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Jones must think big picture on Ware

Too many times to count over the past 17 seasons, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has chosen loyalty over common sense.

We're about to find out if being caught in the abyss of football mediocrity for nearly two decades is enough to make him do what he doesn't want to do -- give defensive end DeMarcus Ware a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum.

Hey, life is all about sometimes doing what you don't want to do.

You know, studying instead of partying the night before midterms. Taking your kids to dance or basketball practice. Squeezing in an extra cardio session instead of watching another episode of "House of Cards" on Netflix.

Well, Jerry must be ready to walk away from Ware, the franchise's best player for nearly a decade.

If it comes to that, it will be difficult. Tough.

See, it's easy to walk away from receiver Miles Austin because he has done virtually nothing except cash checks from Jerry the past two seasons. His biggest impact last season was serving as the intended target on interceptions in season-defining losses to Green Bay and Philadelphia.

Cutting Austin requires no introspection.

It's different with Ware, a guy who will get strong consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Cowboys' Ring of Honor, which is almost as difficult to gain entrance.

Ware is scheduled to make $12.25 million next season, which would make him the second-highest paid defensive end in the NFL. If he had put up his usual numbers that would be fine.

He didn't. And he wasn't close.

We can blame injuries. Or ineffectiveness. Or the scheme change that required him to play a traditional defensive end instead of an outside linebacker.

Guess what? None of that matters.

What matters is Ware had only six sacks and missed three games. Understand, the NFL is a dirty game.

The contracts are barely worth the paper they're printed on because the player, the agent and the team each understands the guaranteed money is all that matters. Ware has a cap figure of $16 million next season.

The Cowboys are projected to be about $15 million to $20 million over the NFL-mandated $130 million salary cap. The Cowboys need cap room, so Ware's figure must be reduced.

In the past, the Cowboys would've simply done some fancy accounting that lowered Ware's cap number but guaranteed him the same amount of money. Releasing Ware would save the Cowboys $7.4 million.

The Cowboys want to slice Ware's salary because his performance is no longer commensurate with being one of the highest-paid players in the league. Jerry would like to do this delicately because of Ware's stature in the franchise and the team.

The reality, however, is Jerry must walk away if Ware doesn't want to accept, say, a salary of $7 million with incentives that would let him recoup most of the money if he plays at the level he has shown he can achieve so many times in the past.

Ware won't be happy about the possibility of his salary decreasing. We know this. No player has ever eagerly accepted a pay cut.

Too bad.

This is today's NFL. Guys take pay cuts when they don't play well, and they withhold their services when they outperform their contracts and management doesn't want to give them a raise.

Here's what will happen in Ware's case: His agent will shop the Cowboys' offer around the league and see if he can get a better deal. If he can't, then Ware will accept whatever salary slash the Cowboys have in mind.

If he does get a better offer, Ware must decide whether he wants to be a guy who plays his entire career with one team, or if he wants to leave for a bigger paycheck.

It's not complicated.

Ware owes Jerry nothing but a handshake. He has done everything you want a first-round pick to do.

He has been a great player, an asset to the community and has never been linked to anything remotely shady. He's a poster child for being the consummate professional.

For that, Jerry has paid him well. Jerry's loyalty, though, must be to the fans and the franchise -- not to Ware.

Jerry must be willing to let one of his favorite players leave.

Tough decisions like this are the only hope for the Cowboys to remove the stench of mediocrity that has enveloped this franchise.