- Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPNDallas.com
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IRVING, Texas -- There's a weird vibe regarding DeMarcus Ware that's floating around Dallas-Fort Worth these days, and it's difficult to pinpoint its origin.
It goes something like this: The Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker is overrated. Ware doesn't make enough plays on third down. Or in the fourth quarter.
He's a really good player, but Ware's not a superstar. He's not a leader. He's not mean enough.
All of that is poppycock.
Ware, who turns 30 in July, remains one of the NFL's top five defensive players and one of the best to ever wear a Cowboys uniform.
He earned his fourth All-Pro berth last season after getting 19.5 sacks. Bob Lilly, Randy White, Chuck Howley and Lee Roy Jordan are the only players in franchise history with more All-Pro nominations.
Each is in the Ring of Honor, and Lilly and White are in the Hall of Fame.
Some of y'all have forgotten that the Cowboys didn't have a player with double-digit sacks from the time Tony Tolbert did it in 1996 until Ware accomplished it in 2006.
Right now, he's in the midst of a six-year streak with at least 10 sacks, including a career-high 20 in 2008. In the last two seasons, Ware has 35 sacks.
For you nitpickers, Ware had seven sacks in the fourth quarter and 11 in the second half last season. For those who wish he had accumulated more than three third-down sacks, remember that a sack on first or second down usually results in the quarterback facing a long-yardage situation on second or third down, a defensive coordinator's dream.
The criticism of Ware is what predictably emerges when a franchise fails to consistently meet its fans' expectations. Someone has to be blamed for missing the playoffs three of the last four seasons, not to mention winning just one playoff game since the 1996 season.
Some fans, especially those passionate enough to call sports talk radio shows and those addicted to social media networks, need to blame someone for their frustration.
After Jerry Jones, they tend to direct their anger toward the highest-paid and highest-profile players on the team: Tony Romo and Ware. If everyone on the Cowboys' roster did his job as well as Ware, the Cowboys would have more than one playoff win since he arrived as a first-round pick in 2005.
None of this is lost on Ware.
He hears the criticism. All of it.
"It motivates me," he said on his way to lift weights after practice the other day. "I've closed out a whole bunch of games in my career.
"It makes you mad, but it's not like it adds any pressure because the pressure is always there. If people want to talk, let them talk. I know what I do."
Ware has achieved personal wealth thanks to the six-year, $78 million deal he signed in 2009 that included $40 million in guaranteed cash.
He has been to Pro Bowls and earned virtually every individual honor he'd ever want. All that's left is the ring.
And that's why he puts his body through a rigorous offseason regime, so he can play without having missed one of the 112 games that span his career. It's why he practices with an intensity few can match.
"He's a great competitor. He's a great worker. He's a great teammate," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "He's a guy that opposing offenses, every time they snap the ball, they have to understand where 94 is.
"Those are rare guys. I think some teams have those kinds of players. I think he's at the head of the class."
Ware has 99.5 sacks and will soon become the ninth linebacker and 28th player overall to record 100.
And these days he plays with a chronic pinched nerve in his neck that he said makes him more susceptible to having his arm go numb when he gets hit. During the offseason, he's undergone a litany of scans and tests to ensure he's as healthy as an eight-year NFL veteran can be.
Like Romo, though, Ware will always have his performance scrutinized until the Cowboys experience significant playoff success. That's the standard around here, as it should be for a franchise with an illustrious history.
Every defensive player in the Ring of Honor has at least one Super Bowl ring.
Ware doesn't want to be the only one without one.
3hEric D. Williams
1dSharon Katz & Hank Gargiulo