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|Will Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware's talent be reflected in his contract? |
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
CARROLLTON, Texas -- When a report came out last month that Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware had used Twitter to criticize the Cowboys over his contract situation, something seemed fishy. First off, Ware's not exactly on the cutting edge when it comes to technology. Secondly, he's one of the few low-maintenance superstars in the league.
And sure enough, Ware's Twitter page turned out to be a hoax. After organized team activities Tuesday, Ware said his wife brought the alleged Tweet to his attention. His response: "What is Twitter?"
Ware, who may be the best defensive player in the game, has somehow remained in the shadows off the field. He claims to have zero interest in Twitter and Facebook, which is sort of refreshing at a time when bottom-of-the-roster types have their own Web sites.
Ware -- No. 2 in my ranking of the NFC East's Ultimate Building Blocks -- doesn't carry himself like a guy who's poised to sign the richest contract in club history. He hears about disgruntled players such as the Eagles' Sheldon Brown and the Cardinals' Anquan Boldin and just shakes his head. The thought of skipping a voluntary workout or two has apparently never crossed his mind, in part, because he thinks it would be a poor example to his teammates.
"I know what it feels like to be poor," he told me last week. "I've saved everything I've made so far, so I don't sit around worrying about my new contract. What good does that do?"
You would think that an experienced negotiator like Jerry Jones might see the laid-back Ware as an easy mark, but that's not how he's approaching things. If Jones wanted to play hardball with Ware and agent Pat Dye, he could use the prospect of an uncapped 2010 season to his advantage. If the owners don't agree to a new collective bargaining agreement, Ware would not become an unrestricted free agent following the '09 season -- as he is scheduled to be. Instead, he'd become a restricted free agent for the next two years, thus giving the Cowboys the right to match any offer sheet Ware signs with another team -- or receive a first- and a third round pick as compensation if they choose not to match. No matter what happens with the CBA, the Cowboys could also use their exclusive rights franchise tag on Ware.
But Jones said last week that he was operating under the belief that a new CBA will be in place. He has released players such as Terrell Owens and Greg Ellis, in part, because he knows how valuable Ware is to the team. And Ware told me last week that the Cowboys haven't brought up the potential of an uncapped season -- yet.
"That's a bad thing on their part if they do that," Ware said. "I don't think anything about the CBA, everybody is going on the regular schedule and thinking we'll get a deal done and keep moving."
At this point, though, the two sides aren't in the same ballpark. The Cowboys used James Harrison's contract as a jumping-off point (six years, $51.1 million with $20 million guaranteed), according to a source. And I wouldn't blame Ware if he laughed at that number. Ware will turn 27 at the end of July and Harrison just turned 31. Harrison was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in '08, but the award could've easily gone to Ware. He tied the NFL record for most consecutive games (10) with a sack. He finished with 20 sacks and six forced fumbles. And he did all that while constantly facing double teams and being chipped by tight ends.
"I don't even think about double teams anymore," Ware said. "I just expect that to happen all the time."
Ware doesn't want to make contract demands through the media (or this blog), but he's very aware of Albert Haynesworth's contract in Washington. The Cowboys' chief negotiator, Stephen Jones, admitted that his "heart skipped a beat" when he heard about the $41 million in guaranteed money that Haynesworth will make with the Redskins.
Haynesworth is the most dominant defensive tackle in the game, but it's hard to say that he has more of an impact on games than Ware. Of Ware's 20 sacks, a league-leading seven came in the final two minutes of games. And unlike many of the top pass-rushers in the league, Ware is also an excellent run defender. On Tuesday, I asked him how he was supposed to improve on a 20-sack season.
"It's all about being more consistent," Ware said. "It's about getting pressure. I like the aggressiveness [Wade Phillips] has brought to the game."
In a shocking moment, Ware even referred to the normally docile Phillips as a "dictator." Ware thinks the next step for him is making everyone around him better. He said that he could live with a 13-sack season -- as long as the rest of the defense improves.
I haven't heard this from anyone at Valley Ranch, but I think Ware will end up making somewhere in the $35 million-$40 million guaranteed range. That will put him a little bit north of the contract Tony Romo signed in '07.
Ware is the best pass-rusher in the history of this franchise and that's saying something when you're following players such as Harvey Martin, Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Charles Haley. That also means he comes with an expensive price tag.
Ware is normally one of the most humble guys you'll come across. But when I asked him to name a defensive player who's better than him right now, he didn't miss a beat.