Cowboys are in rebuilding mode

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
1:00
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As we enter the weekend, the Dallas Cowboys are acting as if they know something we don't.

Maybe letting go of star defensive end DeMarcus Ware and productive defensive tackle Jason Hatcher in the last 48 hours isn't an indication of a franchise that doesn't know what it's doing.

Maybe the Cowboys have decided it's time to rebuild with younger talent.

Hatcher
Hatcher
Ware
Ware and Hatcher will be 32-years old by Week 1 of the 2014 season. If each had remained with the Cowboys, half of the projected starters along the defensive line would be in their 30s.

Hatcher's production increased to the point where he had compiled a career-high 11 sacks but was seeking a big-money deal in free agency.

The cap-tight Cowboys weren't going to do it.

Ware's production slipped last season. He had just six sacks and missed three games because of a quad injury.

The Cowboys weren't going to let Ware snag $16 million of their salary cap. So if Ware wasn't going to take a pay cut, then the next option was to let him go.

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Ware signed a three-year deal Wednesday with a team that contends for Super Bowls in the Denver Broncos. Hatcher inked a four-year deal with the Cowboys' NFC East rival, Washington Redskins.

The Redskins, by the way, are also aiming to lock up another Cowboys free agent in defensive end Anthony Spencer, who is coming off microfracture surgery.

Spencer, who is 30, has a few negatives holding him back regarding a contract from anyone, and those are health and age. And while the Cowboys would like to bring Spencer back, they don't seem to be in a hurry to do so.

For that matter, the Cowboys' signings have focused on backups. The team signed defensive linemen Jeremy Mincy and Terrell McClain along with special teams player Will Herring.

Those signings don't excite a fan base that's still angered by three consecutive 8-8 finishes. Free-agent defensive tackle Henry Melton seems to be a perfect fit in this 4-3 scheme, but he hasn't visited Valley Ranch yet.

Maybe the Cowboys understand the frustration of their fan base and have decided to do something about it: Rebuild without telling anybody.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Spencer
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Cowboys aren't in a hurry to bring back Anthony Spencer, perhaps a sign that the team is looking to rebuild.
Letting Ware, Hatcher and quite possibly Spencer go could be a sign the team is trying to upgrade the overall talent base through the draft.

The Cowboys have to draft impactful players who remain on the field for 16 games.

You can't tell me people are happy with former first-round pick Morris Claiborne being on the injury report for 17 weeks in a two-year career.

The Cowboys have struggled at drafting free safeties and are trying to determine if J.J. Wilcox, Matt Johnson and Jeff Heath can become starters.

The team has a good core of young players in Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Tyron Smith, Orlando Scandrick, Travis Frederick, DeMarco Murray and Terrance Williams ready to more the franchise ahead. All are in their 20s.

Older players such as Jason Witten, Tony Romo, Brandon Carr and Doug Free see significant playing time and at some point, the team will be faced with the challenging decision over whether to release them before contracts run out.

Rebuilding the Cowboys isn't an easy thing; Jerry Jones doesn't even use that word because he has said the franchise is still within striking distance of a playoff spot.

On paper, he's correct. The Cowboys have been eliminated from playoff contention in Week 17 in each of the last three seasons.

If Jones told his fan base the Cowboys are rebuilding and it's going to maybe take two seasons to see results, then this anger toward Valley Ranch would subside.

Previous bad contracts -- the second one to Jay Ratliff and Miles Austin's -- hurt the franchise somewhat with their salary cap. As one agent told me on Friday about the Cowboys: "They are broke and need to draft better."

At the start of free agency, the Cowboys had just $1.1 million in cap room, the lowest in the league. After Ware's release, it increased to $8.5 million.

It's still not enough to do anything in free agency. So what do you do?

Rebuild.
Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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