IRVING, Texas -- The voice on the other end of the phone sounded different on Tuesday afternoon.
No player has more sacks in team history than Ware. Only three defensive players in team history have been selected to more Pro Bowls than Ware, and Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro and Randy White are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But for the first time since his rookie year, Ware has doubters.
In 2005 the Cowboys made Ware the 11th pick in the draft. Could he make the move from defensive end in college to 3-4 outside linebacker? Could he make the jump from Troy University to the NFL? Bill Parcells immediately compared him to Lawrence Taylor, raising the stakes.
Ware did not disappoint. He had eight sacks as a rookie, forced three fumbles and had 19 quarterback pressures.
In his second year he was named to the Pro Bowl and earned that honor every year through 2012.
But 2013 was a down year and the doubters have returned.
He is coming off a career-low six-sack season. He missed the first three games of his career in 2013. He will be 32 in July. The move to the 4-3 defense hurt Ware.
“I want to be quiet,” Ware said. “I just want to let my actions speak for themself. But I do chuckle a little bit because I know there’s a tornado coming.”
And that’s the difficult decision the Cowboys face. He is set to make $12.25 million this season. The Cowboys need all of the salary-cap space they can get but have to determine how they get it from Ware. Do they restructure his contract again or ask him to take a pay cut? Do they simply cut him?
The Cowboys do not have a replacement for Ware already in-house. In a bad season he had six sacks. Anthony Spencer, Ware’s counterpart, had one season with more than six sacks before 2012 and the Cowboys put the franchise tag on him twice.
Ware’s seven straight seasons with at least 11 sacks have people always expecting more. That’s fair. He expects more. The Cowboys expect more.
But back to the sound of Ware’s voice. Not that he has lacked motivation, but he sounded like a guy ready to prove people wrong; that he is not done and age is not catching up to him. The Cowboys have to weigh whether 2013 was the end or just a down year.
The nightmare would be to see Ware in another uniform in 2014 and returning to Pro Bowl form with a season filled with sacks.
“People are going to doubt you regardless,” Ware said. “Let’s say you had a 20-sack season, it’s ‘Can he do it again?’ One year you had 19 sacks. Can you do it again? One year you had 15 sacks. Can you do it again? It’s going to be that every year. I’m going to be healthy. I’m going to shut my mouth and be quiet and let my work on the field characterize who I am. I’m not going to sit here and talk about what I’m going to do. I’m going behind the scenes and do what I need to do and get the job done, and at the end of the day there’s going to be a bandwagon everybody needs to jump back on.”