Charlotte and Rowdy, the decision to cut Ware made sense. He was set to count $16 million against the salary cap and make a base of $12.5 million.

When the Cowboys dumped him, Ware was 32, and showing signs of injury and slowing down. In ’13, he had finished a season with a career-low six sacks in a career-low 13 games. He had begun to collect an assortment of pulls and sprains that don’t magically heal with age.

Ware went to a team where his talents have flourished. He is with a quarterback, Peyton Manning, who consistently gives his team a lead, which forces the other team to pass, which allows Ware to do what he does best — chase quarterbacks. The Broncos have a pair of cornerbacks that can hold coverages a bit longer, which can give him a few more sacks.

The Broncos are the type of team that, to the surprise of everyone up to and including the owner, the Cowboys actually became in 2014. As good as that ’14 team was, the glaring element it lacked was a competent pass rusher.

In the playoff loss at Green Bay one year ago, the lack of a pass rush was embarrassing and allowed a one-legged Aaron Rodgers more than enough time to beat the Cowboys. Ware would have made a difference for the ’14 Cowboys and specifically in that game.

That particular loss is why Jerry stepped out and signed Greg Hardy to a one-year contract; the addition was an unmitigated failure on and off the field. Nothing good came of the Hardy signing other than six worthless sacks, a 2-10 record with him in the lineup, and a few months’ worth of bad headlines.

No one is commenting on whether The Kraken will return for another season, but the respective “no comments” from coach Jason Garrett and Jerry thus far indicate that’s a polite way to say, “We don’t care if the door hits your butt on the way out, just be gone.”

Assuming Hardy does not return, their best pass rusher is DeMarcus Lawrence, who does look like he might have it. Rookie Randy Gregory is a giant “if” after a rookie season where he was mostly hurt, and did little when he did actually play.

After that, there is no proven rusher off the edge, from the middle, or any place else.

Meanwhile, Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoff game, there was Ware recovering a fumble deep in Denver territory with 10 minutes remaining in the game and his team down a point. That play led to the Broncos scoring the game-winning touchdown.

Be happy for him because he is a good guy, a good pro and he never wanted to leave.

Ware is on the backside of a Hall of Fame career; he finished with seven sacks this season in a career-low 11 games. He has become an expensive situational pass rusher, and he will likely be released this off-season. But in these two seasons, he proved there was something left in the tank.

The Cowboys needed him in ’14, and his presence would have prevented Jerry from signing Hardy altogether, which is why DeMarcus Ware sits atop the great regrets of the past two years.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

Mac Engel: 817-390-7697, @macengelprof

Conference Championship

AFC: Patriots (13-4) at Broncos (13-4), 2:05 p.m. Sunday, KTVT/11

NFC: Cardinals (14-3) at Panthers (16-1), 5:40 p.m. Sunday, KDFW/4

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